Flux Research Group / School of Computing

Flick: A Flexible, Optimizing IDL Compiler

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Eric Eide, Kevin Frei, Bryan Ford, Jay Lepreau, and Gary Lindstrom

Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN '97 Conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation (PLDI) 1997.

DOI: 10.1145/258915.258921

Networking, Languages, Middleware


An interface definition language (IDL) is a nontraditional language for describing interfaces between software components. IDL compilers generate “stubs” that provide separate communicating processes with the abstraction of local object invocation or procedure call. High-quality stub generation is essential for applications to benefit from component-based designs, whether the components reside on a single computer or on multiple networked hosts. Typical IDL compilers, however, do little code optimization, incorrectly assuming that interprocess communication is always the primary bottleneck. More generally, typical IDL compilers are “rigid” and limited to supporting only a single IDL, a fixed mapping onto a target language, and a narrow range of data encodings and transport mechanisms.

Flick, our new IDL compiler, is based on the insight that IDLs are true languages amenable to modern compilation techniques. Flick exploits concepts from traditional programming language compilers to bring both flexibility and optimization to the domain of IDL compilation. Through the use of carefully chosen intermediate representations, Flick supports multiple IDLs, diverse data encodings, multiple transport mechanisms, and applies numerous optimizations to all of the code it generates. Our experiments show that Flick-generated stubs marshal data between 2 and 17 times faster than stubs produced by traditional IDL compilers, and on today's generic operating systems, increase end-to-end throughput by factors between 1.2 and 3.7.