Refocusing in Reduction Semantics

Olivier Danvy
Lasse R. Nielsen

November 2004


The evaluation function of a reduction semantics (i.e., a small-step operational semantics with an explicit representation of the reduction context) is canonically defined as the transitive closure of (1) decomposing a term into a reduction context and a redex, (2) contracting this redex, and (3) plugging the contractum in the context. Directly implementing this evaluation function therefore yields an interpreter with a worst-case overhead, for each step, that is linear in the size of the input term.

We present sufficient conditions over the constituents of a reduction semantics to circumvent this overhead, by replacing the composition of (3) plugging and (1) decomposing by a single ``refocus'' function mapping a contractum and a context into a new context and a new redex, if any. We also show how to construct such a refocus function, we prove the correctness of this construction, and we analyze the complexity of the resulting refocus function.

The refocused evaluation function of a reduction semantics implements the transitive closure of the refocus function, i.e., a ``pre-abstract machine.'' Fusing the refocus function with the trampoline function computing the transitive closure gives a state-transition function, i.e., an abstract machine. This abstract machine clearly separates between the transitions implementing the congruence rules of the reduction semantics and the transitions implementing its reduction rules. The construction of a refocus function therefore shows how to mechanically obtain an abstract machine out of a reduction semantics, which was done previously on a case-by-case basis.

We illustrate refocusing by mechanically constructing Felleisen et al.'s CK machine from a call-by-value reduction semantics of the lambda-calculus, and by constructing a substitution-based version of Krivine's machine from a call-by-name reduction semantics of the lambda-calculus. We also mechanically construct three one-pass CPS transformers from three quadratic context-based CPS transformers for the lambda-calculus.

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