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Perceus: Garbage Free Reference Counting with Reuse

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Mon 25 January 2021

PLDI 2021 Distinguished Paper

Link to paper

We introduce Perceus, an algorithm for precise reference counting with reuse and specialization. Starting from a functional core language with explicit control-flow, Perceus emits precise reference counting instructions such that programs are garbage-free, where only live references are retained.This enables further optimizations, like reuse analysis that allows for guaranteed in-place updates at runtime. This in turn enables a novel programming paradigm that we call functional but in-place (FBIP). Much like tail-call optimization enables writing loops with regular function calls, reuse analysis enables writing in-place mutating algorithms in a purely functional way. We give a novel formalization of reference counting in a linear resource calculus, and prove that Perceus is sound and garbage free. We show evidence that Perceus, as implemented in Koka, has good performance and is competitive with other state-of-the-art memory collectors.