Thorsten Blaß

Dr.-Ing. Thorsten Blaß

Research assistant from 2010 till 2020

Computer Science Department
Programming Systems Group (Informatik 2)


  • Parallel code analysis on a GPU

    (Own Funds)

    Term: 01.07.2013 - 30.09.2020

    In compiler construction there are analyses that propagate information along the edges of a graph and modify it, until a fix point is reached and the information no longer changes. In this project we built the ParCAn framework to accelerate such analyses by exploiting the massive parallelism of graphic cards.

    In 2016, our research focus was on synchronization mechanisms for GPUs. Known synchronization methods for CPUs (e. g. a spin lock) cannot be used without further adjustment on GPUs since their special architectural properties easily lead to dead- and livelocks. Synchronization is required (even for predominantly dataparallel graph implementations) if data dependences occur dynamically. We have therefore developed a novel synchronization mechanism which solves two non-trivial problems related to GPUs: First, we prevent dead- and livelocks. Second, we retain as much parallelism as possible by allowing dataparallel threads to work on disjoint areas of a data structure concurrently. For example, think of threads that modify disjoint locations of a graph without affecting its structural integrity. In our approach, a programmer can provide rules that describe the conditions under which a parallel access is allowed. At runtime, we check these rules and determine how many threads can run in parallel.

    We currently extend the above synchronisation mechanism with a scheduler that redistributes conflicting data access so that the SIMD execution on a GPU causes less serialization than without the re-ordering. Hence, the degree of parallelism grows. The underlying idea exploits that GPUs organize threads in hierarchical units. If the above synchronization mechanism detects a conflicting access in one of these units, it checks on the next smaller unit whether the conflict can also be found there. If this is not the case, the fewer threads in that unit can run in parallel. This is much better than serializing all threads in the enclosing unit. In this situation it is the scheduler’s task to re-distribute the detected collisions across the units so that as many threads as possible can run in parallel. As the scheduling is performed at run-time it needs to be efficient, must itself run in parallel, and potentially make use of the dynamic thread creation capabilities of modern GPUs.

    Graphs are fundamental data structures to represent relations between data (e.g., social networks, web link analysis). Graphs can have millions/billions of vertices/edges. GPUs can process graphs with 1000th of threads in parallel very efficiently. Graph Analyses use the Bulk Synchronous Parallel Model (BSP) which divides the analysis into three strictly separated phases: computation, communication and synchronization. The two latter ones require communications with the host system (CPU) that slow down execution. Our GPU-based compiler works after the BSP model too. Internally the code is represented as (control flow-) graph. This graph is transferred to the GPU and gets analyzed. Every code modification triggers this cycle. The Graph has thus to be generated and transferred to the GPU very fast.

    Publications in the field of graph-analysis focus on optimizing the computation time. The end-to-end execution time (including communication and synchronization) is ignored but has a strong impact on the run-time. Our compiler considers every phase of the BSP. In 2017 we published a paper that significantly reduces the time for synchronization.
    In addition, we focus on speeding up of the communication phase of the BSP model. Communication here means the transfer of the graph in both directions (GPU Host). While the graph and data structure used has strong impact on the run-time behavior it also influences the computation phase. Since there is no publication in the literature that systematically investigates the impact of the data-structure on the end-to-end run-time of a GPU graph analysis, we implemented a number of benchmarks that use different attributes of graphs (e.g., access successor/predecessor, random node access) and eight different graph data structures to represent graphs on the GPU. For the measurements we used a number of structurally different graphs. The results are likely to help developers in picking the right graph data structure for their GPU-problem.

    In 2018 we completed our comparative study on the efficiency of graph data structures on GPUs. To show the effectiveness of our framework we integrated it into the LLVM compiler framework. We picked four LLVM analyses and parallelized them with ParCAn. Ample measurements show that our framework can accelerate LLVM’s compilation process by up to 40%. A publication was accepted at the 28th International Conference on Compiler Construction and will receive the Best-Paper-Award.

    In 2019, ParCAn was adjusted to the new execution model of NVIDIA’s latest GPU architectures. With the introduction of the Volta architecture, threads can now achieve progress independently of the others. Since Volta every thread has its own program counter and call stack. Previously, a group of threads (called a warp) shared both a common program counter as well as a call stack. The threads either executed the same instruction or were idle (lock-step execution). Applications that are not adjusted to this execution model will compute wrong results. As threads now execute independently of each other, race conditions can occur within warps. Older lock-step fashioned execution models inserted synchronization points to prevent this implicitly. We inspected ParCAn’s source code for code fragments susceptible to causing race conditions on new architectures. These fragments were adjusted to now execute properly on the latest NVIDIA architectures.
    In 2020, we successfully completed this research project. We demonstrated that parallelizing the particularly cost-intensive data flow analyses can speed-up the compilation process of up to 31%. Thus, our research leads the way towards parallelized compilers that meet the requirements of today's software projects. The importance of this research topic was underlined by a "Best Paper Award" at the renowned "Compiler Construction" conference, see references.

    The use of the GPU as the target architecture raised other research-related questions that were also published.

    Some analyses store their information in a global data structure that can be modified by all threads simultaneously. Especially the high number of concurrent threads on a GPU demands for efficient synchronization. Thus, as part of the research project we implemented an efficient framework for establishing mutual exclusion, see the LNCS-paper in the references. Previous approaches inevitably resulted in deadlocks when the GPU is fully utilized. Moreover, by using a variant of the inspection-execution paradigm we further improved the efficiency of the framework.

    Another research topic considered the efficiency of graph structures on GPUs. At its core, ParCAn implements a graph traversal algorithm. The program to be translated is converted into a graph, the control flow graph (CFG), on which the analyses are executed. Due to the large number of parallel accesses, the CFG represents a critical data structure for the performance of ParCAn. For this reason, we conducted an extensive study comparing the performance of graph data structures. We used the results to determine the best possible data structure to represent the CFG. We derived general criteria that allow to make assumptions about the performance of a data structure under certain conditions. Even outside of the context of ParCAN, developers can use these criteria, represented as a decision tree, to choose the most appropriate data structure for their static graph algorithms. The results of the study were presented at the GPGPU workshop, see references.

  • Embedded Realtime Language Development Framework

    (Own Funds)

    Term: 01.01.2012 - 30.11.2014

    ErLaDeF is our test-bed for new programming language and compiler techniques. Our main focus is on building infrastructure for easier (hard + soft) real-time embedded parallel systems programming.
    We focus on hard real-time embedded systems as they are about to go massively parallel in the near future.
    Real-time and embedded systems also have hard constraints on resource usage. For example, a task should complete in a fixed amount of time, have guaranteed upper-limits on the amount of memory used, etc. We are developing different ways to manage this concurrency using a combination of strategies: simpler language features, automatic parallelization, libraries of parallel programming patterns, deep compiler analysis, model checking, and making compiler analysis fast enough for interactive use.

    Runtime Parallelization of Programs

    Our automatic parallelization efforts are currently focused on dynamic parallelization. While a program is running, it is analyzed to find loops where parallelization can help performance. Our current idea is to run long-running loops three times. The first two runs analyze the memory accesses of the loop and can both run in parallel. The first run stores in a shared data structure for every memory address in which loop iteration a write access happens. We do not need any synchronization for this data structure, only the guarantee that one value is written to memory, when two concurrent writes happen. In the second pass we check for every memory access, if it has a dependency to one of the stored write accesses. A write access is part of any data-dependency, so we can find all types of data dependencies. If we do not find any, the loop is actually run in parallel. If we find dependencies, the loop is executed sequentially. We can execute the analyses in parallel to a modified sequential execution of the first loop iterations.

    In 2013 we have explored alternatives to polymorphism and inheritance that may be easier to analyze. We have also examined alternative thread synchronization methods, for example transactional memory, implicit synchronization, remote procedure calls, etc.

    In 2014 we enhanced the analysis so that a loop can start running while the remainder of the loop is analyzed to see if it can be run in parallel. To allow the sequential loop to execute while the tail of the loop is analyzed we needed to instrument the sequential loop slightly. The result is that the loop runs only slightly slower if the loop cannot be parallelized, but if the loop is found to be parallelizable, speedup is near to linear.

    Finally, we also created a new language that uses the above library for run-time parallelization. Any loops that the programmer marked as candidates for run-time parallelization are analyzed for constructs that the library cannot yet handle. If the loop is clean, code is generated that uses the library's macros.

    Design Patterns for Parallel Programming

    A library of parallel programming patterns allows a programmer to select well known parallelization and inter-core communication strategies from a well-debugged library. We are performing research into what (communication) patterns actually exist and when they can be applied. We have collected over 30 different patterns for parallel communication. In 2013 we investigated mechanisms to automatically determine the fitting implementation for a given software and hardware environment. We also added a set of distributed channels where cores can send data from one local memory to another. The
    distributed channels allow the library to be used to program modern Network-on-Chip (NoC) processors.

    Script based language for embedded systems (Pylon)

    Pylon is a language that is close to scripting languages (but is statically typed). A large part of the complexity that a programmer would normally take care of when creating an application, is moved to the compiler (i.e., type inference). The programmer does not have to think about types at all. By analyzing the expressions in the program, types are inferred (duck typing). The language is also implicitly parallel, the programmer does not need to have expert knowledge to parallelize an application. The compiler automatically decides what to run in parallel. Finally, the language is kept simple so that learning the language remains easy for novice programmers. For example, we kept the number of keywords small.
    Any language constructs that make analyzing the program hard for a compiler has been omitted (pointer arithmetic, inheritance, etc.). Any removed features have been replaced by simpler variants that can be easily analyzed. The current focus of this project lies in supporting the programmer in designing the code. The previous programming language research results have been absorbed in the Pylon project. For example, the prior research results on alternatives to polymorphism and inheritance have been added to the Pylon project. This allows us to report errors at compile time where other languages can only find them at run-time.

    Interactive Program Analysis

    To ensure that program design errors are caught early in the development cycle, it is necessary to find bugs while editing. This requires that any program analysis works at interactive speeds. We are following two approaches to this. The first approach centers around algorithmic changes to program analysis problems. Making analysis problems lazy means that only those parts of a program should be examined that are pertinent to the question that is currently asked by the compiler. For example, if the compiler needs to know which functions access a certain object, it should not examine unrelated functions, classes, or packages. Making program analysis incremental means that a small change in the program should only require small work for the (re-)analysis. To achieve that, a program is split recursively into parts. Then, for each of the parts, it
    is calculated which effect it would have during an execution of the program. For each part, a symbolic representation of its effects are saved. These representations can then for one be used to find the errors that occur when two of the parts interact (concurrently or non-concurrently). Also, we can deduce the effects that a bigger part of the program has during it’s execution by combining the effects of the smaller parts the bigger part consists of. This enables incremental analysis, because changes in one place do not cause the whole program to be reanalyzed, as the symbolic representations of the effects of unchanged parts of the program stay unchanged as well.

    In 2013 our key focuses were twofold: Firstly, we developed data structures that can both precisely and efficiently describe the effects of a part of a program. Secondly, we developed both efficient and precise algorithms to create and use these data structures.

    In 2014 we expanded and modified this analysis framework in order to support big code bases, to analyze them and keep the analysis results for later use.  This enables us to precisely analyze programs that use libraries, by first analyzing the library, and then using the library{'}s analysis result to get precise analysis results for our program.

    Our second approach to bring compiler analysis to interactive speed is to make the analysis itself parallel. In 2013 we continued to develop data-parallel formulations of basic compiler analyses. We have started to implement a generic data-parallel predicate propagation framework. Its data-parallel forms are then portably executable on many different multi-core architectures.

    Object-oriented languages offer the possibility to dynamically allcoate objects. The memory required for this is allocated at run-tie. However, in contrast to desktop systems, embedded systems typically have very little memory. If the 'new' operator is used often in an embedded system (that are now starting to be programmed with higher-level languages such as Java and C++ that include 'new'), memory can be exhausted at run-time causing an embedded system to crash.

    In 2014, we created an analysis to find this problem at compile-time and report this to the developer.
    To detect memory exhaustion at compile-time, the analysis determines the live-time of references to objects. If there are no more references to an object, the object can be removed from memory. Normally, such reference counting schemes are performed at run-time, we, however, perform reference counting at compile-time in an interactive fashion. The result is that memory management errors can be found at compile-time instead of at run-time. Additionally, the static reference counting increases a program{'}s performance as the reference counts do not have to be manipulated at run-time.

    If it is statically determined that an object can be removed, the developer needs to insert a 'delete' statement. With explicit memory management, we are now able to statically determine a program's worst-case memory requirements. The whole analysis outlined above is integrated into Pylon and a predicate propagation framework previously reported on. Note that the analysis is language independent, however, and can be applied to other languages as well (Java, C++, etc.). However, we can in that case no guarantee that reference counts are correctly computed as we require Pylon{'}s analyzability for this.

    The ErLaDeF project is a contribution of the Chair of Computer Science 2 (Programming Systems) to the IZ ESI (Embedded Systems Initiative,

  • OpenMP/Java

    (Third Party Funds Single)

    Term: 01.10.2009 - 01.10.2015
    Funding source: Industrie
    JaMP is an implementation of the well-known OpenMP standard adapted for Java. JaMP allows one to program, for example, a parallel for loop or a barrier without resorting to low-level thread programming. For example:
    class Test {
    ...void foo() {
    ......//#omp parallel for
    ......for (int i=0;i .........a[i] = b[i] + c[i]
    } is valid JaMP code. JaMP currently supports all of OpenMP 2.0 with partial support for 3.0 features, e.g., the collapse clause. JaMP generates pure Java 1.5 code that runs on every JVM. It also translates parallel for loops to CUDA-enabled graphics cards for extra speed gains. If a particular loop is not CUDA-able, it is translated to a threaded version that uses the cores of a typical multi-core machine. JaMP also supports the use of multiple machines and compute accelerators to solve a single problem. This is achieved by means of two abstraction layers. The lower layer provides abstract compute devices that wrap around the actual CUDA GPUs, OpenCL GPUs, or multicore CPUs, wherever they might be in a cluster. The upper layer provides partitioned and replicated arrays. A partitioned array automatically partitions itself over the abstract compute devices and takes the individual accelerator speeds into account to achieve an equitable distribution. The JaMP compiler applies code-analysis to decide which type of abstract array to use for a specific Java array in the user’s program.
    In 2010, the JaMP environment was extended to support the use of multiple machines and compute accelerators to solve a single problem. We have developed two new abstraction layers. The lower layer provides abstract compute devices which wrap around the actual CUDA GPUs, OpenCL GPUs, or multicore CPUs, wherever they might be in a cluster. The upper provides partitioned and replicated arrays. A partitioned array automatically partitions itself over the abstract compute devices and takes the individual accelerator speeds into account to achieve an equitable distribution. The JaMP compiler applies code-analysis to decide which type of abstract array to use for a specific Java array in the user’s program.
    In 2012, we extended the JaMP framework to also handle Java objects on multiple ma- chines and accelerators (and not just arrays of primitive types). We added two different ways to handle objects. Standard shared objects are replicated on all compute devices. Arrays of objects are now also replicated or partitioned over the different devices. To increase the performance of the program, the framework has to break with Java’s semantics. Java’s object structure is mapped to a flat memory structure for the execution on the different devices.
    In 2013, we examined how to better support Java objects in OpenMP parallel code, regardless of where the code is executed. We found that we needed to restrict the language slightly by forbidding inheritance of objects used in a parallel block. This ensures that the objects will not be of a different type than what is seen at compile time. We use this property to, for example, allow object inlining into arrays to occur naturally. With the added inlining, communication of objects and arrays over the network and to the compute devices was accelerated enormously, including a small performance increase on the devices themselves.
    In 2014 we developed a JaMP implementation for Android 4.0. Currently this version only supports the SIMD construct of OpenMP.
    In 2015 we added OpenMP tasks (OpenMP 3.0) to JaMP. This makes it possible to parallelize recursive algorithms with JaMP.
  • Parallelization techniques for embedded systems in automation

    (Own Funds)

    Term: 01.06.2009 - 31.12.2015

    This project was launched in 2009 to address the refactorization and parallelization of applications used in the field of industry automation. These programs are executed on specially designed embedded systems. This hardware forms an industry standard and is used worldwide. As multicore-architectures are increasingly used in embedded systems, existing sequential software must be parallelized for these new architectures in order to improve performance. As these programs are typically used in the industrial domain for the control of processes and factory automation they have a long life cycle. Because of this, the programs often are not being maintained by their original developers any more. Besides that, a lot of effort was spent to guarantee that the programs work reliably. For these reasons the software is only extended in a very reluctant way.

    Therefore, a migration of these legacy applications to new hardware and a parallelization cannot be done manually, as it is too error prone. Thus, we need tools that perform these tasks automatically or aid the developer with the migration and parallelization.

    Research on parallelization techniques

    We developed a special compiler for the parallelization of existing automation programs. First, we examined automation applications with respect to automatic parallelizability. We found that it is hard to perform an efficient automatic parallelization with existing techniques. Therefore this part of the project focuses on two steps to handle this situation. As first step, we developed a data dependence analysis that identifies potential critical sections in a parallel program, presents them to the programmer and adds their protection to the code. We ware able to show that our approach to identify critical sections finds atomic blocks that closely match the atomic blocks that an expert would add to the code. Besides that, we showed in 2014 that the impacts on execution times are negligible if our technique finds atomic blocks that are larger than necessary or that are not necessary at all.

    As second step we have refined and enhanced existing techniques (software transactional memory (STM) and lock inference) to implement atomic blocks. In our approach, an atomic block uses STM as long as lock inference would lead to coarse-grained synchronization. The atomic block switches from STM to lock inference as soon as a fine-grained synchronization is possible. With this technique, an atomic block always uses fine-grained synchronization while the runtime overhead of STM is minimized at the same time. We showed that (compared to a pure STM or lock inference implementation) our technique speeds up execution times by a factor between 1.1 and 6.3. Although fine-grained synchronization in general leads to better performance than a coarse-grained solution, there are cases where a coarse-grained implementation shows equal performance. We therefore presented a runtime mechanism for an STM that also works together with our combined technique. This runtime mechanism starts with a small number of locks, i.e., a coarse-grained locking, where accesses to different shared variables are protected by the same lock. If this coarse-grained locking leads to too many non-conflicting accesses waiting for the same lock, our approach gradually increases the number of locks. This makes the locking more fine-grained so that non-conflicting accesses can be executed concurrently. Our runtime mechanism that dynamically tunes the locking-granularity makes the programs run up to 3.0 times faster than a fixed coarsegrained synchronization.

    We completed this project part in 2014.

    Research on migration techniques

    Our research on the migration of legacy applications originally consisted of having a tool that automatically replaces suboptimal code constructs with better code. The code sequences that had to be replaced as well as the replacement codes were specified by developers by means of a newly developed pattern description language. However, we found this approach to be too difficult for novice developers.

    This led us to the development of a new tool that automatically learns and generalizes patterns from source code archives, recognizes them in other projects, and presents recommendations to developers. The foundation of our tool lies in the comparison of two versions of the same program. It extracts the changes that were made between two source codes, derives generalized patterns of suboptimal and better code from these changes, and saves the patterns in a database. Our tool then uses these patterns to suggest similar changes for the source code of different programs.

    In 2014 we developed a new symbolic code execution engine to minimize the number of wrong recommendations. Depending on the number and the generality of the patterns in the database, it is possible that without the new engine our tool generates some unfitting recommendations. To discard the unfitting ones, we compare the summary of the semantics/behavior of the recommendation with summary of the semantics/behavior of the database pattern. If both differ too severely, our tool drops the recommendation from the results. The distinctive features of our approach are its applicability to isolated code fragments and its automatic configuration that does not require any human interaction.

    The latest results of our tool SIFE are found online (last update: 2014-05-09).

    Parts of the project are funded by the "ESI-Anwendungszentrum" []







Supervised theses

Sorted alphabetically in UnivIS