An Atomic Fibonacci Server: Exploring the Atom (Haskell) DSL

This post is consistent with Atom 0.0.1 and not the latest version, Atom 0.0.5 (the author went off and implemented changes I and others suggested :)).  I’ll update the post… soon.

Tom Hawkins has open-sourced Atom, a domain-specific language (DSL) for writing embedded real-time software. Atom is actually an “embedded DSL” (I prefer the term “lightweight DSL”) in the functional language Haskell. It’s a lightweight DSL (LwDSL) because you write legal Haskell and let the Haskell compiler do all the heavy lifting. The DSL is a set of special functions and data types and a “compile function” that generates embedded (i.e., no dynamic memory) C code.  You don’t have to write your own compiler from scratch.

John Van Enk has already posted a couple of blog entries on using Atom; first on adding slightly to the LwDSL (one major advantage of a LwDSL is that it’s easy to extend the language—you don’t have to re-engineer a standalone compiler) and then on using Atom to blink some LEDs on the Arduino.  Keep checking his blog for more updates!

Here, I write a little device and driver program in Atom: the driver sends an index i, and the device returns the ith Fibonacci number. The little bit of challenge in doing this is that the device and driver may run at different rates, so their communication is asynchronous.  How does this work in a language like Atom?

Writing in the Atom DSL

Let’s think about the Fibonacci device (we’ll call it fibDev) first.  The device fibDev will do three things:

  1. Wait for a new index i from the driver.
  2. Produce a result, fib(i).
  3. Give the result to the driver.

Let’s think about step (2) first.  Think for a second how we’d write this (efficiently) in Haskell:

fib :: Int -> Int
fib n = fst $ fibHlp n
    where fibHlp n =
              case n of
                0 -> (1, 1)
                _ -> let (a,b) = fibHlp (n-1)
                     in (b,a+b)

The Atom implementation will use the same algorithm, but it’ll look different.  Atom is a synchronous language, so you specify rules that fire on clock ticks.  Here’s what the core of the algorithm looks like in Atom (I haven’t shown the variable declarations, but look you can look at the full source):

atom "computeFib" $ do
  cond $ value runFib
  cond $ value i >. 0
  decr i
  snd <== (value fst) + (value snd)
  fst <== value snd

Atom is written in a monadic style.  Here, we have two conditions, both of which must be true for the rule to “fire”.  The first condition is that runFib is true (telling the device it’s in its computation step), and the second condition is that the index is greater than 0 (we stop computing at zero).  If the conditions are true, then the value of i is decremented, and we update the values of the fst and snd variables, corresponding the first and second elements, respectively, of the pair in the Haskell specification. Again, this is legal Haskell; the Atom library defines the special operators (e.g., >.).  One great thing about writing embedded code in Atom is that variable updates are synchronous.  For example, in the code above, fst is updated to the previous value of snd. That’s the core of the Fibonacci device.

The rest of the architecture handles the message passing (in the C code we’ll generate, messages are passed via global variables) and synchronization between the driver and device, as summarized below:

System Architecture

System Architecture

We do not assume that fibDvr and fibDev execute at the same rate, so we handle message passing with a series of handshakes.  First, fibDvr sends a new value x and notifies fibDev that the value is ready (by issuing newInd).  fibDev acknowledges that x has been received with valRcvd.  At this point, fibDvr knows to wait for fibDev to compute fib(x).  Once it receives the notice ansReady, it reads off the answer, ans.

All we have to do now is implement the handshakes.  For example, let’s look at step (3) of the device, sending the final answer to the driver.  It’s behavior should be clear from the architectural description.

atom "sendVal" $ do
  cond $ value i ==. 0
  cond $ value runFib
  runFib   <== false
  ans      <== value fst
  ansReady <== true
  valRcvd  <== false

And here’s step (1) for fibDev, waiting for a new index from the driver:

atom "getIndex" $ do
  cond $ not_ (value runFib)
  cond $ value newInd
  i        <== value x
  runFib   <== true
  fst      <== 1
  snd      <== 1
  ansReady <== false
  valRcvd  <== true

These three rules for fibDev define the body of fibDev‘s “do” block.

fibDev :: Atom ()
fibDev = period 3 $ do ...

We tell atom that the period is 3, meaning execute each of our three rules every three clock ticks (based on the underlying clock).

Now that we’re comfortable with the language, let’s look at the entire definition of fibDvr in one go. Recall the job of fibDvr is to send a value then wait for an answer.  Our driver will increment values by 5, starting at 0.  It’ll stop sending new values if the index is bigger than 50.

fibDvr :: Atom ()
fibDvr = period 20 $ do
  x        <- word64 "x" 0 -- new index to send
  oldInd   <- word64 "oldInd" 0 -- previous index sent
  -- external signals --
  valRcvd  <- bool' "valRcvd" -- has the device received the new index?
  ans      <- word64' "ans" -- the newly-computed fib(x)
  ansReady <- bool' "ansReady" -- is an answer waiting?
  valD     <- word64 "valD" 1 -- local copy of fib(x)
  newInd   <- bool "newInd" True -- a new index is ready
  waiting  <- bool "waiting" True -- waiting for a new computation

  atom "wait" $ do
    cond $ value valRcvd
    cond $ not_ $ value waiting
    newInd  <== false
    waiting <== true

  atom "getAns" $ do
    cond $ value ansReady
    cond $ value waiting
    cond $ value x <. 50
    valD    <== value ans
    x       <== value x + 5
    waiting <== false
    newInd  <== true
    oldInd  <== value x

Note that we’ve specified the period of the driver to be 20, meaning that its two rules get executed every 20 ticks.  So the driver is much slower than the device, but if our handshakes are correct, the two devices communicate correctly for any rates of execution of the two components.  (Proving it for all-time is a classic model checking problem.)

Compiling to C

We include a little Haskell function that we can call to “compile” fibDev and fibDvr into embedded C files.  (The compile function is part of Atom, and it takes a name for the generated C file and Atom specifications to compile.)

compileFib :: IO ()
compileFib = do
  compile "fibDev" $ fibDev
  compile "fibDvr" $ fibDvr

We can call this from an interpreter for Haskell; it takes about a second to compile. Doing so almost produces the source files fibDvr.c and fibDev.c. We do a few things manually:

  • Write two header files, fibDvr.h and fibDev.h and import them. This is the code we want to talk to each other through global variables.  We’ll also include stdio.h so we can printf our results.
  • Because Atom automatically (atomatically? :)) generates variable and function names in the generated code, we declare some of the identifiers in fibDev.c to be static so they aren’t globally visible.
  • We #define the variable names from the Atom-generated identifiers back to the expected identifiers for the variables that are shared.
  • And we add a little main function to execute the code: let’s execute the driver and device for 500 clock ticks:
    int main() {
       while(__clock < 500) {
       return 0;

Of course, Atom could be extended to handle these things itself—John Van Enk has already started doing some of it.  In all, our 80-some lines of Atom compile to over 200 lines of embedded C.  So let’s test it!

> gcc -Wall -o fibDvr fibDev.c fibDvr.c
> ./fibDvr

generates the following output:

i: 0, fib(i): 1
i: 0, fib(i): 1
i: 0, fib(i): 1
i: 5, fib(i): 8
i: 5, fib(i): 8
i: 10, fib(i): 89
i: 10, fib(i): 89
i: 10, fib(i): 89
i: 15, fib(i): 987
i: 15, fib(i): 987
i: 15, fib(i): 987
i: 15, fib(i): 987
i: 20, fib(i): 10946
i: 20, fib(i): 10946
i: 20, fib(i): 10946
i: 20, fib(i): 10946
i: 25, fib(i): 121393
i: 25, fib(i): 121393
i: 25, fib(i): 121393
i: 25, fib(i): 121393
i: 25, fib(i): 121393
i: 30, fib(i): 1346269
i: 30, fib(i): 1346269
i: 30, fib(i): 1346269
i: 30, fib(i): 1346269

Wait, why are we getting the same answers multiple times? Recall that Atom is a synchronous language, so functions are executed based on time (measured in underlying clock ticks), not events. But most times, the guards don’t hold, so state isn’t updated. That’s what we see here.

Oh, we should check our specification. We can do that using our original Haskell specification:

> map fib [0,5..30]

Looks good!

Let me know if this helps you understand Atom, or if you have thoughts on how Atom compares to other languages.

Finally, here are the sources:

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5 Responses to “An Atomic Fibonacci Server: Exploring the Atom (Haskell) DSL”

  1. Thomas DuBuisson Says:

    Lee: Any chance of you doing a Tuesday tech talk on Atom? I enjoyed this post and am considering writing something for ARM using Atom, but have yet to start and am interest in what more you have learned.

    • Lee Pike Says:

      Tom: thanks for the comment. That’s a great idea! I’ll give a talk as soon as I have some time… By the way, Tom Hawkins has uploaded a new version of Atom to Hackage in response to some of my post and John Van Enk’s post, so some things I mention are a bit outdated (I’ll try to update the post soon).

  2. Jedaï Says:

    Note that your fib function doesn’t do the same thing as your fibDev : your fib isn’t tail recursive for instance. I think the following would be closer to the fibDev algorithm.

    fib n = fst $ fibHlp n (1,1)
    fibHlp :: Int -> (Int,Int) -> (Int,Int)
    fibHlp 0 p = p
    fibHlp n (a,b) = fibHlp (n-1) (b, a+b)

    • Lee Pike Says:


      Thanks! You’re right. I wasn’t thinking of formally deriving the Atom specification from the Haskell, but yours is closer. By the way, in terms of efficiency, your version or even

      fib :: Int -> Int
      fib n = fibs !! n
      fibs = 1 : 1 : [ x + y | (x,y) <- zip fibs (tail fibs) ]

      is more efficient (but yours is a better specification for the Atom implementation).

  3. Atom : a domain specific language for hard realtime applications « Arch Linux and Haskell Says:

    [...] Atom compiles Haskell source to C (so you can use it for writing regular old C programs). Here’s an example Atom kernel by Lee Pike: [...]

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