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Storage Allocation and Garbage Collection

In section [*], we will show how to implement a Scheme evaluator as a register machine. In order to simplify the discussion, we will assume that our register machines can be equipped with a list-structured memory, in which the basic operations for manipulating list-structured data are primitive. Postulating the existence of such a memory is a useful abstraction when one is focusing on the mechanisms of control in a Scheme interpreter, but this does not reflect a realistic view of the actual primitive data operations of contemporary computers. To obtain a more complete picture of how a Lisp system operates, we must investigate how list structure can be represented in a way that is compatible with conventional computer memories.

There are two considerations in implementing list structure. The first is purely an issue of representation: how to represent the ``box-and-pointer'' structure of Lisp pairs, using only the storage and addressing capabilities of typical computer memories. The second issue concerns the management of memory as a computation proceeds. The operation of a Lisp system depends crucially on the ability to continually create new data objects. These include objects that are explicitly created by the Lisp procedures being interpreted as well as structures created by the interpreter itself, such as environments and argument lists. Although the constant creation of new data objects would pose no problem on a computer with an infinite amount of rapidly addressable memory, computer memories are available only in finite sizes (more's the pity). Lisp systems thus provide an automatic storage allocation facility to support the illusion of an infinite memory. When a data object is no longer needed, the memory allocated to it is automatically recycled and used to construct new data objects. There are various techniques for providing such automatic storage allocation. The method we shall discuss in this section is called garbage collection.



 
next up previous contents
Next: Memory as Vectors Up: Computing with Register Machines Previous: Monitoring Machine Performance
Ryan Bender
2000-04-17