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From Christopher Oliver <>
Subject Re: [RT] Flowmaps
Date Sat, 27 Jul 2002 23:09:18 GMT
Hi Sylvain,

Sylvain Wallez wrote:

> Christopher Oliver wrote:
> >As far as Rhino is concerned I have been in contact with Norris Boyd, the main
> >developer, and I think that the continuations-enabled interpreter will be added to
> >the trunk in the near future.
> >
> >
> That's good, as my main fear about the continuation-enabled Rhino is the
> use of a forked version that would be difficult for us to maintain
> (hence my question about your use of it).
> Sylvain

Below is a precise description of the features in the continuations-enabled Rhino
interpreter. The more people who exercise these features the more confident Norris will
be in incorporating them.

 Rhino with Continuations

The [experimental] org.mozilla.javascript.continuations package introduces an
additional interpreted mode for Rhino that supports tail-call elimination and
first-class continuations. Currently this mode is selected by setting the
optimization level of the current context to -2. It may also be selected by
passing "-opt -2" on the command line to the Rhino shell or debugger, for
example like this:


% java -cp js.jar -opt -2 [file.js]


% java -cp js.jar -opt -2 [file.js]


1) Tail-call elimination

You might think the following code is faulty since it apparently would
overflow the call-stack given a large enough value for 'limit':

    function g(count, limit) {
       if (count == limit) {
          return "done";
       return g(count + 1, limit);

In fact, with the "continuations" mode of Rhino this is not the case. The
interpreter detects that the recursive call to 'g()' is in so-called "tail
position" (meaning that there is no further code to execute after the call)
and simply overwrites the current call frame with the new call to 'g()'.
Thus no additional stack space is used in such cases.

2) Continuations

Rhino now supports first-class continuations. In Rhino a continuation is a
JavaScript object that represents a snapshot of the state of an executing
Rhino script -- i.e the current call-stack -- including each call-frame's
program counter and local variables. The term "Continuation"
(borrowed from Scheme) is used because it represents the rest of,
or the "continuation" of, a program. Each time you call a function, there is
an implicit continuation -- the place where the function should return to.
A JavaScript Continuation object provides a way to bind that implicit
continuation to a name and keep hold of it. If you don't do anything with
the named continuation, the program will eventually invoke it anyway when
the function returns and passes control to its caller. Now that it's
named, however, you could invoke the continuation earlier than normal,
or you could invoke it later (after it has already been invoked by the
normal control flow). In the early case, the effect is a non-local exit.
In the later case, it's more like returning from the same function more
than once.

You can capture the continuation of a script by simply calling

    new Continuation()

for example:

    function someFunction(a, b) {
        var kont = new Continuation();

The variable 'kont' now represents the execution state of the current
caller of 'someFunction'. (For those of you who are familiar with Scheme's
'call-with-current-continuation', here is the Rhino equivalent:

   function call_with_current_continuation(fun) {
        var kont = new Continuation();
        return fun(kont);

). Since 'kont' is a first-class JavaScript object you can return it,
store it in a variable, assign it to a property of another object -
whatever you like. In addition, a Continuation object is also a function,
which may be called. When you make such a call the current execution
state of the program is discarded and the snapshot of the program
represented by the Continuation object is resumed in its place. You may also
pass an argument to the call to a Continuation object (if you don't pass an
argument 'undefined' is implicitly passed instead). The value you pass as an
argument to the Continuation object becomes the return value of the function
in which the Continuation was captured. For example:

01  function someFunction()  {
02     var kont  = new  Continuation();
03     print("captured: " + kont);
04     return kont;
05  }
07  var k = someFunction();
08  if (k instanceof Continuation) {
09     print("k is a continuation");
10     k(200);
11  } else {
12     print("k is now a " + typeof(k));
13  }
14  print(k);

Evaluating the above script yields the following output:

   captured: [object Continuation]
   k is a continuation
   k is now a number

When the continuation 'k' is invoked on line 10, the program "jumps" back to
the call to 'someFunction' on line 7, but this time 'someFunction' returns
with the value '200' (which was passed into the call to 'k' on line 10).

In addition, a Continuation object may be called more than once. Each time it
is called it restarts execution at the return point of the function in which
it was captured. This means that the same function invocation can return
multiple times (and with different return values).

Finally, note that a Continuation created in a top-level script provides a
means to terminate any script immediately. Whenever such a Continuation is
invoked it simply terminates the interpreter, for example:

    var suicide = new Continuation();

    function foo(suicide) {
        print("commiting suicide");
        print("never reached");


2.1) ContinuationException

A Continuation can be thought of as representing the return from a function
invocation. In JavaScript, in addition to a normal return, a function
invocation may return due to an exception. In continuations mode, Rhino
provides a special built-in object 'ContinuationException' which allows you to
throw an exception to a Continuation. ContinuationException's constructor
takes one argument - the object you want to throw. When an instance of
ContinuationException is passed to a Continuation, the value of that argument
is thrown in the context of the Continuation after the Continuation is
restored. For example:

    function someFunction() {
        var k = new Continuation();
        return k;

    try {
        var k = someFunction();
        print("k: " + k);
        if (k instanceof Continuation) {
            print("k is a continuation");
            k(new ContinuationException("this is thrown from someFunction"));
        print("never reached");
    } catch (e) {
        print("caught exception: " + e);

Evaluating the above script yields the following output:

    k: [object Continuation]
    k is a continuation
    caught exception: this is thrown from someFunction

2.2) Controlling what gets captured in a Continuation

In continuations mode, Rhino provides a special extended syntax to allow you
to control what gets captured in a continuation as follows:

    catch (break) {
        // a continuation has been captured - code to handle that
        // goes here

    catch (continue) {
        // a continuation has been resumed - code to handle that
        // goes here

Multiple such "catch" clauses may be present at any scope. All such clauses
contained within a script or function invocation captured or resumed as part
of a Continuation will be executed when that Continuation is captured
or resumed. For example, you might want to return a pooled JDBC connection to
its connection pool while a Continuation is suspended and recover the
connection when the Continuation is resumed:

    var pool = ...;

    function someFunction() {

        var conn = pool.getConnection();

        catch (break) {
              conn = null;

        catch (continue) {
              conn = pool.getConnection();

2.3) Continuations are Serializable

This version of Rhino also contains experimental support for serializing
Continuations. Thus you may save the state of an executing script and
restore it later. Here is an example:

    function capture(filename) {
        var k = new Continuation();
        serialize(k, filename);

    function foo(level) {
        var now = new java.util.Date();
        if(level > 5) {
             print("run the file foo.ser");
        } else {
            print("next level");
            foo(level + 1);
        print("restarted("+level+"): " + now)


Evaluating the above script saves a Continuation to the file "foo.ser" and
prints the following output:

    next level
    next level
    next level
    next level
    next level
    run the file foo.ser

The following script deserializes the Continuation and executes it:

    var k = deserialize("foo.ser");

Evaluating the second script produces the following output:

  restarted(6): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002
  restarted(5): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002
  restarted(4): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002
  restarted(3): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002
  restarted(2): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002
  restarted(1): Mon May 20 19:03:12 PDT 2002

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