[ecoop-info] PhD position on IoT and languages at the CITI-Inria Lab in Lyon, France
julien.ponge at insa-lyon.fr
Fri Jul 15 11:17:42 CEST 2016
Programming language abstractions for the Internet of Things
Programming languages, distributed systems, Internet of Things,
CITI-INRIA Laboratory, Université de Lyon, INSA de Lyon
Dynamid research team (http://dynamid.citi-lab.fr/)
This PhD thesis will be supported by the Spie-ICS – INSA chair on IoT
that will start in November 2016.
The PhD thesis will preferably start in October 2016, although there
is some flexibility depending on the candidate profile.
* Main supervisor: Dr Julien Ponge <julien.ponge at insa-lyon.fr>
* Co-supervisor: Dr Frédéric Le Mouël <frederic.le-mouel at insa-lyon.fr>
# Research project
The so-called Internet of Things marks the convergence of small
connected devices (e.g., personal devices, body devices, wireless
sensors) and the larger set of more traditional distributed applications
as accessed over standard Internet protocols. The "software is eating
the world" mantra
is no lie as more and more of devices communicate with cloud-based
services. Still, developing and integrating software remains largely a
crafting exercise with mainstream programming languages, while research
languages tend to be too impractical.
The architecture of modern applications is converging towards
distributed services that expose standard-based interfaces. A service
tends to fulfill a single functional purpose (e.g., storing some data /
logs, providing authentication, and so on). In this setting an
application shifts from a paradigm where it is made by assembling
component libraries to a paradigm where many (distributed) processes
form the application. Communications between such services are typically
made using the general-purpose HTTP protocol, but more specific ones can
be used when needed (MQTT for IoT devices, ZigBee in some wireless
sensor networks, etc). Given that distributed services rely on the
integration with other services through highly inter-operable protocols,
it is very wise to take advantage of many programming languages rather
than follow a "one size fits it all" approach.
Interestingly, the characteristics of distributed services deployed on
cloud infrastructures are quite similar to those of (sensor) network
gateways. Among many problems, these applications need to cope with
concurrency due to network requests, and they have to bind data from/to
network protocols. While middleware can be used to, say, automatically
expose a HTTP service interface and perform data binding, or to provide
concurrent programming abstractions, this remains orthogonal to
programming language operational semantics and type systems.
The history of programming languages is paved with abstractions being
moved from library support to first-class citizen language constructs:
memory management (e.g., Java, Self), threads (e.g., Java), actor models
(e.g., Erlang, Scala), communicating sequential processes over
co-routines (e.g., Go), etc. Still, even with a modern programming
language the development of distributed services involves lots of
boilerplate code (e.g., types for network messages data-binding) and
there is little to no static checks beyond types, especially with
respect to the correctness of concurrent code. As an example, the Go
programming language only provides runtime race condition detection.
In practice, one can observe that the code of a typical application
based on distributed services involves a significant share of message
processing and network operations. The literature lacks successful
languages that were both practical and suitable for these kinds of
networked applications. The Scala programming language is a prime
example of a language effort that initially tried to address the need
for the development of "XML services" with the support of XML
semi-structured data elements in the language. Still, Scala does not
enforce a concurrency model, it does not provide network programming
helpers, and it merely focused its efforts on a sophisticated type
system. Funnel (Functional Nets) was a predecessor of Scala with
first-class support for concurrency primitives based on join-calculus.
Still, it proved impractical to use in real-world applications, just
like other attempts of join-calculus in the ML / OCaml families.
An alternative to composing distributed applications using programming
languages is to rely on some orchestration language such as BPEL and
workflow execution engines. Behavioral protocols can be extracted from
BPEL processes, which is useful for checking correctness of distributed
systems compositions. Still, the limited expressiveness of workflow
languages combined with the complex tooling to develop, test and execute
them limit their wider adoption in favor of more traditional programming
The main scientific goal of this PhD thesis is to investigate which
abstractions shall be part of the next-generation programming languages
in the age of the Internet of Things. We are especially interested, but
not limited to, the useful abstractions to cope with: concurrency,
asynchronous programming, data processing, software dynamics, message
passing, network membership discovery and distributed algorithms (e.g.,
consensus and transactions). Given the distributed / concurrent nature
of the applications that we target, we are also interested in providing
compilation-time assistance beyond classical type checking (e.g.,
deadlock detection, time-bound guarantees, operation sequences
consistency, etc). Last but not least: we also want the research
outcomes to be practical.
The anticipated challenges are as follows.
1. Establish an exhaustive state of the art on programming language and
middleware abstractions. Consider which ones shall be part of a
programming language, and which ones shall be relegated to library
support, based on an extensive study of distributed services
2. Propose a programming language, perhaps as a new or a derivative of
an existing one like Eclipse Golo, a language developped at the CITI
Lab. Formalize and prove the soundness and correctness of its type
system and operational semantics. Classify the ranges of static
checks that can be performed at compilation time. Devise which
remaining checks shall be done at runtime. Discuss their algorithms.
3. Propose an implementation on top of the Java Virtual Machine or the
LLVM code generation infrastructure with state of the art
performance. Develop a rigorous micro-benchmarks tests suite, and
revisit some suitable larger benchmarks from popular references like
4. Validate the language usefulness for developing distributed
applications, both in cloud and wireless sensor gateway settings.
Provide metrics to evaluate programs against other languages.
Perform a field study on practitioners to assess the language
practicability, suitability and learning curve.
As the work will be conducted in a larger project as part of the
Spie-INSA chair on IoT, the candidate will conduct experiments and share
progress with other PhD students in systems, networking and radio
communications. We will take advantage of a large IoT experimental room
that we have, as well as the FIT / CorteXlab testbeds
# Expected skills
The candidate should have earned an MSc degree (or equivalent) in
computer science and engineering. The candidate must have a strong
background in distributed computing, both from theoretical and practical
point of views, as well as good notions on programming languages theory
and implementation. The nature of this work requires strong software
engineering skills. Knowledge of the JVM internals or LLVM is a plus,
as well as having been exposed to a wide range of programming language
# How to apply
* Email a motivation letter
* Full CV with project and courses that could be related to the subject
* Complete academic records (from Bachelor to MSc)
* 2 or 3 references
* Applications will be reviewed when they arrive until one candidate is
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