Prolog Implementation

Literature references and annotations by Dick Grune, dick@dickgrune.com. Last update: Tue Sep 15 09:38:36 2009.
These references and annotations were originally intended for personal use and are presented here only in the hope that they may be useful to others. There is no claim to completeness or even correctness. Each annotation represents my understanding of the text at the moment I wrote the annotation.
No guarantees given; comments and content criticism welcome.

* Todd A. Proebsting, "Simple translation of goal-directed evaluation", in 1997 ACM SIGPLAN Conf. Programming Language Design and Implementation, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 32, #5, May 1997, pp. 1-6.

* Ilyas Cicekli, "An intelligent backtracking schema in a logic programming environment", ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 32, #3, March 1997, pp. 42-49.

* Paul Tarau, Koen De Bosschere, Bart Demoen, "Partial translation -- Towards a portable and efficient Prolog implementation technology", J. Logic Programming, 29, #1-3, pp. 65-83. Oct.-Nov. 1996,

* N. Zhou, "A novel implementation method for delay", in Joint International Conference and Symposium on Logic Programming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 97-111. 1996,

* Neng-Fa Zhou, "Parameter passing and control stack management in Prolog implementation revisited", ACM Trans. Program. Lang. Syst., 18, #6, Nov. 1996, pp. 752-779.
Provides the WAM with more advanced instructions for parameter passing and control stack management, based on identifying guards for clauses.

* A. Krall, T. Berger, "Incremental global compilation of Prolog with the Vienna Abstract Machine", in 12th International Conference on Logic Programming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 333-347. 1995,

* Philippe Codognet, Daniel Diaz, "wamcc: Compiling Prolog to C", ed. by Leon Sterling, in 12th International Conference on Logic Programming, Tokyo, Japan, The MIT Press, 1995, pp. 317-331.

* Patrice Boizumault, "The implementation of Prolog", SIGART Bulletin, 6, #4, 1995, pp. 17-??.

* Bogumił Hausman, "Turbo Erlang: Approaching the speed of C", ed. by E. Tick and G. Succi, in Implementations of Logic Programming Systems, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994, pp. 119-135.
Erlang is a concurrent logic language for programming real-time systems, more particularly telephone exchanges. It is based on message passing and features an advanced receive statement which includes error control, time-out, etc. (Erlang = Ericsson Language, but also named in honor of Agner Krarup Erlang, who pioneered in telephone traffic statistics.)
Erlang code is first translated into The Erlang Abstract Machine TEAM, which is translated into C. The system features dynamic loading and reconfiguring; a running Eralng program can evolve and be updated without ever having to stop. It has start-and-stop garbage collection, though, but this is per-process.
Test programs (factorial, qsort, the Takeuchi test set) lose a factor of 2 to 4 in speed over the C version compiled with gcc -O2. The author attributes this result to the superiority of the TEAM over the WAM, but supplies no details.

* Saumya K. Debray, "Implementing logic programming systems -- The quiche-eating approach", ed. by E. Tick and G. Succi, in Implementations of Logic Programming Systems, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994, pp. 65-88.
The author compares the logic language system QD-Janus, which translates to Prolog which is run on SICStus Prolog to another system FCP(:), which translates to a low-level byte code, which is interpreted. The translator to Prolog is much simpler (unsurprising) and the speed of the resulting code is higher (surprising).

* N. Zhou, "On the scheme of passing arguments in stack frames for Prolog", in 11th International Conference on Logic Programming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 159-174. 1994,

* Zoltan Somogyi, Fergus James Henderson, Thomas Charles Conway, "The implementation of Mercury, an efficient purely declarative logic programming language", ed. by Koen De Bosschere, Bart Demoen, and Paul Tarau, in ILPS'94 Post-Conference Workshop on Implementation Techniques for Logic Programming Languages, pp. 31-58. 1994,
And its companion paper Code generation for Mercury:

* Thomas Conway, Fergus Henderson, Zoltan Somogyi, "Code generation for Mercury", University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1994, pp. 23.

* Takashi Chikayama, Tetsuro Fujise, Daigo Sekita, "A portable and efficient implementation of KL1", ed. by M. Hermenegildo and J. Penjam, in 6th International Symposium on Programming Language Implementation and Logic Programming, PLILP'94, Lecture Notes in Computer Science #844, Springer-Verlag, 1994, pp. 25-39.

* Baudouin Le Charlier, Pascal van Hentenryck, "Experimental evaluation of a generic abstract interpretation algorithm for PROLOG", ACM Trans. Program. Lang. Syst., 16, #1, Jan. 1994, pp. 35-101.

* Peter Van Roy, "1983-1993: The wonder years of sequential Prolog implementation", J. Logic Programming, 19-20, 1994, pp. 385-441.
The definitive survey of sequential Prolog implementation, both in historical and in technical respect. Extensive literature list.

* Krzysztof R. Apt, Alessandro Pellegrini, "On the occur-check-free PROLOG programs", ACM Trans. Program. Lang. Syst., 16, #3, May 1994, pp. 687-726.

* Patrice Boizumault, "The Implementation of Prolog", Princeton Series in Computer Science, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1993,
oz@nexus.yorku.ca (ozan s. yigit) writes: This book is based on Boizumault's thesis, and was originally published in french as Prolog: L'Implantation, 1988. Good to finally have it in english. Prolog is a language filled with interesting implementation problems, and this book is an enlightening synthesis of solutions offered by various implementations. It covers every important aspect of Prolog anatomy, and concludes with three small implementations (mini-cprolog, Mini-WAM, Mini-Prolog-II) in common lisp, and detailed discussion. (I wish I could fuse this book with Meier/Warren's "Computing With Logic" somehow.) Translation is stiff in places, but never mind. Recommended reading for serious language types.
URL : ftp://ftp.cnam.fr/ Files : Boizumault (sources for the interpretation of Prolog).

* N. Zhou, "Global optimizations in a Prolog compiler for the TOAM", J. Logic Program., 15, pp. 265-294. 1993,

* Roberto Barbuti, "Modelling Prolog control", in Nineteenth ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, 1992, pp. 95-104.

* David Gudeman, Koenraad De Bosschere, Saumya K. Debray, "jc: An efficient and portable sequential implementation of Janus", ed. by Krzysztof Apt, in Joint International Conference and Symposium on Logic Programming, Washington, USA, 1992, The MIT Press, 1992, pp. 399-413.

* David S. Warren, "Memoing for logic programs", Commun. ACM, 35, #3, pp. 93-111. March 1992,
The paper treats three different subjects: a new resolution technique (OLDT), abstract (=symbolic) interpretation, and partial evaluation. As far as I can see, memoization is involved only in the first one. This summary concerns OLDT only.
The Prolog inference technique is top-down depth-first search called SLD, Selective Linear resolution for Definite clauses. Its disadvantage is that the search trees is often infinite and the search process gets lost in infinite-length branches, even if there are solutions left to be found. Breadth-first search has the advantage that it finds all solutions eventually, but it still loops on infinite trees that contains a finite number of solutions.
To address this situation, the fact that a clause C has started is registered in a memoization table, and C is not started again recursively until a result for C is available. This digs up a "ground" result for C, and provides a bottom-up component to the search. All this is complicated by the presence of logic variables. This technique results in a top-down, bottom-up-augmented search, in which the search tree reduces to a search graph which is often finite when the search tree is not. The technique is called Ordered selective Linear resolution for Definite clauses with Tabulation, OLDT.
A second explanation of the technique is given, starting from the bottom-up resolution that is usual in Datalog, a database logic language that is similar to prolog, except that it has no structure values. This resolution technique always terminates in the finite domain of databases, and already uses memoization to prevent the repeated recomputation of facts. It is, however, inefficient in that it produces many facts that are irrelevant to the query. This is then remedied by introducing a top-down component ("pushing the selects in"), arriving at essentially the same algorithm as above.
All this is explained extensively, from several different viewpoints including relational algebra. A transformation is given that adds memoization to Prolog programs.

* Hassan Aït-Kaci, "Warren's Abstract Machine -- A Tutorial Reconstruction", MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1991, pp. 114.
Although generally considered the best explanation of the Warren Abstract Machine, it does not have the rigorous clear approach that one would have hoped for. A sequence of four machines is defined, with their machine instructions: the first only does unification of two terms, introducing read-write mode; the second does the same extended with argument registers; the third allows one definition for each term ("flat resolution"); and the fourth introduces backtracking. The relation of all this to Prolog is not made clear, however.
Next, three optimization principles are formulated: 1. avoid creating space on the heap; 2. avoid data movement; 3. handle frequent cases by special code. Based on this, a number of optimizations present in the WAM are explained in order of increasing complexity. This chapter closes with the treatment of the cut operator.
The book ends with a very clear summary of the WAM instructions, with their implementation in a more low-level language.
No word about how to handle `assert' and `retract'.

* P. Tarau, "A simplified abstract machine for the execution of binary metaprograms", in Logic Programming Conference, ICOT, Tokyo, Japan, pp. 119-128. 1991,

* A. Marien, B. Demoen, "On the management of choice point and environment frames in the WAM", in North American Conference on Logic Programming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 1030-1047. 1990,

* A. Taylor, "Removal of dereferencing and trailing in Prolog compilation", in 6th International Conference on Logic Programming, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., pp. 48-60. 1989,

* Timothy Hickey, Shyam Mudambi, "Global compilation of Prolog", J. Logic Program., 7, #3, pp. 193-230. 1989,
Details many techniques. Who refers to this?

* David Maier, David S. Warren, "Computing with Logic -- Logic Programming with Prolog", Benjamin/Cummings Publ. Co., Menlo Park, Cal., 1988, pp. 535.
As the two-part title already suggests, the book has three goals:-) to show how problems can be cast in logic programs, to show the mathematical apparatus describing the semantics of these programs and to show how these programs are implemented. Unfortunately, none of these can be understood without understanding the other two, which poses an obstacle in reading the book.


A first check on accuracy: the index entry "occurs check" (rather than "occur check") refers us to page 284, which contains an example of an occur-check violation without mentioning the term, to page 371 on which I cannot find a reference and to page 415, which contains a discussion of the impact of the occur check (named correctly this time).
Note that David S. Warren is not David H.D. Warren, the author of the Warren Abstract Machine.

* R.M. Colomb, "Assert, retract and external processes in Prolog", SP&E, 18, #3, March 1988, pp. 205-220.

* S. Debray, "Unfold/fold transformations and loop optimizations of logic programs", in SIGPLAN'88 Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation, pp. 297-307. 1988,

* J.L. Weiner, "A piggy-back compiler for Prolog", in SIGPLAN'88 conference on Programming Language design and Implementation, 1988, pp. 288-296.

* K. Appleby, M. Carllson, S. Haridi, D. Sawhlin, "Garbarge collection for Prolog based on WAM", Commun. ACM, 31, #6, June 1988, pp. 719-741.

* Jonas Barklund, "Efficient interpretation of Prolog programs", in ACM SIGPLAN '87 Symposium on Interpreters and Interpretive Techniques, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 22, #7, July 1987, pp. 132-137.

* Janalee O'Bagy, Ralph E. Griswold, "A recursive interpreter for the Icon programming language", in ACM SIGPLAN '87 Symposium on Interpreters and Interpretive Techniques, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 22, #7, July 1987, pp. 138-149.

* Andreas Krall, "Implementation of a high-speed Prolog interpreter", in ACM SIGPLAN '87 Symposium on Interpreters and Interpretive Techniques, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 22, #7, July 1987, pp. 125-131.
Shows that a clever interpreter in assembler can beat compilation to C. Optimizations used are tail recursion optimization, clause indexing and threaded code, but the explanations are cryptic.

* Peter Kursawe, "How to invent a Prolog machine", New Gen. Comp., 5, pp. 97-114. 1987,
Is actually concerned with unification only. Starting from a high-level description of unification, four levels are defined. Each level makes explicit some implicit properties of the previous level, by transforming them into Prolog or built-in predicates. This makes it easy to see that the Prolog semantics is preserved. At each level, possibilities for partial evaluation are examined and specialised predicates are introduced. The final level corresponds more or less to some WAM instructions, including read/write mode optimization. Emphasis is more on the design process than on the resulting instructions. The paper is in regrettable English.

* C.S. Mellish, "Some global optimizations for a Prolog compiler", J. Logic Programming, 2, pp. 43-66. 1985,
The author emphasizes that although logic programs are in principle bidirectional, Prolog program very often loop when used in unusual directions, or get stuck in built-in one-directional operators. Also, perhaps 3/4 of all Prolog clauses are deterministic, which means that they can be implemented as imperative routines, with input and output parameters.
To exploit this imperative nature of large parts of Prolog programs, a two-stage approach is used. First, techniques are described to find deterministic Prolog rules, or rather rules that are always used deterministically. This is done by symbolic (abstract) interpretation: a lattice of states for each parameter is defined, equations are derived from the program, and final knowledge about the states is obtained by taking the transitive closure. Second, optimized translations are made towards an adapted Prolog virtual machine, POPLOG VM.
Occasionally, deep knowledge of Prolog implementation techniques is needed to understand the paper. For example, the operators on the lattice are mentioned (combine, in, sim, seq, or) but not explained; the reader is referred to technical reports. Many elaborate examples are given, though.

* Jacques Cohen, "Describing Prolog by its interpretation and compilation", Commun. ACM, 28, #12, Dec. 1985, pp. 1311-1324.
Explains Prolog in terms of Pascal with continuations; the latter are not explained extensively. This leads naturally to compilation. Many other aspects of Prolog are discussed, for example negation by failure, the cut operator, infinite trees, goal freezing, inequalities (called disequalities here), parallelism, multi-head Prolog clauses. inverse computation, etc.

* John Gabriel, Tim Lindholm, E.L. Lusk, R.A. Oberbeek, "A Tutorial on the Warren Abstract Machine for Computational Logic", ANL-84-84, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Ill., June 1985, pp. 53.
The emphasis is on explaining the WAM as an abstract machine for doing computational logic, rather than on implementing Prolog. The authors consider extension for other kinds of logic languages (theorem provers, etc.).
The text is very terse, but many examples are provided. Something is said about assert and retract, but not much: "We realize that the above comments are extremely cursory, and feel that the reader should form his own judgment on the matter" (p. 23).

* W.F. Clocksin, "Design and simulation of a sequential Prolog machine", New Generation Computing, 3, pp. 101-120. 1985,

* J.A. Campbell, "Implementation of Prolog", Ellis Horwood Series in Artificial Intelligence, John Wiley, New York, 1984, pp. ???.

* K.M. Kahn, M. Carlsson, "The compilation of Prolog programs without the use of a Prolog compiler", in International Conference on Fifth Generation Computer Systems 1984, ICOT, pp. 348-355. 1984,

* N. Heck, I. Avenhaus, "Automatic implementation of abstract data types specified by the logic programming language", in International Conference on Fifth Generation Computer Systems 1984, ICOT, pp. 210-219. 1984,

* C. Dwork, P.C. Kanellakis, J.C. Mitchell, "On the sequential nature of unification", J. Logic Programming, 1, pp. 35-50. 1984,

* David A. Plaisted, "The occur-check problem in Prolog", New Generation Computing, 2, pp. 309-322. 1984,
Describes a Prolog preprocessor that will find situations in which a term loop may be generated and insert correcting code.

* J.A. Campbell, "Implementations of Prolog", Ellis Horwood Limited, New York, 1984,
Niet bij VU.

* D.L. Bowen, L.M. Byrd, "A portable Prolog compiler", in Logic Programming Workshop, Portugal, pp. 74-83. 1983,

* David H.D. Warren, "An abstract Prolog instruction set", Technical Note 309, Artificial Intelligence Center, SRI, Menlo Park, Oct. 1983, pp. 30.
This is the Warren Abstract Machine. It was designed for a machine-independent VAX or VAX microcode, and it differs from the PLM (here called the "Old Engine") (see Warren, May 1977) in the following respects. 1. It uses copying rather than structure sharing, although it is not explained why. 2. There are instructions for tail recursion. 3. There are means for reduced choice point creation. 4. The unification mechanism has separate read and write modes. Also, the global stack is now (inappropiately) called the heap.
The paper is a dry-as-dust description of the data structures and the instruction set, with hardly any motivation. It is up to the reader to find out how to apply the instructions. For one thing, one wonders why the read/write mode is not stacked. The answer is lies probably in the fact that the get_structure and get_list instructions can only be used for structures and lists that do not contain other structures or lists: no get_structure or get_list can be active when another get_structure or get_list is active. This implies that strutures or lists that do nest have to be decomposed by the compiler. None of this is explained, though.
One appendix defines a byte-code instruction format, much like EM. No word about how to handle `assert' and `retract'.

* Alberto Martelli, Ugo Montanari, "An efficient unification algorithm", ACM TOPLAS, 4, #2, pp. 258-282. April 1982,
A equation is formed with the terms to be unified as the operands. This equation is then solved by applying two simple transformations, term reduction and variable elimination. These solve or fail to solve the equation in linear time. The equation has no solution if there is a variable that cannot be eliminated, which means that a term loop exists; this gives you the occur check free of charge.

* M.S. Paterson, M.N. Wegman, "Linear unification", J. Comput. Syst. Sci., 16, #2, April 1978, pp. 158-167.

* D.H.D. Warren, "Applied logic -- Its use and implementation as a programming tool", Ph.D. dissertation / Tech. Note 290, Univ. of Edinburgh / SRI International, Edinburgh / Menlo Park, Calif., pp. ??? / ???. 1977 / 1983,

* David H.D. Warren, "Implementing Prolog -- Compiling Predicate Logic Programs", Research Report No. 39/40, Dep. Artificial Intelligence, Univ. Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, May 1977, pp. 102/???.
This report (#39) describes a predecessor to the WAM, called the ProLog Machine (PLM). It is tuned considerably to the hardware instructions of the DEC10, making heavy use of that machine's indirection mechanism. It includes the cut operator right from the start.
One important kind of data structure is used to represent terms: a term is represented as a pair of pointers, one pointing to the skeleton of the term and the second pointing to an array of representations (pointers) of the logical variables in it. When there are more instances of the term, they share the skeleton pointer and have different data array pointers; this saves memory.
The four stacks require reallocating and relinking software, but a garbage collector is needed only if one wants to compact the global stack; the system will also work without one.
The machine does not do the occur check.
A few optimizations are present --special provisions are made for variables that occur only once-- but there is no read/write mode yet.
The author complains that most of the work in implementing Prolog goes into "non-logic" features, like built-in arithmetic, I/O, file handling, internal database and meta-logical features. No word about how to handle `assert' and `retract'.
The instructions and their implementations are not listed explicitly.

* M.E. Stickel, "A complete unification algorithm for associative-commutative functions", in 4th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Tbilisi, U.S.S.R., 1975, pp. 71-76.

* M. Venturini Zilli, "Complexity of the unification algorithm for first-order expressions", Calcolo, 12, #4, Oct-Dec. 1975, pp. 361-372.

* G.P. Huet, "A unification algorithm for typed lambda-calculus", Theor. Comput. Sci., 1, #1, June 1975, pp. 27-57.

* R.S. Boyer, J.S. Moore, "The sharing of structure in theorem-proving programs", Machine Intelligence, 7, 1972, pp. 101-116.

* J.A. Robinson, "Computational logic: The unification computation", Mach. Intell., 6, 1971, pp. 63-72.

* J.A Robinson, "A machine-oriented logic based on the resolution principle", J. ACM, 12, #1, Jan. 1965, pp. 23-41.

* J.A. Robinson, "Theorem-proving on the computer", J. ACM, 10, #4, Apr. 1963, pp. 163-174.