Chapel Evolution

Like any language, Chapel has changed over time. This page is designed to capture significant language changes that have the possibility of breaking existing user codes or code samples from old presentations or papers that predated the changes.

version 1.13, April 2016

ref return intent

Previous versions of Chapel included an implicit setter param of type bool for ref return intent functions. In addition, the compiler created a getter and setter version of each ref return intent function. The getter version would return an rvalue, and the setter version would return an lvalue by ref. For example:

var x = 1;

proc refToX() ref {
  if setter then
    return x; // setter version
    return 0; // getter version

refToX() = 3;       // uses the setter version
writeln(x);         // prints 3
var tmp = refToX(); // uses the getter version
writeln(tmp);       // prints 0

This functionality has changed with version 1.13. It is still possible to write a getter and a setter, but these must be written as pair of related functions:

var x = 1;

// setter version
proc refToX() ref {
  return x;

// getter version
proc refToX() {
  return 0;

refToX() = 3;       // uses the setter version
writeln(x);         // prints 3
var tmp = refToX(); // uses the getter version
writeln(tmp);       // prints 0

In some cases, when migrating code over to the new functionality, it is useful to put the old ref return intent function into a helper function with an explicit param setter argument, and then to call that function from the getter or setter.

version 1.12, October 2015

lexical scoping

Prior to version 1.12 of Chapel, variables could be kept alive past their lexical scopes. For example:

  var A: [1..n] real;
  var count$: sync int;
  var x: real;
  begin with (ref x) {
    ... A ...;
    ... count$ ...;
    ... x ...;
  // ^^^ this task and its references to A, count$, and x could outlive
  // the scope in which those variables are declared.
} // So, previously, Chapel kept these variables alive past their
  // logical scope.

Disadvantages of this approach included:

  • It moves logical stack variables (like x and count$ above) to the heap.
  • It complicates memory management by incurring reference counting overhead---or causing memory leaks in cases where reference counting hadn't been added.
  • It was not particularly valued or utilized by users.
  • It was arguably surprising ("x still exists even though it left scope?").

As of Chapel 1.12 (and moreso in subsequent releases), the implementation no longer provides this property. Instead, it is a user error to refer to a variable after it has left scope. For example:

var flag$: sync bool; // flag$ starts empty
  var x: real;
  begin with(ref x) { // create task referring to x
    flag$;            // block task until flag$ is full
    ... x ...         // user error: access to x occurs after it leaves scope
  }                   // end task
}                     // x`s scope ends
flag$ = true;         // fill flag$ only after x's scope closes

Code that refers to lexically scoped variables within tasks in this manner should use sync variables or blocks in order to guarantee the tasks's completion before the enclosing block exits. Note that the more commonly used cobegin, coforall, and forall statements already guarantee that the tasks they create will complete before the enclosing block exits.

version 1.11, April 2015

forall intents

In previous versions of Chapel, the bodies of forall-loops have referred to all lexically visible variables by reference. In this release of Chapel, such variables are treated more consistently with the task intent semantics and syntax introduced in versions 1.8 and 1.10 respectively (described below).

Specifically, prior to this release, a loop like the following would represent a data race:

var sum = 0.0;
forall a in A do sum += a;

since multiple iterations of the loop could execute simultaneously, read the identical value from the shared variable sum, update it, and write the result back in a way that could overwrite other simultaneous updates.

Under the new forall intent semantics, such variables are treated as though they are passed by "blank intent" to the loop body (so const for variables of scalar type like sum, preventing races in such cases). This mirrors the task intent semantics for variables referenced within begin, cobegin, and coforall constructs. As in those cases, a user can specify semantics other than the default via a with-clause. For example, to restore the previous race-y semantics, one could write:

var sum = 0.0;
forall a in A with (ref sum) do
  sum += a;

(Of course, the safe way to write such an idiom would be to use a reduction, or a synchronization type like sync or atomic).

type select statement

Chapel has traditionally supported a type select statement that was like a select statement for types. However, this seemed inconsistent with the fact that other constructs like if...then operate on types directly. For that reason, this release removed support for type select x. Instead, use the equivalent select x.type.

version 1.10, October 2014

task intents syntax

Task intent clauses were added to Chapel in version 1.8 to support passing variables by reference into tasks. Since then, the need to pass variables by other intents and into other parallel constructs has arisen. But, the previous syntax was problematic to extend to other intents, while also generating syntactic ambiguities for other additions we wished to make to the language.

For these reasons, a new task intent syntax was designed to cleanly support intents other than ref (particularly in looping contexts), to address the pending ambiguity, and to better reflect the similarity of task intents to formal argument lists. Where previously, task constructs could be followed by a ref clause, they can now be followed by a with clause that takes a list of intents and variables, specifying how to pass them into the task.

Thus, where one would have previously written:

begin ref(x) update(x);

cobegin ref(x, y) {

coforall x in A ref(y) {
  process(x, y);

you would now write:

begin with (ref x) update(x);

cobegin with(ref x, ref y) {

coforall x in A with (ref y) {
  process(x, y);

As of the 1.10 release, only ref intents are supported, though we plan to expand this set of intents for the 1.11 release while also extending forall-loops to support task intents.

'var' function return intents changed to 'ref'

A var function return intent has traditionally been used to indicate that a call to the function (referred to as a var function) could appear in either an r-value or l-value context. The var keyword was chosen since the function could be used in the same contexts as a variable could.

Since that time, the ref keyword has been introduced into Chapel to support passing variables by reference to functions. Since returning an expression by reference supports similar capabilities as var functions require, while also being less unusual/more orthogonal, this release replaces var function return intents with ref intents.

Thus, where one would previously write:

proc getFoo() var { ... }

now you would write:

proc getFoo() ref { ... }

The var as a return intent is deprecated and generates a warning for the current release, after which it will be removed.

version 1.9, April 2014

operator precedence changes to benefit common cases

Historically, Chapel's operator precedence choices have tended to follow the lead of C for operators that are common to both languages, figuring that following an established convention would be better than forging our own path.

With this change, we modified the precedence of bitwise operators to better reflect what we think it intuitive to users and correct what is viewed in many circles to be a regrettable mistake in C. At the same time, we changed the binding of in and .. to support some other Chapel idioms more naturally, like 1..10 == 1..10. To see the current operator precedence, refer to the :download:Quick Reference <> sheet.

improved interpretation of {D}

Historically, for a domain D, Chapel has interpreted {D} as being equivalent to D, inheriting a precedent of sorts set by the ZPL language, and dating from a time when we used square brackets for both domain literals and array types.

With this change, we began interpreting {D} as a domain literal with a single index, D (i.e., an associative domain of domains). Associative domains of domains are not yet implemented in the language, so the new syntax is not yet useful, but at least the incongruity of ignoring the curly brackets has been removed.

version 1.8, October 2013

task functions and intents; ref-clauses Chapel has three constructs for creating tasks: begin, cobegin, and coforall. Historically, variable references within tasks followed standard lexical scoping rules. For example, the following code:

var x = 0;
begin writeln(x);
x += 1;

could print either the value 0 or 1, depending on whether the writeln() task was executed before or after the increment of x.

With this change, we view the creation of a task as an invocation of a task function — a compiler-created function that implements the task. Any references to variables outside of the task's scope (like x in the example above) are treated as implicit arguments to the task function, passed by blank intent.

Thus, when x is an integer, as in the above code, the task will always print the value of 0, even if the increment of x is executed before the writeln() task, since the value of x will have been passed to the task function by blank intent (implying a const copy for integer arguments). In contrast, if x were a sync variable in the example above, the blank intent would cause it to be passed by reference to the task, permitting the task to see either of the values 0 or 1.

To return to the previous behavior, a ref-clause can be added to the tasking construct to indicate that a variable should be passed to the task function by reference rather than blank intent. For example, the following code:

var x = 0;
begin ref(x) writeln(x);
x += 1;

would revert to the previous behavior, even if x were an integer.

For more information on this feature, please refer to the Task Intents section of the Task Parallelism and Synchronization chapter of the language specification.

version 1.6, October 2012

domain literals

Chapel's domain literals were historically specified using square brackets, based on ZPL's region syntax. Thus [1..m, 1..n] represented an m × n index set.

In this change, we made domain literals use curly brackets in order to reflect their role as sets of indices, and also to make square brackets available for supporting array literals. Thus, {1..m, 1..n} is an m × n index set, [1.2, 3.4, 5.6] is a 3-element array of reals and [1..m, 1..n] is a 2-element array of ranges.

Emacs users working on updating existing code can use the following recipe to update old-style domain literals to the new syntax:

M-x query-replace-regexp: \([=|,] *\)\[\(.*?\)\]\([;|)]\)
with: \1{\2}\3

zippered iteration

Zippered iteration in Chapel was traditionally supported simply by iterating over a tuple of values. For example, forall (i,a) in (1..n, A) would iterate over the range 1..n and the n-element array A in a zippered manner.

In this change, we introduced the zip keyword to make these zippered iterations more explicit and to permit iteration over a tuple's values directly. Thus, the zippered iteration above would now be written:

forall (i,a) in zip(1..n, A)

ignoring tuple components/underscore

Overtime, the mechanism used to ignore a tuple component when destructuring a tuple has changed. Originally, an underscore was used to drop a value on the floor. For example, given a 3-tuple t, the first and last components could be stored in x and z, dropping the second component on the floor using: var (x, _, z) = t;. In version 1.1 (Apr 2010), we changed this to use a blank space instead of an underscore, for simplicity and to permit underscore to be used as an identifier name. Thus, the example above would have been written as var (x, , z) = t; during this time period.

However, in 2012, we changed back to using the underscore again in order to support the specification of 1-tuples using a dangling comma, similar to Python. Thus, dropping a tuple component is expressed as var (x, _, z) = t; again while (1.2, ) is a 1-tuple of reals.

version 1.4, October 2011

function declaration keywords

Prior to this change, the keyword def was used to define both procedures and iterators; the compiler inspected the body of the function for yield statements to determine whether it was a procedure or an iterator.

In this change, we introduced the proc and iter keywords to distinguish between these two cases for the sake of clarity, to avoid mistakes, to support semantics that clearly distinguish between these cases, and to better support specifying interfaces.