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 1.15, April 2017

Version 1.15 includes several language changes to improve array semantics.

In summary:

  • arrays are always destroyed when they go out of scope and in particular will not be preserved by use in begin. See array lexical scoping.
  • the array alias operator => has been deprecated in favor of creating references to an array or a slice of an array with ref or const ref. See array alias operator deprecated.
  • arrays now return by value by default instead of by ref. See arrays return by value by default.
  • arrays now pass by ref or const ref by default, depending on whether or not the formal argument is modified. See array default intent.

Additionally, the default intent for record method receivers has changed:

  • the method receiver for records is passed by ref or const ref by default, depending on whether or not the formal argument is modified. See record this default intent.

array lexical scoping

As described in the language changes for 1.12 in lexical scoping, using arrays beyond their scope is a user error. While such a program was in error starting with Chapel 1.12, such a pattern worked until Chapel 1.15.

For example, this program will probably crash in Chapel 1.15:

proc badBegin() {
  var A: [1..10000] int;
  begin {
    A += 1;
  // Error: A destroyed here at function end, but the begin could still
  // be using it!

Similarly, using a slice after an array has been destroyed is an error:

proc badBeginSlice() {
  var A: [1..10000] int;
  // slice1 sets up a slice using the => operator
  // note that the => operator is deprecated (see below)
  var slice1 => A[1..1000];
  // slice2 sets up a slice by creating a reference to it
  ref slice2 = A[1..1000];
  // either way, using the slice in a begin that can continue
  // after the function declaring the array exits is an error
  begin {
    slice1 += 1;
    slice2 += 1;
  // Error: A destroyed here at function end, but the begin tries to
  // use it through the slices!

array alias operator deprecated

The array alias operator, =>, has been deprecated in Chapel 1.15. Previously, the supported way to declare one array that aliases another (or a slice of another) was to use =>. Now, the supported way to do that is to use a ref or const ref variable:

For example, before Chapel 1.15 you might have written:

// pre-1.15
var A:[1..10] int;
// set up a const alias of A
const alias => A;
// set up a mutable slice of A
var slice => A[2..5];
// set up a re-indexing slice of A
var reindex:[0..9] => A;

In Chapel 1.15, use ref or const ref to create the same pattern:

var A:[1..10] int;
// set up a const alias of A
const ref alias = A;
// set up a mutable slice of A
ref slice = A[2..5];
// set up a re-indexing slice of A
ref reindex = A.reindex({0..9});

arrays return by value by default

Before Chapel 1.15, returning an array would return the array by reference. Now arrays return by value by default. That is, the act of returning an array can make a copy:

var A: [1..4] int;
proc returnsArray() {
  return A;
ref B = returnsArray();
B = 1;
// outputs 1 1 1 1 historically
// outputs 0 0 0 0 after Chapel 1.15

This behavior applies to array slices as well.

The old behavior is available with the ref return intent. Note though that returning a ref to a local array is an error just like it is an error to return a local int variable by ref.

proc returnsArrayReference() ref {
  return A;

array default intent

Before 1.15, the default intent for arrays was ref. The rationale for this feature was that it was a convenience for programmers who are used to modifying array formal arguments in their functions. Unfortunately, it interacted poorly with return intent overloading. Additionally, the implementation had several bugs in this area.

The following example shows how it might be surprising that return intent overloading behaves very differently for arrays than for other types. As the example shows, this issue affects program behavior and not just const-checking error messages from the compiler.

// First, let's try some of these things with an
// associative array of ints:
  var D:domain(int);
  var A:[D] int;

  // This adds index 1 to the domain, implicitly
  A[1] = 10;
  writeln(D.member(1)); // outputs `true`

  // This will halt, because index 2 is not in the domain
  //var tmp = A[2];

  // This will also halt, for the same reason

// Now, let's try the same things with an array of arrays:
  var D:domain(int);
  var AA:[D] [1..4] int;
  var value:[1..4] int = [10,20,30,40];

  // This adds index 4 to the domain, implicitly
  AA[4] = value;
  writeln(D.member(4)); // outputs `true`

  // This will halt, because index 5 is not in the domain
  //var tmp = AA[5];

  // It seems that this *should* halt, but it does not (pre 1.15)
  // Instead, it adds index 6 to the domain
  writeln(D.member(6)); // outputs `true` !

See GitHub issue #5217 for more examples and discussion.

In order to make such programs less surprising, version 1.15 changes the default intent for arrays to ref if the formal argument is modified in the function and const ref if not. As a result, the above example behaves similarly for an associative array of integers and an associative array of dense arrays.

For example, in the following program, the default intent for the formal argument x is ref:

proc setElementOne(x) {
  // x is modified, so x has ref intent
  x[1] = 1;
var A:[1..10] int;

In contrast, in the following program, the default intent for the formal argument y is const ref:

proc getElementOne(y) {
  // y is not modified, so y has const ref intent
  var tmp = y[1];
const B:[1..10] int;

record this default intent

Before 1.15, the default intent for the implicit this argument for record methods was implemented as ref but specified as const ref. In 1.15, this changed to ref if the formal this argument is modified in the body of the function and const ref if not.

See GitHub issue #5266 for more details and discussion.

record R {
  var field: int;

  proc setFieldToOne() {
    // this is modified, so this-intent is ref
    this.field = 1;

  proc printField() {
    // this is not modified, so this-intent is const ref

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.