A Lambda-Revelation of the SECD Machine

Olivier Danvy

December 2003


We present a simple inter-derivation between lambda-interpreters, i.e., evaluation functions for lambda-terms, and abstract reduction machines for the lambda-calculus, i.e., transition functions. The two key derivation steps are the CPS transformation and Reynolds's defunctionalization. By transforming the interpreter into continuation-passing style (CPS), its flow of control is made manifest as a continuation. By defunctionalizing this continuation, the flow of control is materialized as a first-order data structure.

The derivation applies not merely to connect independently known lambda-interpreters and abstract machines, it also applies to construct the abstract machine corresponding to a lambda-interpreter and to construct the lambda-interpreter corresponding to an abstract machine. In this article, we treat in detail the canonical example of Landin's SECD machine and we reveal its denotational content: the meaning of an expression is a partial endo-function from a stack of intermediate results and an environment to a new stack of intermediate results and an environment. The corresponding lambda-interpreter is unconventional because (1) it uses a control delimiter to evaluate the body of each lambda-abstraction and (2) it assumes the environment to be managed in a callee-save fashion instead of in the usual caller-save fashion

Available as PostScript, PDF, DVI.

Superseeded by the BRICS report RS-03-33


Last modified: 2003-10-06 by webmaster.