OSD R8203A_Xerox_Office_System_Technology_Jan1984 R8203A Xerox Office System Technology Jan1984

User Manual: Pdf OSD-R8203A_Xerox_Office_System_Technology_Jan1984

Open the PDF directly: View PDF PDF.
Page Count: 286

DownloadOSD-R8203A_Xerox_Office_System_Technology_Jan1984 OSD-R8203A Xerox Office System Technology Jan1984
Open PDF In BrowserView PDF
A Look into the World of the Xerox 8000 Series Products:
Workstations, Services, Ethernet, and Software Development

Revised Edition

Office Systems Technology

A Look into the World of the Xerox 8000 Series Products:
Workstations, Services, Ethernet, and Software Development

Managing Editors:
Ted Linden and Eric Harslem

OSD-R8203A
January 1984

XEROX

Office Systems Division
3333 Coyote Hill Road
Palo Alto, California 94304

Second Printing, 1984

All of the articles in this volume have been or will
be published in other publications (as indicated in
the Table o{Contents). All articles are reprinted
with permission.
Copyright © 1982, 1984 by Xerox Corporation.

Dedication
This book is dedicated to all the hardworking and creative people
of Xerox' Systems Development Department who have seen the
promise in the office of the future and made it into a reali ty.

Preface
This version of Office Systems Technology is basically identical to OSD-R8203 published in 1982,
except for a few minor corrections, and some revision of the two articles starting on pages 65 and 91.

Notice
The papers reproduced in this book were written by different authors and were originally published
at various times. Neither the original publication nor their republication implies any specific
endorsement by the Xerox Corporation. Some statements in these papers are not valid concerning
current products. Furthermore, no statement in these papers should be construed to imply a
commitment or warranty by the Xerox Corporation concerning past, present, or future products.

Introduction
The members of the Xerox Sys.tems Development Department, while creating the Xerox SOOO Series
products, have explored many new frontiers in office systems technology. Many of their technical
breakthroughs have been recorded in the open literature. This book gathers the majority of these
publications together to make them more readily accessible.
This book is organized as follows: papers about new features that are visible to users of these products
come first; papers about underlying technology come later. The first section has the papers about the
user interface and functionality of the 8010 Workstation; the second section has papers about the
Network Services that support this and other workstations. The three succeeding sections cover:
Ethernet and Communications Protocols, Programming Language and Operating System, and
Processor Architecture. The final section has papers about the Software Engineering methodology
that was used during the development of all these products.
In the first section dealing with the SOlO workstation, the first two papers describe the dramatically
new user interface concepts that are employed-the first focusing on workstation features and the
second on the user interface design goals. The next two papers describe, respectively, the design of
the integrated graphics facility and the records processing functionality. The final paper in this
section contains a comparative evaluation of text editors.
An office system is not just a collection of workstations. Network Services provide the functionality
that make the difference between a collection of workstations and an office system. There are three
papers about Network Services. The first describes the Clearinghouse, which enables a workstation
to locate named resources in a widely distributed office system. User authentication is the
cornerstone of most security and audit controls and presents some challenging problems in a
distributed system-as discussed in the next paper. The final paper in this section describes the mail
service developed by researchers at Xerox PARCo It has served as a prototype for the Mail Service
and for other distributed services in the SOOO Series products. There are no published papers about
the SOOO Series Print Service, File Service, or External Communication Service.
The glue that holds together all of the previous functions is the Ethernet and the Xerox Network
Systems Communication Protocols. The first paper is an overview of communications and the office.
The next paper describes the evolution of the Ethernet local area network. Office communications
are not always local, and the remaining papers in this section deal with issues about building
individual local networks into an effective, geographically-dispersed internetwork. The use of
multiple local networks is covered in the third paper in this section, the fourth deals with addressing
in an internetwork using 4S-bit addresses, and the fifth describes the higher-level communication
protocols.
Behind the scenes for all of these products is a programming language and operating system capable
of supporting the incremental growth of a large office system. The fourth section deals with these
topics. First there are two papers about Mesa, a practical programming language that incorporates
many recent ideas from research on programming languages. The following paper on multiple
inheritance subclassing describes the approach that was used to support object-oriented
programming in the design and implementation of the SOOO Series products. The final paper
discusses Pilot, the operating system used in all Xerox SOOO Series products.

The processor architecture for the Xerox 8000 Series products is the subject of the two papers in the
fifth section. The first provides an overview of the Mesa processor architecture and the second reports
the findings from an analysis of the Mesa instruction set.
Building an integrated office system is a large software engineering project. Pilot, the operating
system in the 8000 Series products, provides one case study in software engineering which is
discussed from different viewpoints in the first and fourth papers in this section. The Mesa language
was designed to encourage the use of better software engineering methods, and that topic is examined
in the second paper in this section. The third paper describes the software engineering techniques
that were used during the development of the application code for the 8000 Series products.
This book itself exemplifies the use of the technology that it describes. The front cover design and
front matter of this book were created using 8000 Series products. All of the recent papers were
created using the Xerox 8000 Series products. While some of them were typeset for their original
publication, the following papers are reproduced exactly as they were created and printed using 8000
Series products:
Star Graphics: An Object-Oriented Implementation
The Design of Star's Records Processing
The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized Agent for Locating Named Objects in a Distributed
Environment
Authentication in Office System Internetworks
Traits - An Approach to Multiple-Inheritance Subclassing
A Retrospective on the Development of Star

Acknowledgments
We are indebted to Paula Ann Balch and Stan Suk for many hours of work producing this collective
volume. The front cover design was created by Norman Cox of the Xerox Office Products Division.
Bill Verplank provided valuable assistance in the cover design.
No book on Xerox office systems technology would be complete without an acknowledgment of the
pioneering research in this area done by our colleagues at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
(PARC). Without them this book would not have been possible. The volume of PARC publications on
office systems technology has generally prohibited us from including their publications here-unless
one or more of the authors was a member of the Systems Development Department.

Ii

I

Office Systems Technology

'I

Table of Contents
The 8010 Workstation
Smith, D. C.; Harslem, E.; Irby, C.; Kimball, R. The Star User Interface: An
Overview. Proc. of National Computer Conference; 1982 June 7-10; Houston. [pages]
515-528.

1

Smith, D. C.; Irby, C.; Kimball, R.; Verplank, B.; Harslem, E. Designing the Star
User Interface. Byte. 7(4): 242-282; 1982 April.

15

Lipkie, Daniel E.; Evans, Steven R.; Newlin, John K.; Weissman, Robert L. Star
Graphics: An Object-Oriented Implementation. Computer Graphics. 16(3): 115124; July 1982. [also presented at SIGGRAPH '82 conference, Boston.]

29

Purvy, R.; Farrell, J.; Klose, P. The Design of Star's Records Processing.
[Submitted to ACM's Transactions on Office Information Systems, to appear first
quarter, 1983.]

39

Roberts, T. L.; Moran, T. P. Evaluation of Text Editors. Proc. of the Conference on
Human Factors in Computer Systems; 1982 March 15-17; Gaithersburg, MD. [pages]
136-141.

59

Network Services
Oppen, D. C.; Dalal, Y. K. The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized Agent for
Locating Named Objects in a Distributed Environment. ACM Trans. Office Inf.
Syst. 1(3): 230-253; 1983 July.

65

Israel, J. E.; Linden, T. A. Authentication in Office System Internetworks. ACM
Trans. Office Inf. Syst. 1(3): 193-210; 1983 July.

91

Birrell, A. D.; Levin, R.; Needham, R. M.; Schroeder, M. D. Grapevine: An Exercise
in Distributed Computing. Comm. ACM. 25(4): 260-274; 1982 April.

109

Ethernet and Communications Protocols
Dalal, Y. K. The Information Outlet: A new tool for office organization. Palo
Alto: Xerox Corporation, Office Products Division; 1981 October; OPD-T8104. [A
version of this paper appeared in Proc. of the Online Conference on Local Networks
and Distributed Office Systems; 1981 May.]

124

Shoch, J. F.; Dalal, Y. K.; Crane, R. C.; Redell, D. D. Evolution of the Ethernet
Local Computer Network. IEEE Computer magazine. 15(8): 10-27; 1982 August.
[Also published by Xerox Corporation, Office Products Division; 1981 September;
OPD-T8102.]

133

Dalal, Y. K. Use of Multiple Networks in the Xerox Network System. IEEE
Computer magazine. 15(10): 82-92; 1982 October.

150

Dalal, Y. K.; Printis, R. S. 48-bit Absolute Internet and Ethernet Host Numbers.
Proc. of the 7th Data Communications Symposium; 1981 October 27-29; Mexico City.
[pages] 240-245. [Also published by Xerox Corporation, Office Products Division; 1981
July; OPD-T8101.]

161

White, J. E.; Dalal, Y. K. Higher-level protocols enhance Ethernet. Electronic
Design. 30(8): ss33-ss41; 1982 April 15.

167

Office Systems Technology

Table of Contents

(continued)

Programming Language and Operating System
Geschke, C. M.; Morris, J. H., Jr.; Satterthwaite, E. H. Early Experience with
Mesa. Comm. ACM. 20(8): 540-553; 1977 August. [A version of this paper was
presented at the Conference on Language Design for Reliable Software; 1977 March
28-30; Raleigh NC.]

177

Lampson, B. W.; Redell, D. D. Experience with Processes and Monitors in Mesa.
Comm. ACM. 23(2): 105-117; 1980 February.

191

Curry, G.; Baer, L.; Lipkie, D.; Lee, B. Traits· An Approach to MultipleInheritance Subclassing. Proc. of the SIGOA Conference on Office Automation
Systems; 1982 June 21-23; location. [Also published by Xerox Corporation, Office
Systems Division; 1982 September; OSD-T8202.].

204

Redell, D. D.; Dalal, Y. K.; Horsley, T. R.; Lauer, H. C.; Lynch, W. C.; McJones, P. R.;
Murray, H. G.; Purcell, S. C. Pilot: An Operating System for a Personal
Computer. Comm. ACM. 23(2): 81-92; 1980 February. [Presented at the 7th ACM
Symposium on Operating Systems Principles; 1979 December; Pacific Grove.]

213

Processor Architecture
Johnsson, R. K.; Wick, J. D. An Overview of the Mesa Processor Architecture.
Proc. of the Symposium on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and
Operating Systems; 1982 March; Palo Alto. [Also published in SIGARCH Computer
Architecture News 10(2) and SIGPLAN Notices 17(4).]

225

Sweet, R. E.; Sandman, J. G., Jr. Empirical Analysis of the Mesa Instruction Set.
Proc. of the Symposium on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and
Operating Systems; 1982 March; Palo Alto. [Also published in SIGARCH Computer
Architecture News 10(2) and SIGPLAN Notices 17(4).]

235

Software Engineering
Horsley, T. R.; Lynch, W. C. Pilot: A Software Engineering Case Study. Proc. of
the Fourth International Conference on Software Engineering; 1979 September;
Munich. [pages] 94-99.

245

Lauer, H. C.; Satterthwaite, E. H. The Impact of Mesa on System Design. Proc. of
the Fourth International Conference on Software Engineering; 1979 September;
Munich. [pages] 174-182.

251

Harslem, E.; Nelson, L. E. A Retrospective on the Development of Star. Proc. of
the 6th International Conference on Software Engineering; 1982 September; Tokyo,
Japan.

261

Lauer, H. C. Observations on the Development of an Operating System. Proc. of
the 8th Symposium on Operating Systems; 1981 December; Asilomar. [pages] 30-36.

269

The star user interface: an overview
by DAVID CANFIELD SMITH, CHARLES IRBY, and RALPH KIMBALL
Xerox Corporation
Palo Alto, California

and
ERIC HARSLEM
Xerox Corporation
El Segundo, California

ABSTRACT
In April 1981 Xerox announced the 8010 Star Information System, a new personal
computer designed for office professionals. who create, analyze, and distribute
information. The Star user interface differs from that of other office computer
systems by its emphasis on graphics, its adherence to a metaphor of a physical
office, and its rigorous application of a small set of design principles. The graphic
imagery reduces the amount of typing and remembering required to operate the
system. The office metaphor makes the system seem familiar and friendly; it reduces the alien feel that many computer systems have. The design principles unify the
nearly two dozen functional areas of Star, increasing the coherence of the system
and allowing user experience in one area to apply in others.

1

2

The Star User Interface: An Overview

INTRODUCTION
In this paper we present the features in the Star system without justifying them in detail. In a companion paper / we discuss the rationale for the design decisions made in Star. We
assume that the reader has a general familiarity with computer
text editors, but no familiarity with Star.
The Star hardware consists of a processor, a two-page-wide
bit-mapped display, a keyboard, and a cursor control device.
The Star software addresses about two dozen functional areas
of the office, encompassing document creation; data processing; and electronic filing, mailing, and printing. Document creation includes text editing and formatting, graphics
editing, mathematical formula editing, and page layout. Data
processing deals with homogeneous databases that can be
sorted, filtered, and formatted under user control. Filing is an
example of a network service using the Ethernet local area
network. 2.3 Files may be stored on a work station's disk (Figure 1), on a file server on the work station's network, or on a
file server on a different network. Mailing permits users of
work stations to communicate with one another. Printing uses
laser-driven xerographic printers capable of printing both text
and graphics. The term Star refers to the total system, hardware plus software.
As Jonathan Seybold has written, "This is a very different
product: Different because it truly bridges word processing

and typesetting functions; different because it has a broader
range of capabilities than anything which has preceded it; and
different because it introduces to the commercial market radically new concepts in human engineering.,,4
The Star hardware was modeled after the experimental
Alto computer developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research
Center. s Like Alto, Star consists of a Xerox-developed highbandwidth MSI processor, local disk storage, a bit-mapped
display screen having a 72-dot-per-inch resolution, a pointing
device called the mouse, and a connection to the Ethernet.
Stars are higher-performance machines than Altos, being
about three times as fast, having 512K bytes of main memory
(vs. 256K bytes on most Altos), 10 or 29M bytes of disk
memory (vs. 2.5M bytes), a lOV2-by-13V2-inch display screen
(vs. a lOV2-by-8-!-inch one), 1024 x 808 addressable screen
dots (vs. 606 x 808), and a 10M bits-per-second Ethernet (vs.
3M bits). Typically, Stars, like Altos, are linked via Ethernets
to each other and to shared file, mail, and print servers. Communication servers connect Ethernets to one another either
directly or over phone lines, enabling internetwork communication to take place. This means, for example, that from the
user's perspective it is no harder to retrieve a file from a file
server across the country than from a local one.
Unlike the Alto, however, the Star user interface was designed before the hardware or software was built. Alto software, of which there was eventually a large amount, was developed by independent research teams and individuals.
There was little or no coordination among projects as each
pursued its own goals. This was acceptable and even desirable
in a research environment producing experimental software.
But it presented the Star designers with the. challenge of synthesizing the various interfaces into a single, coherent, uniform one.
ESSENTIAL HARDWARE
Before describing Star's user interface, we should point out
that there are several aspects of the Star (and Alto) architecture that are essential to it. Without these elements, it would
have been impossible to design a user interface anything like
the present one.

Display

Figure l-A Star workstation showing the processor, display, keyboard and
mouse

Both Star and Alto devote a portion of main memory to the
bit-mapped display screen: lOOK bytes in Star, 50K bytes
(usually) in Alto. Every screen dot can be individually turned
on or off by setting or resetting the corresponding bit in
memory. This gives both systems substantial ability to portray
graphic images.

3

National Computer Conference, 1982

Memory Bandwidth

Local Disk

Both Star and Alto have a high memory bandwidth-about
50 MHz, in Star. The entire Star screen is repainted from
memory 3Sj times per second. This 50-MHz video rate would
swamp most computer memories, and in fact refreshing the
screen takes about 60% of the Alto's memory bandwidth.
However, Star's memory is double-ported; therefore, refreshing the display does not appreciably slow down CPU memory
access. Star also has separate logic devoted solely to refreshing the display.

Every Star and Alto has its own rigid disk for local storage
of programs and data. Editing does not require using the
network. This enhances the personal nature of the machines,
resulting in consistent behavior regardless of how many other
machines there are on the network or what anyone else is
doing. Large programs can be written, using the disk for
swapping.

Microcoded Personal Computer

The Ethernet lets both Stars and Altos have a distributed
architecture. Each machine is connected to an Ethernet.
Other machines on the Ethernet are dedicated as servers,
machines that are attached to a resource and that provide
access to that resource. Typical servers are these:

Both Star and Alto are personal computers, one user per
machine. Therefore the needed memory access and CPU cycles are consistently available. Special microcode has been
written to assist in changing the contents of memory quickly,
permitting a variety of screen processing that would otherwise
not be practical. 6
Mouse

Both Star and the Alto use a pointing device called the
mouse (Figure 2). First developed at SRI,? Xerox's version
has a ball on the bottom that turns as the mouse slides over a
flat surface such as a table. Electronics sense the ball rotation
and guide a cursor on the screen in corresponding motions.
The mouse is a "Fitts's law" device: that is, after·some practice

Network

1. File server-Sends and receives files over the network,

storing them on its disks. A file server improves on a
work station's rigid disk in several ways: (a) Its capacity
is greater-up to 1.2 billion bytes. (b) It provides backup
facilities. (c) It allows files to be shared among users.
Files on a work station's disk are inaccessible to anyone
else on the network.
2. Mail server-Accepts files over the network and distributes them to other machines on behalf of users, employing the Clearinghouse's database of names and addresses (see below).
3. Print server-Accepts print-format files over the network and prints them on the printer connected to it.
4. Communication server-Provides several services: The
Clearinghouse service resolves symbolic names into network addresses. to The Internetwork Routing service
manages the routing of information between networks
over phone lines. The Gateway service allows word processors and dumb terminals to access network resources.
A network-based server architecture is economical, since
many machines can share the resources. And it frees work
stations for other tasks, since most server actions happen in
the background. For example, while a print server is printing
your document, you can edit another document or read your
mail.
PHYSICAL OFFICE METAPHOR

Figure 2-The Star keyboard and mouse
The keyboard has 24 easy-to-understand [unction keys. The mouse has two
buttons on top.

you can point with a mouse as quickly and easily as you can
with the tip of your finger. The limitations on pointing speed
are those inherent in the human nervous system. 8,9 The mouse
has buttons on top that can be sensed under program control.
The buttons let you point to and interact with objects on the
screen in a variety of ways.

4

We will briefly describe one of the most important principles
that influenced the form of the Star user interface. The reader
is referred to Smith et al. 1 for a detailed discussion of all the
principles behind the Star design. The principle is to apply
users' existing knowledge to the new situation of the computer. We decided to create electronic counterparts to the
objects in an office: paper, folders, file cabinets, mail boxes,
calculators, and so on-an electronic metaphor for the physical office. We hoped that this would make the electronic
world seem more familiar and require less training. (Our initial experiences with users .have confirmed this.) We further
decided to make the electronic analogues be concrete objects.

The Star User Interface: An Overview

Star documents are represented, not as file names on a disk,
but as pictures on the display screen. They may be selected by
pointing to them with the mouse and clicking one of the
mouse buttons. Once selected, documents may be moved,
copied, or deleted by pushing the MOVE, COPY, or DELETE key on the keyboard. Moving a document is the electronic equivalent of picking up a piece of paper and walking
somewhere with it. To file a document, you move it to a
picture of a file drawer, just as you take a piece of paper to a
physical filing cabinet. To print a document, you move it to a
picture of a printer, just as you take a piece of paper to a
copying machine.
Though we want an analogy with the physical world for
familiarity, we don't want to limit ourselves to its capabilities.
One ofthe raisons d'etre for Star is that physical objects do not
provide people with enough power to manage the increasing
complexity of their information. For example, we can take
advantage of the computer's ability to search rapidly by providing a search function for its electronic file drawers, thus
helping to solve the problem of lost files.

contents of folders and file drawers, see what mail has arrived,
and perform other activities. Windows are the principal mech_anism for displaying and manipulating information.
The Desktop-sufface is displayed as a distinctIve grey pattern. This is restful and makes the icons and windows on it
stand out crisply, minimizing eye strain. The surface is organized as an array of I-inch squares, 14 wide by 11 high. An
icon may be placed in any square, giving a maximum of 154
icons. Star centers an icon in its square, making it easy to line
up icons neatly. The Desktop always occupies the entire display screen; even when windows appear on the screen, the
Desktop continues to exist "beneath" them.
The Desktop is the principal Star technique for realizing the
physical office metaphor. The icons on it are visible, concrete
embodiments of the corresponding physical objects. Star
users are encouraged to think of the objects on the Desktop
in physical terms. You can move the icons around to arrange
your Desktop as you wish. (Messy Desktops are certainly
possible, just as in real life.) You can leave documents on your
Desktop indefinitely, just as on a real desk, or you can file
them away.

THE DESKTOP
ICONS
Every user's initial view of Star is the Desktop, which resembles the top of an office desk, together with surrounding furniture and equipment. It represents a working environment,
where current projects and accessible resources reside. On the
screen (Figure 3) are displayed pictures of familiar office objects, such as documents, folders, file drawers, in-baskets, and
out-baskets. These objects are displayed as small pictures, or

icons.
You can "open" an icon by selecting it and pushing the
OPEN key on the keyboard. When opened, an icon expands
into a larger form called a window, which displays the icon's
contents. This enables you to read docuplents, inspect the

An icon is a pictorial representation of a Star object that can
exist on the Desktop. On the Desktop, the size of an icon is
approximately 1 inch square. Inside a window such as a folder
window, the size of an icon is approximately V4-inch square.
Iconic images have played a role in human communication
from cave paintings in prehistoric times to Egyptian hieroglyphics to religious symbols to modern corporate logos.
Computer science has been slow to exploit the potential of
visual imagery for presenting information, particularly abstract information. "Among [the] reasons are the lack of
development of appropriate hardware and software for producing visual imagery easily and inexpensively; computer
technology has been dominated by persons who seem to be
happy with a simple, very limited alphabet of characters used
to produce linear strings of symbols.,,11 One of the authors has
applied icons to an environment for writing programs; he
found that they greatly facilitated human-computer communication. 12 Negroponte's Spatial Data Management system
has effectively used iconic images in a research setting. 13 And
there have been other efforts. 14,15.16 But Star is the first computer system designed for a mass market to employ icons
methodically in its user interface. We do not claim that Star
exploits visual communication to the ultimate extent; we do
claim that Star's use of imagery is a significant improvement
over traditional human-machine interfaces.
At the highest level the Star world is divided into two classes
of icons, (1) data and (2) function icons:

Data Icons
Figure 3-A "Desktop" as it appears on the Star screen

This one has several commonly used icons along the top, including documents to
serve as "form pad" sources for letters, memos and blank paper. There is also an
open window displaying a document.

Data icons (Figure 4) represent objects on which actions are
performed. All data icons can be moved, copied, deleted,
filed, mailed, printed, opened, closed, and have a variety of
other operations performed on them. The three types of data
icons are document, folder, and record file.

5

National Computer Conference, 1982

_
..
-

Figure 4-The "data" icons: document, folder and record file

Figure 5-A file drawer icon

Document
A document is the fundamental object in Star. It corresponds to the standard notion of what a document should be.
It most often contains text, but it may also include illustrations, mathematical formulas, tables, fields, footnotes, and
formatting information. Like all data icons, documents can be
shown on the screen, rendered on paper, sent to other people,
stored on a file server or floppy disk, etc. When opened,
documents are always rendered on the display screen exactly
as they print on paper (informally called "what you see is what
you get"), including displaying the correct type fonts, multiple
columns, headings and footings, illustration placement, etc.
Documents can reside in the system in a variety of formats
(e.g., Xerox 860, IBM OS6), but they can be edited only in
Star format. Conversion operations are provided to translate
between the various formats.
Folder
A folder is used to group data icons together. It can contain
documents, record files, and other folders. Folders can be
nested inside folders to any level. Like file drawers (see below), folders can be sorted and searched.

containing other folders. File drawers are distinguished from
other storage places (folders, floppy disks, and the Desktop)
in that (1) icons placed in a file drawer are physically stored
on a file server, and (2) the contents of file drawers can be
shared by multiple users. File drawers have associated access
rights to control the ability of people to look at and modify
their contents (Figure 6).
Although the design of file drawers was motivated by their
physical counterparts, they are a good example of why it is
neither necessary nor desirable to stop with just duplicating
real-world behavior. People have a lot of trouble finding
things in filing cabinets. Their categorization schemes are frequently ad hoc and idiosyncratic. If the person who did the
categorizing leaves the company, information may be permanently lost. Star improves on physical filing cabinets by
taking advantage of the computer's ability to search rapidly.
You can search the contents of a file drawer for an object
having a certain name, or author, or creation date, or size, or
a variety of other attributes. The search criteria can use fuzzy
patterns containing match-anything symbols, ranges, and
other predicates. You can also sort the contents on the basis
of those criteria. The point is that whatever information retrieval facilities are available in a system should be applied to

Record file
A record file is a collection of information organized as a set
of records. Frequently this information will be the variable
data from forms. These records may be sorted, subset via
pattern matching, and formatted into reports. Record files
provide a rich set of information storage and retrieval
functions.
Function Icons

Function icons represent objects that perform actions. Most
function icons will operate on any data icon. There are many
kinds of function icons, with more being added as the system
evolves:
File drawer
A file drawer (Figure 5) is a place to store data icons. It is
modeled after the drawers in office filing cabinets. The organization of a file drawer is up to you; it can vary from a
simple list of documents to a multilevel hierarchy of folders

6

Figure 6-An open file drawer window
Note that there is a miniature icon for each object inside the file drawer.

The Star User Interface: An Overview

the information in files. Any system that does not do so is not
exploiting the full potential of the computer.
In basket and Out basket
These provide the principal mechanism for sending data
icons to other people (Figure 7). A data icon placed in the Out
basket will be sent over the Ethernet to a mail server (usually
the same machine as a file server), thence to the mail servers
of the recipients (which may be the same as the sender's), and
thence to the In baskets of the recipients. When you have mail
waiting for you, an envelope appears in your In basket icon.
When you open your In basket, you can display and read the
mail in the window.
Any document, record file, or folder can be mailed. Documents need not be limited to plain text, but can contain illustrations, mathematical formulas, and other nontext material.
Folders can contain any number of items. Record files can be
arbitrarily large and complex.

ing, in a different city, even in a different country. You perform exactly the same actions to print on any of them: Select
a data icon, push the MOVE key, and indicate the printer icon
as the destination.
Floppy disk drive
The floppy disk drive icon (Figure 9) allows you to move
data icons to and from a floppy disk inserted in the machine.
This provides a way to store documents, record files and folders off line. When you open the floppy disk drive icon, Star
reads the floppy disk and displays its contents in the window.
Its window looks and acts just like a folder window: icons may
be moved or copied in or out, or deleted. The only difference
is the physical location of the data.

Figure 7-In and Out basket icons

Figure 9-A floppy disk drive icon

User

Printer
Printer icons (Figure 8) provide access to printing services.
The actual printer may be directly connected to your work
station, or it may be attached to a print server connected to an
Ethernet. You can have more than one printer icon on your
Desktop, providing access to a variety of printing resources.
Most printers are expected to be laser-driven raster-scan xerographic machines; these can render on paper anything that
can be created on the screen. Low-cost typewriter-based
printers are also available; these can render only text.
As with filing and mailing, the existence of the Ethernet
greatly enhances the power of printing. The printer represented by an icon on your Desktop can be in the same room
as your work station, in a different room, in a different build-

The user icon (Figure 10) displays the information that the
system knows about each user: name, location, password
(invisible, of course), aliases if any, home file and mail servers, access level (ordinary user, system administrator, help/
training writer), and so on. We expect the information stored
for each user to increase as Star adds new functionality. User
icons may be placed in address fields for electronic mail.
User icons are Star's solution to the naming problem. There
is a crisis in computer naming of people, particularly in electronic mail addressing. The convention in most systems is to

Figure 8-A printer icon

Figure lO-A user icon

7

National Computer Conference, 1982

use last names for user identification. Anyone named Smith,
as is one of the authors, knows that this doesn't work. When
he first became a user on such a system, Smith had long ago
been taken. In fact, "D. Smith" and even "D. C. Smith" had
been taken. He finally settled on "DaveSmith", all one word,
with which he has been stuck to this day. Needless to say, that
is not how he identifies himself to people. In the future, people will not tolerate this kind of antihumanism from computers. Star already does better: it follows society's conventions.
User icons provide unambiguous unique references to individual people, using their normal names. The information about
users, and indeed about all network resources, is physically
stored in the Clearinghouse, a distributed database of names.
In addition to a person's name in the ordinary sense, this
information includes the name of the organization (e.g., Xerox, General Motors) and the name of the user's division
within the organization. A person's linear name need be
unique only within his division. It can be fully spelled out if
necessary, including spaces and punctuation. Aliases can be
defined. User icons are references to this information. You
need not even know, let alone type, the unique linear representation for a user; you need only have the icon.

Calculator
A variety of styles of calculators (Figure 12) let you perform
arithmetic calculations. Numbers can be moved between Star
documents and calculators, thereby reducing the amount of
typing and the possibility of errors. Rows or columns of tables
can be summed. The calculators are user-tailorable and extensible. Most are modeled after pocket calculators--business,
scientific, four-function-but one is a tabular calculator similar to the popular Visicalc program.

User group

Figure 12-A calculator icon

User group icons (Figure 11) contain individual users and/
or other user groups. They allow you to organize people according to various criteria. User groups serve both to control

Terminal emulators
The terminal emulators permit you to communicate with
existing mainframe computers using existing protocols. Initially, teletype and 3270 terminals are emulated, with additional ones later (Figure 13). You open one of the terminal
icons and type into its window; the contents of the window
behave exactly as if you were typing at the corresponding
terminal. Text in the window can be copied to and from Star
documents, which makes Star's rich environment available to
them.

Figure ll-A user group icon

access to information such as file drawers .( access control lists)
and to make it easy to send mail to a large number of people
(distribution lists). The latter is becoming increasingly important as more and more people start to take advantage of
computer-assisted communication. At Xerox we have found
that as soon as there were more than a thousand Alto users,
there were almost always enough people interested in any
topic whatsoever to form a distribution list for it. These user
groups have broken the bonds of geographical proximity that
have historically limited group membership and communication. They have begun to tum Xerox into a nationwide
"village," just as the Arpanet has brought computer science
researchers around the world closer together. This may be the
most profound impact that computers have on society.

8

Figure 13-3270 and TIY emulation icons

Directory
The Directory provides access to network resources. It
serves as the source for icons representing those resources;
the Directory contains one icon for each resource available
(Figure 14). When you are first registered in a Star network,

The Star User Interface: An Overview

Figure 14-A Directory icon

your Desktop contains nothing but a Directory icon. From
this initial state, you access resources such as file drawers,
printers, and mail baskets by opening the Directory and copying out their icons. You can also get blank data icons out of the
Directory. You can retrieve other data icons from file drawers. Star places no limits on the complexity of your Desktop
except the limitation imposed by physical screen area (Figure
15). The Directory also contains Remote Directories representing resources available on other networks. These can be
opened, recursively, and their resource icons copied out, just
as with the local Directory. You deal with local and remote
resources in exactly the same way.

came from Alan Kay's Flex machine 17 and his later Smalltalk
programming environment on the Alto.ls The Officetalk
treatment of windows was also influential; in fact, Officetalk,
an experimental office-forms-processing system on the Alto,
provided ideas in a variety of areas. 19 Windows greatly increase the amount of information that can be manipulated on
a display screen. Up to six windows at a time can be open in
Star. Each window has a header containing the name of the
icon and a menu of commands. The commands consist of a
standard set present in all windows ("?" , CLOSE, SET WINDOW) and others that depend on the type of icon. For example, the window for a record file contains commands tailored
to information retrieval. CLOSE removes the window from
the display screen, returning the icon to its tiny size. The "?"
command displays the online documentation describing the
type of window and its applications.
Each window has two scroll bars for scrolling the contents
vertically and horizontally. The scroll bars have jump-to-end
areas for quickly going to the top, bottom, left, or right end
of the contents. The vertical scroll bar also has areas labeled
Nand P for quickly getting the next or previous screenful of
the contents; in the case of a document window, they go to the
next or previous page. Finally, the vertical scroll bar has a
jumping area for going to a particular part of the contents,
such as to a particular page in a document.
Unlike the windows in some Alto programs, Star windows
do not overlap. This is a deliberate decision, based on our
observation that many Alto users were spending an inordinate
amount of time manipulating windows themselves rather than
their contents. This manipulation of the medium is overhead,
and we want to reduce it. Star automatically partitions the
display space among the currently open windows. You can
control on which side of the screen a window appears and its
height.

PROPERTY SHEETS

Figure 15-The Directory window, showing the categories of resources
available

The important thing to observe is that although the functions performed by the various icons differ, the way you interact with them is the same. You select them with the mouse.
You push the MOVE, COPY, or DELETE key. You push the
OPEN key to see their contents, the PROPERTIES key to see
their properties, and the SAME key to copy their properties.
This is the result of rigorously applying the principle of uniformity to the design of icons. We have applied it to other
areas of Star as well, as will be seen.

WINDOWS
Windows are rectangular areas that display the contents of
icons on the screen. Much of the inspiration for Star's design

At a finer grain, the Star world is organized in terms of objects
that have properties and upon which actions are performed. A
few examples of objects in Star are text characters, text paragraphs, graphic lines, graphic illustrations, mathematical summation signs, mathematical formulas, and icons. Every object
has properties. Properties of text characters include type
style, size, face, and posture (e.g., bold, italic). Properties of
paragraphs include indentation, leading, and alignment.
Properties of graphic lines include thickness and structure
(e.g., solid, dashed, dotted). Properties of document icons
include name, size, creator, and creation date. So the properties of an object depend on the type of the object. These ideas
are similar to the notions of classes, objects, and messages in
Simula20 and Smalltalk. Among the editors that use these
ideas are the experimental text editor Brav021 and the experimental graphics editor Draw, 22 both developed at the Xerox
Palo Alto Research Center. These all supplied valuable
knowledge and insight to Star. In fact, the text editor aspects
of Star were derived from Bravo.
In order to make properties visible, we invented the notion
of a property sheet (Figure 16). A property sheet is a twodimensional formlike environment which shows the proper-

9

National Computer Conference, 1982

Figure 16-The property sheet for text characters

ties of an object. To display one, you select the object of
interest using the mouse and push the PROPERTIES key on
the keyboard. Property sheets may contain three types of
parameters:
1. State-State parameters display an independent property, which may be either on or off. You turn it on or off
by pointing to it with the mouse and clicking a mouse
button. When on, the parameter is shown video reversed. In general, any combination of state parameters
in a property sheet can be on. If several state parameters
are logically related, they are shown on the same line
with space between them. (See "Face" in Figure 16.)
2. Choice-Choice parameters display a set of mutually
exclusive values for a property. Exactly one value must
be on at all times. As with state parameters, you turn on
a choice by pointing to it with the mouse and clicking a
mouse button. If you turn on a different value, the system turns off the previous one. Again the one that is on
is shown video reversed. (See "Font" in Figure 16.) The
motivation for state and choice parameters is the observation that it is generally easier to take a multiple-choice
test than a fill-in-the-blanks one. When options are
made visible, they become easier to understand, remember, and use.
3. Text-Text parameters display a box into which you can
type a value. This provides a (largely) unconstrained
choice space; you may type any value you please, within
the limits of the system. The disadvantage of this is that
the set of possible values is not visible; therefore Star
uses text parameters only when that set is large. (See
"Search for" in Figure 17.)

Property sheets have several important attributes:
1. A small number of parameters gives you a large number
of combinations of properties. They permit a rich choice
space without a lot of complexity. For example, the character property sheet alone provides for 8 fonts, from 1 to
6 sizes for each (an average of about 2), 4 faces (any

10

Figure 17-The option sheet for the Find command

combination of which can be on), and 8 positions relative to the baseline (including OTHER, which lets you
type in a value). So in just four parameters, there are
over 8 x 2 X 24 X 8 = 2048 combinations of character
properties.
2. They show all of the properties of an object. None is
hidden. You are constantly reminded what is available
every time you display a property sheet.
3. They provide progressive disclosure. There are a large
number of properties in the system as a whole, but you
want to deal with only a small subset at anyone time.
Only the properties of the selected object are shown.
4. They provide a "bullet-proof" environment for altering
the characteristics of an object. Since only the properties
of the selected object are shown, you can't accidentally
alter other objects. Since only valid choices are displayed, you can't specify illegal properties. This reduces
errors.
Property sheets are an example of the Star design principle
that seeing and pointing is preferred over remembering and
typing. You don't have to remember what properties are available for an object; the property sheet will show them to you.
This reduces the burden on your memory, which is particularly important in a functionally rich system. And most properties can be changed by a simple pointing action with the
mouse.
The three types of parameters are also used in option sheets.
(Figure 18). Option sheets are just like property sheets, except that they provide a visual interface for arguments to commands instead of properties of objects. For example, in the
Find option sheet there is a text parameter for the string to
search for, a choice parameter for the range over which to
search, and a state parameter (CHANGE IT) controlling
whether to replace that string with another one. When
CHANGE IT is turned on, an additional set of parameters
appears to contain the replacement text. This technique of
having some parameters appear depending on the settings of
others is another part of our strategy of progressive disclosure: hiding information (and therefore complexity) until it is

The Star User Interface: An Overview

needed, but making it visible when it is needed. The various
sheets appear simpler than if all the options were always
shown.
COMMANDS
Commands in Star take the form of noun-verb pairs. You
specify the object of interest (the noun) and then invoke a
command to manipulate it (the verb). Specifying an object is
called making a selection. Star provides powerful selection
mechanisms, which reduce the number and complexity of
commands in the system. Typically, you exercise more dexterity and judgment in making a selection than in invoking a
command. The ways to make a selection are as follows:
1. With the mouse-Place the cursor over the object on the
screen you want to select and click the first (SELECT)
mouse button. Additional objects can be selected by
using the second (ADJUST) mouse button; it adjusts the
selection to include more or fewer objects. Most selections are made in this way.
2. With the NEXT key on the keyboard-Push the NEXT
key, and the system will select the contents of the next
field in a document. Fields are one of the types of special
higher-level objects that can be placed in documents. If
the selection is currently in a table, NEXT will step
through the rows and columns of the table, making it
easy to fill in and modify them. If the selection is currently in a mathematical formula, NEXT will step
through the various elements in the formula, making it
easy to edit them. NEXT is like an intelligent step key;
it moves the selection between semantically meaningful
locations in a document.
3. With a command-Invoke the FIND command, and the
system will select the next occurrence of the specified
text, if there is one. Other commands that make a selection include OPEN (the first object in the opened window is selected) and CLOSE (the icon that was closed
becomes selected). These optimize the use of the
system.

The object (noun) is almost always specified before the
action (verb) to be performed. This makes the command interface modeless; you can change your mind as to which object
to affect simply by changing the selection before invoking the
command.23 No "accept" function is needed to terminate or
confirm commands, since invoking the command is the last
step. Inserting text does not require a command; you simply
make a selection and begin typing. The text is placed after the
end of the selection. A few commands require more than one
operand and hence are modal. For example, the MOVE and
COpy commands require a destination as well as a source.
GENERIC COMMANDS
Star has a few commands that can be used throughout the
system: MOVE, COPY, DELETE, SHOW PROPERTIES,
COpy PROPERTIES, AGAIN, UNDO, and HELP. Each
performs the same way regardless of the type of object selected. Thus we call them generic commands. For example,
you follow the same set of actions to move text in a document
as to move a document in a folder or a line in an illustration:
select the object, move the MOVE key, and indicate the
destination. Each generic command has a key devoted to it on
the keyboard. (HELP and UNDO don't use a selection.)
These commands are more basic than the ones in other
computer systems. They strip away extraneous applicationspecific semantics to get at the underlying principles. Star's
generic commands are derived from fundamental computer
science concepts because they also underlie operations in programming languages. For example, program manipulation of
data structures involves moving or copying values from one
data structure to another. Since Star's generic commands embody fundamental underlying concepts, they are widely applicable. Each command fills a host of needs. Few commands are
required. This simplicity is desirable in itself, but it has another subtle advantage: it makes it easy for users to form a model
of the system. What people can understand, they can use. Just
as progress in science derives from simple, clear theories, so
progress in the usability of computers depends on simple,
clear user interfaces.
Move

Figure 18-The Find option sheet showing Substitute options (The extra
options appear only when CHANGE IT is tumed on)

MOVE is the most powerful command in the system. It is
used during text editing to rearrange letters in a word, words
in a sentence, sentences in a paragraph, and paragraphs in a
document. It is used during graphics editing to move picture
elements such as lines and rectangles around in an illustration.
It is used during formula editing to move mathematical structures such as summations and integrals around in an equation.
It replaces the conventional "store file" and "retrieve file"
commands; you simply move an icon into or out of a file
drawer or folder. It eliminates the "send mail" and "receive
mail" commands; you move an icon to an Out basket or from
an In basket. It replaces the "print" command; you move an
icon to a printer. And so on. MOVE strips away much of the
historical clutter of computer commands. It is more fundamental than the myriad of commands it replaces. It is simultaneously more powerful and simpler.

11

National Computer Conference, 1982

MOVE also reinforces Star's physical metaphor: a moved
object can be in only one place at one time. Most computer
file transfer programs only make copies; they leave the originals behind. Although this is an admirable attempt to keep
information from accidentally getting lost, an unfortunate
side effect is that sometimes you lose track of where the most
recent information is, since there are multiple copies floating
around. MOVE lets you model the way you manipulate information in the real world, should you wish to. We expect that
during the creation of information, people will primarily use
MOVE; during the dissemination of information, people will
make extensive use of COPY.

board interpretation windows (Figure 19), which allow
you to see and change the meanings of the keyboard
keys. You are presented with the options; you look them
over and choose the ones you want.

Copy
COPY is just like MOVE, except that it leaves the original
object behind untouched. Star elevates the concept of copying
to the level of a paradigm for creating. In all the various
domains of Star, you create by copying. Creating something
out of nothing is a difficult task. Everyone has observed that
it is easier to modify an existing document or program than to
write it originally. Picasso once said, "The most awful thing
for a painter is the white canvas .... To copy others is necessary. ,,24 Star makes a serious attempt to alleviate the problem
of the "white canvas," to make copying a practical aid to
creation. Consider:
• You create new documents by copying existing ones.
Typically you set up blank documents with appropriate
formatting properties (e.g., fonts, margins) and then use
those documents as form pad sources for new documents.
You select one, push COPY, and presto, you have a new
document. The form pad documents need not be blank;
they can contain text and graphics, along with fields for
variable text such as for business forms.
• You place new network resource icons (e.g., printers, file
drawers) on your Desktop by copying them out of the
Directory. The icons are registered in the Directory by a
system administrator working at a server. You simply
copy them out; no other initialization is required.
• You create graphics by copying existing graphic images
and modifying them. Star supplies an initial set of such
images, called transfer symbols. Transfer symbols are
based on the idea of dry-transfer rub-off symbols used by
many secretaries and graphic artists. Unlike the physical
transfer symbols, however, the computer versions can be
modified: they can be moved, their sizes and proportions
can be changed, and their appearance properties can be
altered. Thus a single Star transfer symbol can produce a
wide range of images. We will eventually supply a set of
documents (transfer sheets) containing nothing but special images tailored to one application or another: people, buildings, vehicles, machinery. Having these as
sources for graphics copying helps to alleviate the "white
canvas" feeling.
• In a sense, you can even type characters by copying them
from keyboard windows. Since there are many more
characters (up to 2 16) in the Star character set thim there
are keys on the keyboard, Star provides a series of key-

12

Figure 19--The Keyboard Interpretation window
This displays other characters that may be entered from the keyboard. The
character set shown here contains a variety of common office symbols.

Delete
This deletes the selected object. If you delete something by
mistake, UNDO will restore it.

Show Properties
SHOW PROPERTIES displays the properties of the selected object in a property sheet. You select the object(s) of
interest, push the PROPERTIES (PROP'S) key, and the appropriate property sheet appears on the screen in such a position as to not overlie the selection, if possible. You may
change as many properties as you wish, including none. When
finished, you invoke the Done command in the property sheet
menu. The property changes are applied to the selected objects, and the property sheet disappears. Notice that SHOW
PROPERTIES is therefore used both to examine the current
properties of an object and to change those properties.

Copy Properties
You need not use property sheets to alter properties if there
is another object on the screen that already has the desired
properties. You can select the object(s) to be changed, push
the SAME key, then designate the object to use as the source.
COpy PROPERTIES makes the selection look the "same"
as the source. This is particularly useful in graphics editing.
Frequently you will have a collection of lines and symbols
whose appearance you want to be coordinated (all the same
line width, shade of grey, etc.). You can select all the objects
to be changed, push SAME, and select a line or symbol having

The Star User Interface: An Overview

the desired appearance. In fact, we find it helpful to set up a
document with a variety of graphic objects in a variety of
appearances to be used as sources for copying properties.

Again
AGAIN repeats the last command(s) on a new selection.
All the commands done since the last time a selection was
made are repeated. This is useful when a short sequence of
commands needs to be done on several different selections;
for example, make several scattered words bold and italic and
in a larger font.

Undo
UNDO reverses the effects of the last command. It provides
protection against mistakes, making the system more forgiving and user-friendly. Only a few commands cannot be repeated or undone.

Help
Our effort to make Star a personal, self-contained system
goes beyond the hardware and software to the tools that Star
provides to teach people how to use the system. Nearly all of
its teaching and reference material is on line, stored on a file
server. The Help facilities automatically retrieve the relevant
material as you request it.
The HELP key on the keyboard is the primary entrance into
this online information. You can push it at any time, and a
window will appear on the screen displaying the Help table of
contents (Figure 20). Three mechanisms make finding information easier: context-dependent invocation, help references,
and a keyword search command. Together they make the
online documentation more powerful and useful than printed
documentation.

• Context-dependent invocation-The command menu in
every window and property/option sheet contains a"?"
command. Invoking it takes you to a part of the Help
documentation describing the window, its commands,
and its functions. The "?" command also appears in the
message area at the top of the screen; invoking that one
takes you to a description of the message (if any) currently in the message area. That provides more detailed
explanations of system messages.
• Help references-These are like menu commands whose
effect is to take you to a different part of the Help material. You invoke one by pointing to it with the mouse, just
as you invoke a menu command. The writers of the material use the references to organize it into a network of
interconnections, in a way similar to that suggested by
Vannevar Bush2s and pioneered by Doug Engelbart in his
NLS system. 26 ,27 The interconnections permit crossreferencing without duplication.
• The SEARCH FOR KEYWORD command-This command in the Help window menu lets you search the available documentation for information on a specific topic.
The keywords are predefined by the writers of the Help
material.

Figure 20-The Help window, showing the table of contents
Selecting a square with a question mark in it takes you to the associated part of
the Help documentation.

SUMMARY
We have learned from Star the importance of formulating the
user's conceptual model first, before software is written, rather than tacking on a user interface afterward. Doing good user
interface design is not easy. Xerox devoted about thirty workyears to the design of the Star user interface. It was designed
before the functionality of the system was fully decided. It was
designed before the computer hardware was even built. We
worked for two years before we wrote a single line of actual
product software. Jonathan Seybold put it this way: "Most
system design efforts start with hardware specifications, follow this with a set of functional specifications for the software,
then try to figure out a logical user interface and command
structure. The Star project started the other way around: the
paramount concern was to define a conceptual model of how
the user would relate to the system. Hardware and software
followed from this.,,4
Alto served as a valuable prototype for Star. Over a thousand Altos were eventually built, and Alto users have had
several thousand work-years of experience with them over a
period of eight years, making Alto perhaps the largest proto-

13

National Computer Conference, 1982

typing effort in history. There were dozens of experimental
programs written for the Alto by members of the Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center. Without the creative ideas of the authors of those systems, Star in its present form would have
been impossible. On the other hand, it was a real challenge to
bring some order to the different user interfaces on the Alto.
In addition, we ourselves programmed various aspects of the
Star design on Alto, but every bit (sic) of it was throwaway
code. Alto, with its bit-mapped display screen, was powerful
enough to implement and test our ideas on visual interaction.

10. Oppen, D. c., and Y. K. Dalal. "The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized
Agent for Locating Named Objects in a Distributed Environment." Palo
Alto: Xerox Office Products Division, OPD-T8103, 1981.
11. Huggins, W. H., and D. Entwisle. Iconic Communication. Baltimore and
London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.
12. Smith, D. C. Pygmalion, A Computer Program to Model and Stimulate
Creative Thought. Basel and Stuttgart: Birkhiiuser Verlag, 1977.
13. Bolt, R. Spatial Data-Management. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Architecture Machine Group, 1979.
14. Sutherland, I. "Sketchpad, A Man-Machine Graphical Communication
System." AFIPS, Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference (Vol.
23), 1963, pp. 329-346.
15. Sutherland, W. "On-Line Graphical Specifications of Computer Procedures." Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology,

REFERENCES

16. Christensen, C. "An Example of the Manipulation of Directed Graphs in
the AMBIT/G Programming Language." In M. Klerer and J. Reinfelds
(eds.), Interactive Systems for Experimental and Applied Mathematics. New
York: Academic Press, 1968.
17. Kay, A. C. The Reactive Engine. Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1969.
18. Kay, A. C., and the Learning Research Group. "Personal Dynamic Media." Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Technical Report SSL-76-1, 1976.
(A condensed version is in IEEE Computer, March 1977, pp. 31-41.)
19. Newman, W. M. "Officetalk-Zero: A User's Manual." Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center Internal Report, 1977.
20. DaIiI, o. J., and K. Nygaard. "SIMULA-An Algol-Based Simulation Language." Communications of the ACM, 9 (1966), pp. 671-678.
21. Lampson, B. "Bravo Manual." In Alto User's Handbook, Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center, 1976 and 1978. (Much of the design and all of the implementation of Bravo was done by Charles Simonyi and the skilled programmers in his "software factory.")
22. Baudelaire, P., and M. Stone. "Techniques for Interactive Raster Graphics." Proceedings of the 1980 Siggraph Conference, 14 (1980), 3.
23. Tesler, L. "The Smalltalk Environment." Byte, 6 (1981), pp. 00-147.
24. Wertenbaker, L. The World of Picasso. New York: Time-Life Books, 1967.
25. Bush, V. "As We May Think." Atlantic Monthly, July 1945.
26. Engelbart, D. C. "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework." Technical Report AFOSR-3223,SRI International, Menlo Park,
Calif., 1962.
27. Engelbart, D. C., and W. K. English. "A Research Centerfor Augmenting
Human Intellect." AFIPS Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference (Vol. 33), 1968, pp. 395-410.

1966.

1. Smith, D. C., E. F. Harslem, C. H. Irby, R. B. Kimball, and W. L.
Verplank. "Designing the Star User Interface." Byte, April 1982.
2. Metcalfe, R. M., and D. R. Boggs. "Ethernet: Distributed Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks." Communications of the ACM, 19
(1976), pp. 395-404.
3. Intel, Digital Equipment, and Xerox Corporations. "The Ethernet, A L0cal Area Network: Data Link Layer and Physical Layer Specifications
(version 1.0)." Palo Alto: Xerox Office Products Division, 1980.
4. Seybold, J. W. "Xerox's 'Star.''' The Seybold Report. Media, Pennsylvania: Seybold Publications, 10 (1981), 16.
5. Thacker, C. P., E. M. McCreight, B. W. Lampson, R. F. Sproull, and D.
R. Boggs. "Alto: A Personal Computer." In D. Siewiorek, C. G. Bell, and
A. Newell (eds.), Computer Structures: Principles and Examples. New
York: McGraw-HilI, 1982.
6. Ingalls, D. H. "The Srnalltalk Graphics Kernel." Byte, 6 (1981), pp.
168-194.
7. English, W. K., D. C. Engelbart, and M. L. Berman. "Display-Selection
Techniques for Text Manipulation." IEEE Transactions on Human Factors
in Electronics, HFE-8 (1967), pp. 21-31.
8. Fitts, P. M. "The Information Capacity of the Human Motor System in
Controlling Amplitude of Movement." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47 (1954), pp. 381-391.
9. Card, S., W. K. English, and B. Burr. "Evaluation of Mouse, RateControlled Isometric Joystick, Step Keys, and Text Keys for Text Selection
on a CRT." Ergonomics, 21 (1978), pp. 601-613.

14

Designing the Star User Interface
The Star user interface adheres rigorously to a small set of
principles designed to make the system seem friendly by
simplifying the human-machine interface.
Dr. David Canfield Smith, Charles Irby,
Ralph Kimball, and Bm Verplank
Xerox Corporation
3333 Coyote Hm Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Eric Harslem
Xerox Corporation
EI Segundo, CA 90245

In April 1981, Xerox announced
the 8010 Star Information System, a
new personal computer designed for
offices. Consisting of a processor, a
large display, a keyboard, and a
cursor-control device (see photo 1), it
is intended for business professionals
who handle information.
Star is a multifunction system combining document creation, data processing, and electronic filing, mailing,
and printing. Document creation includes text editing and formatting,
graphics editing, mathematical formula editing, and page layout. Data
processing deals with homogeneous,
relational databases that can be
sorted, filtered, and formatted under
user control. Filing is an example of a
network service utilizing the Ethernet
local-area network (see references 9
and 13). Files may be stored on a
work station's disk, on a file server on
About the Authors
These five Xerox employees have worked on
the Star user interface project for the past five
years. Their academic backgrounds are in computer science and psychology.

the work station's network, or on a
file server on a different network.
Mailing permits users of work stations to communicate with one
another. Printing utilizes laser-driven
raster printers capable of printing
both text and graphics.
As Jonathan Seybold has written,
"This is a very different product: Different because it truly bridges word
processing and typesetting functions;
different because it has a broader
range of capabilities than anything
which has preceded it; and different
because it introduces to the commercial market radically new concepts in
human engineering." (See reference
15.)
The Star user interface adheres
rigorously to a small set of design
principles. These prinCiples make the
system seem familiar and friendly,
simplify the human-machine interaction, unify the nearly two dozen functional areas of Star, and allow user
experience in one area to apply in
others. In reference 17, we presented
an overview of the features in Star.
Here, we describe the principles

behind those features and illustrate
the principles with examples. This
discussion is addressed to the
designers of other computer programs and systems-large and small.

Star Architecture
Before describing Star's user interface, several essential aspects of the
Star architecture should be pointed
out. Without these elements, it would
have been impossible to design an
interface anything like the present
one.
The Star hardware was modeled
after the experimental Xerox Alto
computer (see reference 19). Like
Alto, Star consists of a Xeroxdeveloped, high-bandwidth, MSI
(medium-scale integration) processor;
local disk storage; a bit-mapped
display screen having a 72-dots-perinch resolution; a pointing device
called the "mouse"; and a connection
to the Ethernet network. Stars are
higher-performance machines than
Altos, being about three times as fast,
having 512K bytes of main memory
(versus 256K bytes on most Altos), 10

15

Photo 1: A Star work station showing the processor, display, keyboard, and mouse.

Photo 2: The Star keyboard and mouse. Note the two buttons on top of the mouse.

or 29 megabytes of disk memory (versus 2.5 megabytes), a 10112- by
131!z-inch display screen (versus 10%
by 8 inches), and a 10-megabits-persecond Ethernet (versus 3 megabits).
Typically, Stars, like Altos, are
linked via Ethernets to each other and
to shared file,. mail, and print servers.
C9mmunication servers connect
Ethernets to one another either directly or over telephone lines, enabling
internetwork communication. (For a
detailed description of the Xerox Alto
computer, see the September 1981
BYTE article ~'The Xerox Alto Computer" by Thomas A. Wadlow on
page 58.)
The most important ingredient of

16

the user interface is the bit-mapped
display screen. Both Star and Alto
devote a portion of main memory to
the screen: lOOK bytes in Star, 50K
bytes (usually) in Alto. Every screen
dot can be individually fumed on or
off by setting or resetting the corresponding bit in memory. It should
be obvious that this gives both computers an excellent ability to portray
visual images. We believe that all im·
pressive office systems of the futurE
will have bit-mappeQ displays.
Memory cost will. SQon be insignifi.
cant enough that they will be feasiblE
even in home computers. Visual com·
munication is effective, and it can't bE
exploited witho1.j.t graphics flexibility.

There must be a way to change
dots· on the screen quickly. Star has a
high memory bandwidth, about 90
megahertz (MHz). The entire Star
screen is repainted from memory 39
times per second, about a 50-MHz
data rate between memory and the
screen. This would swamp most computer memories. However, since
Star's memory is double-ported,
refreshing the display does not appreciably slow down processor
memory access. Star also has separate
logic devoted solely to refreshing the
display. Finally, special microcode
has been written to assist in changing
the contents of memory quickly, permitting a.variety of screen processing
that would not otherwise be practical
(see reference 8).
People need a way to quickly point
to items on the screen. Cursor step
keys are too slow; nor are they
suitable for graphics. Both Star and
Alto use a pointing device called the
mouse (see photo 2). First developed
at Stanford Research Institute (see
reference 6), Xerox's version has a
ball on the bottom that turns as the
mouse slides over a flat surface such
as a table. Electronics sense the ball
rotation and guide a cursor on the
screen in corresponding motions. The
mouse possesses several important
attributes:
elt is a "Fitts's law" device. That is,
after some practice you can point
with amouse as quickly and easily as
you can with the tip of your finger.
The limitations on pointing speed are
those inherent in the human nervous
system (see references 3 and 7).
eIt stays where it was left when you
are not touching it. It doesn't have to
be picked ·up like a light pen or stylus.
eIthas buttons on top that can be
sensed under program control. The
buttons let you point to and interact
with objects Qn the screen in a variety
of ways.

Every Star and Alto has its own
hard disk for local storage of programs and data. This enhances their
persQnal nature, providing consistent
access to information regardless of
how many other machines are on the

network or what anyone else is doing. Larger programs can be written,
using the disk for swapping.
The Ethernet lets both Stars and
Altos have a distributed architecture.
Each machine is connected to an
Ethernet. Other machines on the
Ethernet are dedicated as
"servers" -machines that are attached to a resource and provide access to that resource.

Star Design Methodology
We have learned from Star the importance of .formulating the fundamental concepts (the user's conceptual model) before software is written, rather than tacking on a user interface afterward. Xerox devoted
about thirty work-years to the design
of the Star user interface. It was
designed before the functionality of
the system was fully decided. It was
even designed before the computer
hardware was built. We worked for
two years before we wrote a single
line of actual product software.
Jonathan Seybold put it this way,
"Most system design efforts start with
hardware specifications, follow this
with a set of functional specifications
for the software, then try to figure
out a logical user interface and command structure. The Star project
started the other way around: the
paramount concern was to define a
conceptual model of how the user
would relate to the system. Hardware
and software followed from this."
(See reference 15.)
In fact, before we even began
designing the model, we developed a
methodology by which we would do
the design. Our methodology report
(see reference 10) stated:
One of the most troublesome and
least understood aspects of interactive
systems is the user interface. In the
design of user interfaces, we are concerned with several issues: the provision of languages by which users can
express their commands to the computer; the design of display representati9ns that show the state of the system
to the user; and other more abstract
issues that affect the user's understanding of the system's behavior. Many of
these issues are highly subjective and
are therefore often addressed in an ad
hoc fashion. We believe, however,

that more rigorous approaches to user
interface design can be developed ....
These design methodologies are all
unsatisfactory for the same basic
reason: they all omit an essential step
that must precede the design of any
successful user interface, namely task
analysis. By this we mean the analysis
of the task performed by the user, or
users, prior to introducing the proposed computer system. Task analysis
involves establishing who the users
are, what their goals are in performing
the task, what information they use in
performing it, what information they
generate, and what methods they
employ. The descriptions of input and
output information should include an
analysis of the various objects, or individual types of information entity,
employed by the user ....
The purpose of task analysis is to
simplify the remaining stages in user
interface design. The current task
description, with its breakdown of the
information objects and methods
presently employed, offers a starting
point for the definition of a corresponding set of objects and methods to
be provided by the computer system.
The idea behind this phase of design is
to build up a new task environment for
the user, in which he can work to accomplish the same goals as beforersurrounded now by a different set of objects, and employing new methods.

Center. Without the creative ideas of
the authors of those systems, Star in
its present ·fonn would have been impossible. In addition, We ourselves
programmed various aspects of the
Star design on Alto, but all of it was
"throwaway" code. Alto, with its bitmapped display screen, was powerful
enough to implement and test our
ideas on visual interaction.
Some types of concepts are inherently difficult for people to grasp.
Without being too formal about it,
our experience before and during the
Star design led us to the following
classification:
Easy

concrete
visible
copying
choosing
recognizing
editing
interactive

Hard

abstract
invisible
creating
filling in
generating
programming
batch

The characteristics on the left were incorporated into the Star user's conceptual model. The characteristics on
the right we attempted to avoid.

Principles Used
Proto typing is another crucial element of the design process. System
designers should be prepared to implement the new or difficult concepts
and then to throwaway that code
when doing the actual implementation. As Frederick Brooks says, the
question "is not whether to build a
pilot system and throw it away. You
will do that. The only question is
whether to plan in advance to build a
throwaway, or to promise to deliver
the throwaway to customers.. ..
Hence plan to throw one away; you
will, anyhow." (See reference 2.) The
Alto served as a valuable prototype
for Star. Over a thousand Altos were
eventually built.· Alto users have had
several thousand work-years of experience with them over· a period of
eight years, making Alto perhaps the
largest prototyping effort ever.
Dozens of experimental programs
were written for the Alto by members
of the Xerox Palo Alto Research

The following main goals were pursued in designing the Star user interface:
.familiar user's conceptual model
.seeing and pointing versus remembering and typing
.what you see is what you get
.universal commands
• consistency
• simplicity
.modeless interaction
• user tailorability
We will discuss each of these in tum.

17

Familiar User's Conceptual· Model
A user's conceptual modelis the set
of concepts a person gradually acquires to explain the behavior of a
system, whether it. be a ·computer
system, a physical system, or a
hypothetical system. It is the model
developed in the mind of the user that
enables that person to understand
and interact with the system. The first
task for a system designer is to decide
what model is prefeJ;'able for users of
the system. This extremely important
step is often neglected or done poorly. The Star designers devoted several
work-years at the outset of the project discussing and evolving what we
considered an appropriate model for
an office information system: the
metaphor of a physical office.
The designer of a computer system
can choose to pursue familiar
analogies and metaphors or to introduce entirely new functions requiring new approaches. Each option has
advantages and disadvantages. We
decided to create electronic counterparts to the physical objects in an office: paper, folders, file cabinets, mail
boxes, and so on-an electronic
metaphor for the office. We hoped
this would make the electronic
"world" seem more familiar, less
alien, and require less training. (Our
initial experiences with users have
confirmed this.) We further decided
to make the electronic analogues be
concrete objects. Documents would
be more than file names on a disk;
they would also be. represented by
pictures on the display screen. They
would be selected by pointing to them
with the mouse and clicking one of
the buttons. Once selected, they
would be moved, copied, or deleted
by pushing the appropriate key.
Moving a document became the electronic equivalent of picking up a
piece of paper and walking
somewhere with it. To file a document, you would move it to a picture
of a file drawer, just as you take a
physical piece of paper to a physical
file cabinet.
The reason that the user's conceptual model should be decided first

18

Figure 1: In-basket and out-basket icons. The in-basket contains an envelope indicating

that mail has been received. (This figure was taken directly from the Star screen.
Therefore, the text appears at screen resolution.)

when designing a system is that the
approach adopted changes the functionality of the system. An example is
electronic mail. Most electronic-mail
systems draw a distinction between
messages and files to be sent to other
people. Typically, one program sends
messages and a different program
handles file transfers, each with its
own interface. But we observed that
offices make no such distinction.
Everything arrives through the mail,
from one-page memos to books and
reports, from intraoffice mail to international mail. Therefore, this became
part of Star's physical-office
metaphor. Star users mail documents
of any size, from one page to many
pages. Messages are short documents,
just as in the real world. User actions
are the same whether the recipients
are in the next office or in another
country.
A physical metaphor can simplify
and clarify a system. In addition to
eliminating the artificial distinctions
of traditional computers, it can
eliminate commands by taking advantage of more general concepts.
For example, since moving a document on the screen is the equivalent
of picking up a piece of· paper and
walking somewhere with it, there is
no "send mail" command. You simply move it to a picture of an outbasket. Nor is there a "receive mail"
command. New mail appears in the
in-basket as it is received. When new
mail is waiting, an envelope appears
in the picture of the in-basket (see

figure 1). 'This is a simple, familiar,
nontechnical approach to computer
mail. And it's easy once the physicaloffice metaphor is adoptedl
While we want an analogy with the
physical world for familiarity, we
don't want to limit ourselves to its
capabilities. One of the raisons d'etre
for Star is that physical objects do not
provide people with enough power to
manage the increasing complexity of
the "information age." For example,
we can take advantage of the computer's ability to search rapidly by
providing a search function for its
electronic file drawers, thus helping
to solve the long-standing problem of
lost files.

The "Desktop"
Every user's initial view of Star is
the "Desktop," which resembles the
top of an office desk, together with
surrounding furniture and equipment. It represents your working environment-where your current projects and accessible resources reside.
On the screen are displayed pictures
of familiar office objects, such as
documents, folders, file drawers, inbaskets, and out-baskets. These objects are displayed as small pictures or
"icons," as shown in figure 2.
You can "open" an icon to deal
with what it represents. This enables
you to' read documents, inspect the
contents of folders and file drawers,
see what mail you have received, etc.
When opened, an icon expands into a

larger form called a "window," which
displays the icon's contents. Windows are the principal mechanism for
displaying and manipulating information.
The Desktop "surface" is displayed
as a distinctive gray pattern. This
restful design makes the icons and
windows on it stand out crisply,
minimizing eyestrain. The surface is
organized as an array of one-inch
squares, 14 wide by 11 high. An icon
can be placed in any square, giving a
maximum of 154 icons. Star centers
an icon in its square, making it easy
to line up icons neatly. The Desktop
always occupies the entire display
screen; even when windows appear
on the screen, the Desktop continues
to exist "beneath" them.

The Desktop is the principal Star
technique for realizing the physicaloffice metaphor. The icons on it are
visible, concrete embodiments of the
corresponding physical objects. Star
users are encouraged to think of the
objects on the Desktop in physical
terms. Therefore, you can move the
icons around to arrange your
Desktop as you wish. (Messy
Desktops are certainly possible, just
as in real life.) Two icons cannot occupy the same space (a basic law of
physics). Although moving a document to a Desktop resource such as a
printer involves transferring the
document icon to the same square as
the printer icon, the printer immediately "absorbs" the document,
queuing it for printing. You can leave

XEROX STAR User·lnterfacet
ICONS

DOCUMENT OBJECTS
Page
DISPLAY

Text

character
paragraph

[Iocument
F.eo)rd File
f.)lder
File Drawer
In- and (lut-BasKets

--- Pnnter
Floppy (i1)1 ('rive
lJ~er and lJ:er '~roup
':alculator
Terminal Enlldator;
(hed er
('!rectory

Frame

Graphic.; ".
line

"nlbe.1
chart
Tobl.
Equ:.tlort
Te·t

Field
I

footnote

~I

MOUSE

!

KEYBOARD
S"I"rt

Adjust

UNIVERSAL COMMANDS

[!elete
·:opy

r 11)ve'

~how Propertle~

':Of.• )" PI opertie:.
r-gl3lm

I)ndc.

Help

Figure 2: A Desktop as it appears on the Star srreen. Several commonly used icons appear across the top of the screen, including
documents to serve as 'form-pad" sources for letters, memos, and blank paper. An open window displaying a document containing
an illustration is also shown.

19

documents on your Desktop indefinitely, just as on a real desk, or
you can file them away in folders or
file drawers. Our intention and hope
is that users will intuit things to do
with i~ons, and that those things will
indeed he Part of the system. This will
happen if:

force you to remember conventions.
That burdens your memory. During
conscious thought, the brain utiliZes
several levels of memory, the most
important being the "short-term
memory." Many studies have analyzed the short-term memory and its
role in. thinking. Two conclusions
stand out: (1) conscious thought deals
(a) Star models the real world ac- with concepts in the short-term
CQrately enough. Its similarity with memory (see reference 1) and (2)
the office environment preserves yo~r the capacity of the .short-term
familiar way of working and yo~J.r ex- memory is limited (see reference 14).
When everything being dealt with in
isting coqcepts and knowledge.
(b) Sufficient uniformity is in the a computer :;ystem· is visible, the
system. Star's principles and display screen relieves the load on the
"generic" commands (discussed short-term memory by acting as a sort
below) are applied throughout the of "visual cache." Thinking becomes
system, allowing lessons learned in easier and more productive. A weUdesigned computer system can actualone area to apply to others.
ly improve the quaiity of your. thinkThe model of a physical office pro- ing(see reference 16). In addition,
vides a simple base from which learn- visual communication is often more
ing can proceed in an incremental efficient than linear communication;
fashion. You are not exposed to a picture is worth a thousand words.
A subtle thing happen.s when
entirely new concepts all at once.
Much of your existing knowledge is everything is vi:;ible: the display
becomes reality. The user model
embedded in the base.
In a functionally rich system, it is becomes identical with what is on the
probably not possible to represent screen. Objects can be understood
everything in terms of a single model. purely in terms of their visible
There may need to be more than one characteristics. Actions can be
model. For example, Star's records- understood in terms of their effects on
processing facility cannot use the the screen. This lets users conduct exphysical-office model because periments to test, verify, and expand
physical offices have no "records pro- their understanding-the essence of
cessing" wprthy of the name. experimental science.
Therefore, we invented a different
In Star, we have tried to make the
model, a record file as a collection of objects and actions in the system visifields. A record can be displayed as a ble. Everything to be dealt with and
row in a table or as fiUed-in fields in a all commands and effects have a visiform. Querying is accomplished by ble representation on. the display
filling in a blank example of a record screen pr on the keyboard. You never
with predicates describing the desired have to remember that, for example,
values, which is philosophically CODE+Q does something in one
similar to Zloof's "Query-by- context and something different in
Example" (see reference 21).
another context. In fact, our desire to
Of course, the number of different eliminate this possibility led us to
user models in a system must be kept abolish the CODE key. (We have yet
to a minimum. And they should not
to see a computer system with a
overlap; a new model should be in- CODE key that doesn't violate the
troduced only when an existing one
principle of visibility.) You never indoes not cover the situation.
voke a command or push a key and
have nothing visible happen. At the
Seeing and Pointing
very
least, a· message is posted exA well-designed system makes
plaining
that the command doesn't
everything relevant to a task visible
work
in
this
context, or it is not imon the screen. It doesn't hide things
plemented,
or
there is an error. It is
under CODE + key combination~ or

20

disastrous to the user's model when
you invoke an action and the system
does nothing in response. We have
seen people push a key several times
in one system or another trying to get
a response. They are not sure whether
the system has "heard" them or not.
Sometimes the system is simply
throwing away their keystrokes.
Sometimes it is just slow and is queuing the keystrokes; you can imagine
the unpredictable behavior that is
possible.
We have already mentioned icons
and windows as mechanisms for
making the concepts in Star visible.
Other such mechanisms are Star's
property and opt.ion sheets. Most objects in Star have properties. A property sheet is a two-dimensional, formlike environment that displays those
properties. Figure 3 shows the
character property sheet. It appears
on the screen whenever you make a
text selection and push the PROPERTIES key. It contains such properties
as type font and size; bold, italic,
underline, and strikeout face; and
superscript/subscript positionin.g. Instead of having to remember the
properties of characters, the current
settings of those properties, and,
worst of all, how to change those
properties, property sheets simply
show everything on the scree.n. All
the options are presented. To change
one, you point to it with the mouse
and push a button. Properties in effect are displayed in reverse video.
This mechanism is used for all
properties of all objects in the system.
Star contains a couple of hundred
properties. To keep you from being
overwhelmed with information,
property sheets display only the
properties relevant to the type of object currently selected (e.g.,
character, paragraph, page, graphic
line, formula element, frame, document, or folder). This is an example
of "progressive disclosure": hiding
complexity until it is needed. It is also
one of the clearest examples of how
an emphasis· on visibility can· reduce
the amount of remembering and typ-:ing required.
Property sheets may be thought of
as an alternate representation for ob-

sional, form-like environment that
displays the arguments to commands.
It serves the same function for command arguments that property sheets
do for object properties.

What You See Is What You Get
Face

ISTRIKEOUT I

P05ition

"

' . ' ,

I,

, , '

Figure 3: The property sheet for text characters,

By matchir,g
In

It·;."U"II
Changeto

By altering

EN TIRE DOCUMEN T

b

~:r=====---.
I_ITE>::T AND PROPERTIESI

ICONF1RJ.,.1 EACH CH,l!.,NGEI

Figure 4: The option sheet for the Find command showing both the Search and
Substitute options, The last two lines of options appear only when CHANGE IT is
turned on,

jects. The screen shows you the visible characteristics of objects, such as
the type font of text characters or the
names of icons. Property sheets show
you the underlying structure of objects as they make this structure visible and accessible.

Invisibility also plagues the commands in some systems. Commands
often have several arguments and options that you must remember with
no assistance from the system. Star
addresses this problem with option
sheets (see figure 4), a two-dimen-

'What you see is what you get" (or
WYSIWYG) refers to the situation in
which the display screen portrays an
accurate rendition of the printed
page. In systems having such
capabilities as multiple fonts and
variable line spacing, WYSIWYG requires a bit-mapped display because
only that has sufficient graphic power
to render those characteristics accurately.
WYSIWYG is a simplifying technique for document-creation systems.
All composition is done on the
screen. It eliminates the iterations
that plague users of document compilers. You can examine the appearance of a page on the screen and
make changes until it looks right. The
printed page will look the same (see
figure 5). Anyone who has used a
document compiler or post-processor
knows how valuable WYSIWYG is.
The first.powerful WYSIWYG editor
was Bravo, an experimental editor
developed for Alto at the Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center (see reference
12). The text-editor aspects of Star
were derived from Bravo.
Trade-offs are involved in
WYSIWYG editors, chiefly having to
do with the lower resolution of
display screens. It is never possible to
get an exact representation of a
printed page on the screen since most
screens have only 50 to 100 dots per
inch (72 in Star), while most printers
have higher resolution. Completely
accurate character positioning is not
possible. Nor is it usually possible to
represent shape differences for fonts
smaller than eight points in size since
there are too few dots per character to
be recognizable. Even la-point ("normal" size) fonts may be uncomfortably small on the screen, p-ecessitating
a magnified mode for viewing text.

21

.t

XEROX

I:: :

Productivity under the old and the new

8010 Star Information System

100

.........

User-Interface Design
To m:ake it easy to eompose text andgr:aphies,
to do eleetronic.filin;~, printing, and m:ailing
all at the saTfle ,.~.-orksh.tion, requires a
revolutiolLUY user-interf:::we· desi;~:n.

Bit.. rna£r. dl~Sl-~l~:l,.y .. E:acll of tIle B27,::::!32 dots on
the sereen is Tfl:apped t,;. a bit in memory; thus,
arbitrarily eOT.Llplex im.ages can be di3f.,layed.
STAR displays all fonts and g:raphics as they
'·x.. ill be printed. In addition, ·familLu office
objeots suoh as doc:uments, f,)lders, file
dr:a',x"ersand in-bas.kets are p'Htrayed as
rec,og:nizable images,

old
flew

50

t

Thot mousot -

.ll.

unique :pointing: devioe th'lt
a1l6in the user to quioUr sele'~t any te:

•

.....

¥
H

IJ

.

f

Cfl

0

0]:1

Fr

¢

(C'I
.~.

£,
F-

Ij

I

(B)

Graphics are created by copying
existing graphic images and modifying them. In a sense, you can even
type characters in Star's 2 16-character
set by "copying" them from keyboard
windows (see figure 6) •

t

Figt,ue 6: The keyboard-interpretation window serves as the source of characters that may be entered from the keyboard. The

character set shown here contains a variety of office symbols.

24

These paradigms change the very
way you think. They lead to new
habits and models of behavior that
C}.re more powerful and productive.
TheY can lead to a human-machine
synerJlism.
. Star obtains additional consistency
by usi~ the class and subclass notions of Simula (see reference 4) and
Sn'lalltalk (see reference 11). The
clearest example of this is classifying
icons at a higher level into data icons
an? function icons. Data icons represent objects on which actions are performed. Currently, the three types
(i.e., subclasses) of data icons are
documents, folders, and record files.
Function icons represent objects· that
perform actions. Function icons are
of many types, with more being
added as the system evolves: file
drawers, in- and out-baskets,
printers, floppy-disk drives, calculators, terminal emulators, etc.
In general, anything that can be
done to one data icon can be done to
all, regardless of its type, size, or
location. All data icons can be
moved, copied, deleted, filed, mailed,
printed, opened, closed, and a variety
of other operations applied. Most
function icons will accept any data
icon; for example"you can move any
data icon to an out-basket. This use
of the class concept in' the user-interface design reduces the artificial
distinctions that occur in some systems.

Simplicity
Simplicity is another principle with
which no one can disagree. ObviousIy,a simple system is better than a
complicated one if they have the same
capabiJities. Unfortunately, the world
is never as simple as that. Typically, a
trade-off exi&ts between easy novice
use and efficient expert use. The two
goals are not always compatible. In
Star, we have tried to follow Alan
Kay's maxim: "simple things should
be simple; complex things should be
possible.~' To do this, it was sometimes necessary to make common
things simple at the expense of uncommon things being harder. Simplicity, like consistency, is not a
clear-cut principle.

One way to make a system appear
simple is to make it uniform and, consistent, 'as we discussed earlier.
Adhering to those principles le,.ds to
a simple user's model. Simple models
are easier to understand and work
with than intricate ones.
Another way to achieve simplicity
is to minimize the redundancy in a
system. H~ving two or more .ways to
do something increases the complexity without increasing the capabilities.
The ideal system would have a minimum of powerful commands that obtained all the desired functionality
and that did not overlap. That was
the motivation for Star's "generic"
commands. But again the world is not
so simple. General mechanisms ,are
often inconvenient for high-frequency actions. For example, . the SHOW
PROP~RTIES command is Star's general mechanism for changing properties, but it is too much of an in~er­
ruption during typing. Therefore, we
added keys to optimize the changing
of certain character" properties:
BOLD, ITALIC~, UNDERLINI:;,
SUPERSCRIPT, SUBSCRIPT,
LARGER/SMALLER
(font),
CENTER (paragraph). These significantly speed up typing, but they don't
add any new functionalitY. In this
case, we felt the trade-off was wprth
it because typing is a frequent activity. ''Minimum redundancy" is a good
but not absolute guideline.
In general, it is better to introduce
new general mechanisms by which
"experts" can obtain accelerators
rather than add a lot of spedal onepurpose-only features. Star's mechanisms are 'discussed below under
"User Tailorability. l'
Another way to have the system as
a whole appear simple is to make
each of its par~s simple. In Particular,
the system should avoid overlOading
the semantics of the parts. Each part
should be kept conceptually clean.
Sometimes, this may involve ~ major
redesign of the user interface. An example from Star' is the mouse, which
has been' used ~n the Alto for eight
years. Before that; it was used on the
NLS system at Stanford Research Institute (see ref~rence 5). All of those

mice have three buttons on top. StClr
has only two'. Why did we depart
from "tradition"? We observed. that
the dozens of Alto programs all had
different semantics for the mouse buttons. Some used them one way, some
another. There was no co~sistency
between systems. Sometimes, there
was not even' consistency within a
system. For example, Bravo uses the
mouse buttons for selecting text,
scrolling windows, and creating and
deleting windows, dependi,ng on
where the cursor is when you push a
mouse button. Each of the three i:>uth>ns has its own meaning in eil-cl) of
the different regions. It 'is djffi~lt to
remember which button does what
where.
Thus, we decided to simplify the
mouse for Star. Since it is apparently
quite a temptation to overload the
semantics of the buttons, we
eliminated temptation by eliminating
buttons. Well then, why didn't we use
a one.button mouse? Here the plot
thickens. We did consider and prototype a on~-button mouse interface.
One button is sufficient (with a little
cleverness) to provide all the functionality needed in a mouse. But
when we tested the interface on naive
users, as we did 'with a variety of
features, we fo~nd that tney had a lot
of trouble making selec~ions with it.
In fact, we prototyped and tested six
different semantics for the mouse buttons: one one-i:>utton, four twobutton, and a three-button design.
We were chagrined to find that while
some were better than others, none of
them was completely easy to use,
even though, a priori, it seemed like
all of them would work I We then
took the most successful features of
two of the two-button designs and
prototyped and test~d them as a
seyenth design. To our relief, it no't
only, tested better than any of the
other six, everyone found it simple
and trouble-free to use.
, This story has 'a couple of morals:
• The intu~tion of designers is errorprone, no matter how good or bad
they are.

25

• The critical parts of a system should
be tested on repres~ntative users,
preferably of the "lowest common
denominator" type.
• What is simplest alpngany one
dimension (e.g., number of buttons)
is not necessarily conceptually
simplest for users; in particular,
minimiziog the number of keystrokes
may not make a system easier to use.

Modeless Interaction
Larry Tesler defines a mode as
follows:
A mode of an interactive computer
system is a state of the user interface
that lasts for a period of time, is not
associated with any particular object,
and has no role other than to place an
interpretation on operator input.
(See reference 18.)

Many computer systems use modes
because there are too few keys on the
keyboard to represent all the available commands. Therefore, the interpretation of the keys depends on the
l1:\ode or state the system is in. Modes
can and do cause trouble by making
habitual actions cause unexpected
results. If you do not notice what
mode the system is in, you may find
yourself invoking a sequence of commands quite different from what you
had intended.
Our favorite. story about modes,
probably apocryph1: .T"I;oml.l: ·:01'.r.o!!f.:'I:..d 1:.: .or. £t.hml.~~
it'E':'''' lntE:l': ::~.~:: ~'OJ ' '11".1"• .1::':>:1 ..t .. ,'1 r.~t;,,!,"1'k

o To (0fI)' lJI'aphk objects:
.. Seiert the ~sired graphk objert in this do(urnent.
-Pressthe  key.
- Selett it destination in ill graphiu fra~.

Ju.

TO NEIT PAGE FOR
INFORMTION ott HSOURCES
FOR SA':".

Line Properties SAME Source

In keeping with this model, RP is fully integrated into the Desktop environment, using the same
basic operations and paradigms that hold throughout Star. It makes especially heavy use of standard
Star documents to define the structure of record files, display results of queries, format and generate
reports, and accept data for additions and updates to stored data. It has extended the graphical
interface to the process of specifying queries.
To some extent, RP has traded functional power for conc~ptual simplicity: Data are shared only in
the sense that record files, like documents, may be mailed and stored in commonly accessible
locations. There are no facilities for constructing virtual collections of data by specifying joins and
other manipulations of independent record files. (This latter restriction is mitigated by RP's use of
hierarchical structur.es, allowing related data to be stored together in a single file.)

42

The Design of Star's Records Processing

L3 Comparison of RP to Other Systems
A number of recently-developed commercial and academic systems share Star RP's departure from
traditional data processing. Use of a form, generally taken to mean some kind of stylized document
with a defined field structure, is particularly common, although details differ from system to system.
Several systems are based on relational database systems; as such, they tend to provide richer
database facilities than RP, but less integration into other aspects of office automation, such as printquality text and graphics and electronic mail. We consider two systems in some detail: ZlooPs OfficeBy-Example (an extension of his earlier, well-known Query-By-Example), and the University of
Toronto's OFS office forms system. For discussions of other relevant work, see [Ellis 80], [Embley 81],
and[Yao 81].
Star differs from Query-By-Example I Office-By-Example [Zloof 77, Zloof 81] primarily in its scope.
QBE is an interface to a general relational data management system, while a Star record file is
primarily a simpler, personal database. This less powerful design has enabled considerable
simplication in the specification of queries and the relationship of Star documents to record files.
To a very large extent, we have made interactions with a record file the same as interactions with
document structures, particularly Tables (see 2.2). Thus, whereas in QBE the user indicates update,
deletion, or insertion of a record with special operators (U, 0, or I), in Star he might accomplish the
same ends by normal editing of a table row's contents, deletion of a row, or insertion of a new row.
Since hierarchically nested fields, if any, are actually stored with the record, rather than being linked
to in a separate file, there is no ambiguity about what happens to them during update: if you delete a
row in a table, you also delete all of its subrows, and the analogy carries across to record files.
Star maintains the basic query syntax ofQBE. However, Star uses views (4.1) in a more fundamental
and universal way than does QBE. In Star, certain functions that are performed by special operators
in QBE are implicit in the user's definition of view properties, especially the choice of view document.
The University of Toronto's OFS [Tsichritzis 80] is explicitly aimed at a more structured environment
than Star, the office conceived more in the sense of a bureau. Forms are associated with well-defined
office procedures, and considerable emphasis is laid on authentication, authorization, and
accountability. Interaction with forms is carried out through a command language at the user
station, which may be either a personal computer or a terminal to a shared processor. Forms are
communicated to or from a station via electronic mail. Alternatively, a collection of forms may be
accessed as a relation in a database system, with the underlying data and indices shared between the
two systems. The conception of the form file as the relation of data plus an associated form is similar
in spirit to Star's association of display forms with a record, although Star considers the data more
fundamental than the form in which it is rendered, and hence allows the association of multiple forms
with the same collection of records. As with OBE, OFS exhibits the power of a full database system,
which enables more and larger applications. This is particularly relevant for OFS' target
environment, where collections of data may be expected to be larger than Star's, and required forms of
access may be at once more established and more complex. The inclusion of office procedures is less
clearly a distinction between the systems, since some of the RP icon-level manipulations embody
simple office procedures (5), and more complicated procedures may be handled by the Star customer

43

The Design of Star's Records Processing

programming language (2.3). By its association with Star, RP derives a very high-quality graphical
interface; in contrast, OFS is designed to be operable from a minimal terminal. This has effects on
the capabilities of the system; display of repeating groups, for instance, is excluded from OFS, while
Star requires the facility in many contexts besides RP.
Tsichritzis notes the conflict between providing enough power in a language to handle a broad
selection of applications and the fear of overwhelming the user with the attendant complexity. Star's
RP and customer programming designs have had to confront this same dilemma, with approximately
the same result: a simple facility is provided to cover many interesting simple cases, with escape to a
more general programming language for users with the need and ambition.
Star in general, and RP in particular, exhibit a sophistication about multi-national and multi-lingual
applications which we have not seen in any comparable system. There are no deep theoretical issues
here, but there are a great many practical details which must be dealt with. Texts can be stored in
any of the various scripts supported by Star, including special characters in languages which
basically use a Roman alphabet (currency symbols for pounds or yen), non-Roman alphabets (Greek,
Katakana and Hiragana), and ideographic texts (Kanji). Ordering relations depend on the language
(ch is a single letter in Spanish, falling between c and d; ii sorts the same as a in German, but is a
separate letter which follows z in Swedish). Formats for dates and numbers differ among countries,
affecting the interpretation of input and the form of output (123.456 is three orders of magnitude
greater in France than in the US; Japanese may schedule a conference in the 6th month of the 58th
year of the era of Shining Harmony).

2. Star Features Closely Related to RP
Three features of Star are particularly relevant to consideration ofRP: Document Fields, Tables, and
the customer programming language.
2.1 Fields
As described in the first section, the user has available several remappings of the standard keyboard.
One such mapping is to a collection of special objects that may be inserted in text. These include
equations, graphic frames and page breaks. Also included are fields and tables, which correspond
approximately to the notion of variables in a programming language. In the simplest case, a field is a
container for a single value. Structured data is represented in tables, discussed below; these
correspond to programming language record definitions. Fields may occur in running text, as in a
form letter, in which case their contents are formatted along with the surrounding characters.
Alternatively, they may be placed in a frame with fixed size and position, as in a business form or
report. Documents containing illustrations and/or fields are treated like any others on the Desktop
and in the filing system.
The user fills in fields with the normal Star. editing operations, augmented with the NEXT and SKIP
keys. The fields in a document are arranged in an order (settable by the used, and the NEXT and SKIP
keys on the keyboard will move the selection through the fields of the document in this order,
ignoring intervening document contents. Field contents may be selected with the mouse, like any
other document contents, and edited, moved or copied to other areas.

44

The Design of Star's Records Processing

The mechanism for getting a new (empty) field in a document is, essentially, to type it. Star's
alternate keyboard mappings are presented in response to the KEYBOARD key on the keyboard.
Selecting the SPECIAL option sets the keyboard keys to the special objects that may be inserted in text,
mentioned at the beginningofthis section. In particular, the "Z" key is remapped to a field; pressing
it now results in insertion (at the current type-in point) of a new field with default properties. Its
position is marked with a pair of bracket characters: r J. Once a field is inserted, it may be selected,
and its properties set, as with normal characters or any other Star object. Thus, users create forms by
straightforward extensions of other document operations.
2.1.1 Field properties

A field has a rich collection of properties, of which the most important are its name, its type, the
format ofits contents, its range of valid values, and optionally a rule for determining its value. Other
properties include a description (which may be used as a prompt), and the language of the contents
(which is required to deal with the multi-lingual issues mentioned in 1.3).
A field's name is assigned by the system when it is inserted in the document; it may be changed by
the user at any time. The name must be unique among fields in the containing document.
There are four field types: Text, Amount, Date, and Any. The first three have obvious constraints
on their values. Any fields are allowed to contain anything legal in a document. The default is Any.
Formats may be used for data validation on input of Text fields, e.g. part number or social security
number format. Date and Amount fields do not have input validation according to formats, but
instead accept anything that "makes sense" according to the rules for those field types. Formats may
be specified for output of Dates and Amounts to enforce uniformity of appearance. Date formats offer
a choice among standard representations of dates, and are language-dependent. Format characters
for Amounts and Text are similar to those in COBOL or PU1 picture clauses, and appear on the SPECIAL
keyboard.
The Range property specifies acceptable values for the field. These involve more characters from the
SPECIAL keyboard, indicating a closed interval and a textual ellipsis which matches 0 or more arbitrary
characters. (These may be indicated by "-" and ..... "; on the screen, they are given distinctive images
which do not appear in text.) The range may be unbounded at either end: 0-, 1-10, -127. These
same forms are used in specifying desired values in RP Filters (4).
The Fill-in Rule property is discussed in section 2.3. Figure 2 shows a form with an open property
sheet for a field with a fill-in rule.
2.2 Tables*

A table is another of the special objects which may be inserted in a document. It is a rectangular
frame with rich formatting characteristics: headings, footings, ruling lines, margins, captions, rows
and columns which automatically adjust their extents and which may be selected, moved, copied, etc.

* We should note here that the implementation of Tables was not completed until after the first
release of Star.

45

The Design of Star's Records Processing

i.
SDD EtnpIo,•••
D.p.ndent:llo.r
March 30, 1982

Name of Employee:
5~;;.rd

r.,t"rion

Ago

35

Oate of Birth

118147

Children

Name:

Ago

GrahiJm

3

Sutter
:~u:'l'Ider
~:t ......~11

Jeri-Ann

_Ierry

• '''''''0:;.11 Palph

26

6/26152

37

11/11/44

37

9i26J44

Ain!!

15

I<:evin

12

Sara
Brian

;.

"~3e P~ul

,~le··',·!m

.lohn

: ;:.o:-t.~lt. Teri
~'~r"'.(:-

Fobert

34

6114147

33

3110149

2.

5112152

36

1212/45

Retrieval Filt!!!:r

Of more interest here, a table is also a hierarchical structure of fields, arranged in rows and columns.
A column may be divided (have sub-columns). A divided column may also be repeating, which allows
for nested sub-rows within a row. (See, for instance, Figure 3b.) Conceptually, the table itself is a
simply a higher-level repeating divided column. Thus, tables correspond to structured variables in
standard programming languages.

Besides formatting control, the properties of a table column include the standard field properties.
These apply to each of the fields in that column. Thus, all fields in a column bear the same name
(they are distinguished by an index); they share the same format; and a single fill-in rule may be
applied to each.
2.3 Fill·in Rules and CUSP
The use of fill-in rules on fields must qualify the statement above, that" ... the user does not write
independent programs, and there is no mechanism for running them." A user's day-to-day activities
are not normally addressed by writing programs. Nonetheless, some user computations are best
expressed by the user; Star's CUStomer Programming language responds to this requirement. In the
first release of Star, CUSP appears only in a jill·in rule, which is a property of a field or table column.

46

Tho
nocinn
Rprnrnc
• I''''' --"'.::J
.. nf
_. <:.t::1lr'c
_ .. _. - ..
_-_. -_.Prnrpccinn
- - -------;;;1

A fill-in rule is an expression in a simple language with no side effects, and no control constructs
except the conditional expression. It does include arithmetic, string concatenation, and aggregate
operations like Sum and Count, comparison and boolean operators, and a conditional expression
which selects a single value from a number of alternatives. There are built-in expressions for the
current date, time and user identification. The value returned by the expression is stored in its field,
properly converted and formatted. Simple fill-in rules include
Current Date
Taxable

* 1.065

"Taxable" must be the name ofanother field in the same document

Choose
Miles < 200 -> Miles * .20;
Otherwise -> 40 + (Miles - 200)*.17

The Choice is simply a CASE statement, with a required Else.
The use of fill-in rules is extended to table columns, with provision for referencing the current row.
Thus, a rule for computing one field as the sum of two others may be used to make one column in a
table hold line totals for corresponding elements of the other columns.
A later release of Star includes a capability for users to program their own Buttons. These are
parameterless procedures which may include iteration over sets, side-effects on fields and manipulation of objects on the Desktop, parallel to manual actions in the user interface. Buttons may appear
in documents, and they mimic, in appearance and operation, the behavior of menu commands built
into Star. Eventually, CUSP will become a full programming language, with procedures, variables,
parameters and a programming environment. We are proceeding in this direction for two reasons:
1. The complexity of user applications is essentially unbounded, which makes some sort of
programming language virtually mandatory.
2. As in the rest of Star, we believe we can layer the complexity of CUSP, presenting only
as much as is relevant in a given situation. Non-programming users may content
themselves with the facilities described in the rest of this paper; fill-in rules ignore
flow-of-control and binding issues; buttons introduce restricted procedurality in a
familiar context.
Taken together, these points echo Alan Kay's dictum "Simple things should be simple; hard
things should be possible."

3. A Functional Description of Star RP
The next three sections of this paper review the functions of traditional data processing, with
attention to how the Star user interface provides a graphical, non-procedural way of presenting them
to the user.
3.1 Data definition
Data definition is the first function required of RP. The field structure of the record file must be
indicated to the system (along with the types and constraints on the individual fields) before data can
be entered or retrieved. This function is normally served by a data definition [sub]language. Star

47

The Design of Star's Records Processing

provides this function via the mechanisms already used to define fields in documents; in fact, the
structure of a.record file is set simply by indicating a document whose field structure is to be copied.
Each Star Desktop includes access to a collection of useful templates, e.g. an empty folder and a blank
document. To create a new record file, the user copies the empty record file, and opens the copy. The
window menu will include a command named Define Structure. The user selects a document which
has the field structure desired for the new record file, and invokes the Define Structure command.
Star reads through this defining form, copying to the record file the descriptions of fields and tables
encountered. When this process is completed, the Define Structure command disappears from the
window, and the record file is defined.
Employee Information
Name:
Name

Age:

Children
Age

Date of Birth:

Figure 3a: Fields in a Form
Employees
·Name

Age

Date of Birth
Name

Children
Age

Figure 3b: Corresponding Record Structure
The details of the definition process may be illustrated with an example: The personnel form in
Figure 3a has a number of independent fields (Name, Age and Date of Birth), and a table of
dependents named Children; the table's columns are Name and Age. If used as a defining form, this
document would generate a record file structure as illustrated in Figure 3b. The independent fields
and the table generate top-level fields in the record; the additional hierarchy of the Children table is
reflected in a subdivided column in the record with repeating sub-records. All field properties (name,
type, language, range constraints, ... ) are carried over to the field in the record, except for any fill-in
rule. (Since this is the definition of the stored data, it would be either redundant or inconsistent to
leave a fill-in rule on the field. Therefore, the field is generated with all its properties except the
rule.) Aslightly anomalous case arises for documents which contain only a single table. By a strict
adherence to the process we have described, we would expect a record with a single field; that field in

48

Tho
I

......

no~inn
_
.......

~.I

_. _. _. - ... ___ .__ . -________ . ,

of <:.t.:u'c R,:srnrrlc Prnrpc:c:inn

turn would be sub-divided, with a sub-structure corresponding to the columns of the table. For
convenience, such a document generates instead a record whose structure exactly matches the table's.
3.2 Display of data
The correspondence between the field structure of records and of documents carries over into all other
access to record file data: Sta:r documents conta:ining fields and/or tables are used to add, display and
modify records in record files. Multiple documents may be associated with a record file to provide
varied forms of display of the data. Each such document is called a display document. A display
document may contain only a subset of the fields in a record. It may contain additional fields which
have fill-in rules to compute aggregate functions over the data. Its format may be that of a tabular
report with data from many records gathered into a single document, or of a form whose multiple
instances each correspond to a single record. Non-field text and formatting may include all the
general facilities of Star documents, including arbitrary formatting and graphics: While these
documents are referred to as display documents, it should be clear that anyone may be used for both
input and output; in fact there is no access to the data in a record file except through some document.
3.2.1 Lading
The process of establishing the correspondence between data in a document and in the records of a
record file is called lading. Lading consists essentially of data transfer between fields that correspond
by name. This covers both data input to the record file and output from it. The definition of
corresponding names is generally straightforward, but must account for the capability of a single
document to correspond to either a single record, or to a whole collection of them. (The two cases are
very similar to the two varieties of defining document mentioned above.)
As mentioned in 2.1.1, a field's name must be unique within its containing document or record. This
is enforced immediately for independent fields and the top level of tables. In tables, only the fully
qualified name (in the obvious pathname scheme) must be unique. Thus, in Figure 4, there is a field
named Age, and a different one named Children.Age.
When lading between a record and a document which contains independent fields, the document and
the record are considered to match; then any contained fields match if they have the same simple
name, and their containers match. In this case, it will be seen there is one occurrence of a field in the
document for each occurrence in a single record; mUltiple instances of the document must be
generated for multiple records. Such a display document is called a non-tabular form; it would be
appropriate for a form letter application, or form-style entry into the record file.
A document with a single table and no independent fields is treated somewhat differently. If the ta:ble
has one or more columns whose names match record fields, then the table is considered to match the
whole record, and rows of the ta:ble correspond to records. This is called a tabular form, and is
typically used for reports and queries which may return several records. Independent fields which do
not match record fields may occur in a tabular form; these typically have fill-in rules which compute
summary data.
In either variety of display document, smaller tables may provide hierarchical structure with
repeating sub-rows. The matching criterion must be refined to handle this case: fields do not match

49

The Design of Star's Records Processing

unless they share the same values for the Repeating and Divided properties. Figure 4 illustrates
lading from a record into a tabular form. A new row will be generated in the Roster table for each
record in the record file, and Children sub-rows will be generated in each row if there are
corresponding children sub-records in that record of the record file. The defining form illustrated in
Figure 3a could likewise be used as a display document for this record file; when laded, a new
instance of the form would be generated for each record in the record file, each with its Children table
filled out appropriately.
Field values are transferred between source and destination in the fill-in order of the destination. For
output from the record file, fields with fill-in rules are computed as they are encountered in the fill-in
order, on the basis of data already in the form. Fields which have neither computation rule nor
matching source field are left unchanged. As each value is transferred, it is converted to the type and
format of the destination field.
Figure 4 illustrates lading from the record structure of Figure 3 into a tabular form with a slightly
different structure. In this case, the fields with the name Name match. The fields Date of Hire and
Emplovees (record file)
Name

Age

Date of Birth

Children
Name
Age
I

II

'I,

h'I

Iii

Roster (tabular document)

•
Name

Salary Date of Hire

t

Children
Age Grade

Number

~ [I

fJ

"
Figure 4: An Example of Lading
Date of Birth do not match, despite the fact that they are both dates and are both at the same position.
Therefore Date of Hire remains empty. The repeating divided field Children of the record file matches
the column Children of the table. Their Age subcolumns therefore also match, and field values are
transferred for each sub-row. No columns in Roster match either the other field named Age or the
field Children.Name in the record, so their values are never accessed. The columns Salary and Grade
do not match any field in the record and thus are not laded. Number will have a fill-in rule
(Count [Roster[ThisRow].Children)), so its value is computed as the record is laded.

50

The Design of Star's Records Processing

3.2.2 Scrolling and Thumbing
The portion of the record file displayed in the window is controlled in the same way as with documents
and other long Star objects: by pointing with the mouse into a scroll bar on the right margin of the
window. In a tabular form, there may be more records than can be displayed at once on the screen.
The table is filled with rows which display a contiguous subset of the records in the record file. By
thumbing, the user can jump to any point of the record file, causing the table to display a different set
of records. The user can also scroll the records up or down one at a time.
In a non-tabular form, scrolling and thumbing cause the display document to be repositioned, since
one record may be formatted into several document pages. The Next menu command displays the
record following the one currently displayed; Prey backs up one record.
3.3 Inserting Records
To add a record in a tabular form, the user adds a new row to the table, using the standard table
operations. The user then types the data for the fields of the new record. Star provides automatic
confirmation during record insertion.
In a non-tabular form, the user is provided with an additional command in the auxiliary menu, Add
Record. Invoking Add Record causes a new copy of the form to be displayed, with all of its fields
empty and with all of its tables rowless. The user may now enter data by typing into the empty fields.
When the user confirms his changes, the record is added.
Records may also be added to a record file in a batch; this process is invoked by user actions at the
icon level, described in section 5.
3.4 Updating Records
A record is updated by editing its contents while it is being displayed through a document. Therefore,
modifying the contents of a record involves exactly the same user actions as editing the contents of
fields within a document.
RP uses a data validation scheme which minimizes the chance for user error: once the user begins
editing a record, he is not permitted to edit any other record in the file; he must first confirm or cancel
the changes already made. Until he confirms or cancels his edits, the user has only modified the
display form, and not the record file. When confirmed, all fields of the updated record are validated
according to both the record file's and the display document's field constraints. If any fields are
invalid, then the record is not modified, and the user is notified as to which field is in error, so that he
can can make the appropriate corrections. No changes are made to the record file; either all of the
changes go through or none of them. If the user cancels his edits, then all changes are undone; the
form is redisplayed so that it shows the original record contents.
3.5

MOVE / COpy / DELETE Record

One or more records displayed in a tabular form can be manipulated as a unit by selecting one or more
rows and invoking MOVE, COpy or DELETE. These commands operate exactly as in documents and do not
have to be confirmed. New records may also be added by selecting one or more table rows in another

51

The Design of Star's Records Processing

record file window and moving or copying them into the destination record file window. Source field
values are copied into destination fields with matching field names, using the lading mechanism.
For records displayed through a non-tabular form, the user cannot select the whole document/record
in the window; therefore menu commands are added to the window to Add and Delete records.
c,

4. Querying using filters
Every database system provides some mechanism by which the user can cause a subset of the data to
be extracted from the database and displayed, copied, printed, or otherwise made available for further
operations. While the first database systems required some sort of programmer intervention to
accomplish this, the current state of the art allows for direct query by non-data-processing personnel.
Star has no query language as such; rather, it provides a facility called filtering, similar to QueryBy-Example [Zloof77].
Filtering is the process by which the user queries a Star record file. A filter is a predicate on the fields
ofthe record file. When a user sets a filter, he is asking to see only those records that "pass" the filter.
The filter appears to the user as a table; in fact, it looks exactly like the Full Tabular Form. All
normal table operations (e.g. NEXT and selecting and adding rows) are available in the filter table. The
filter acts as a template which defines the subset of records that the user is interested in. Each entry
in the table may contain a field pattern, which specifies a condition that a corresponding record's field
must satisfy in order to pass the filter. Field patterns have the same syntax and capabilities as the
range specifications for fields in forms. Some examples of field patterns that might be specified for
the example record file of employees used above are:
employee names starting with A thru M:
employees born in 1951:
employees whose records have no entry for Age:
(presumably an error condition)

A-+ M •••

1951
the Special
"Empty" character

in the Name field
in Date of Birth
in the Age field

Each row in the filter represents a simultaneous set of conditions that records must satisfy. In other
words, the field patterns are AND'ed in a row. Thus, using the above examples, by filling in both the
Name column and the Date of Birth column, the user may construct a filter passing only those
employees whose names are between A and M, AND who were born in 1951.
To get an OR'ing of conditions, additional rows can be added to the filter using the normal table
operations. If the user wanted to change the above example to pass employees whose names are
between A and M, OR who were born in 1951, he would simply have two rows, one with the first
condition and one with the second. To summarize, field predicates are AND'ed across columns and
OR'ed down rows.
By using filters, the user is able to extract the subset of the records that he is interested in, merely by
filling in a table, i.e. using the same operations that he already uses to interact with the records
themselves. Figure 4 illustrates our example record file, with a filter selecting employees with nonnull names and ages in the range 25 thru 40.

52

The Design of Star's Records Processing

4.1 Views
All interaction with a Star record file is through views. A view consists of three attributes: a sort
order, a View Filter, and a display form. It can be thought of as the encapsulation of one distinct use
of the record file. For example, a large record file of employees might be used in a number of different
ways within an organization: to input new employees; to print out monthly reports of all employees,
alphabetically; to send form letters to special groups of employees; and perhaps for a wide range of
querying by the personnel manager: who has been hired in the last month? how many employees are
over 60? etc. It should be noted that our definition of "view" differs somewhat from a more common
use of the term, namely a virtual, and usually read-only, table synthesized from multiple tables (e.g.
[Zloof 77]). A view in RP is limited to displaying and editing data from a single record file, and all
views allow updates.
Each distinct use of the record file may dictate that a view be created to support it. A record file can
have arbitrarily many views, and views are moved, copied, deleted, and have their properties
displayed and modified in exactly the same way as other objects in Star. It is important to note here
that no matter how many views are defined, the actual records are stored only once.
Views have both static and dynamic properties. If the record file is used in the same way frequently,
the user may choose to optimize that application by defining a view with a sort order and View Filter
that are permanently maintained via an index (see 4.6). On the other hand, the user may also specify
the view properties interactively, without the overhead of permanent indices.
4.2 Sorting
The sort order for a view specifies the order in which the records in that view appear. Each view may
have its own sort order, with the only cost being that indexes (see below) must be constructed. Thus,
each view can display the records in the order that makes the most sense for its application. The sort
order may either be maintained permanently via an index, or created dynamically each time the view
is opened.
4.3 View Filters
Each view may have a view filter, which specifies a permanent subsetting of the records in the file. If,
for example, one particular use of the record file required that notices be sent to those employees who
have children, then it might be helpful to define a view whose filter passes only those employees. The
effect of this is that whenever this view is opened, only those employees are displayed. The view filter
functions, in effect, as a permanent query on the record file for those subsets of records that the user
knows he will be accessing again and again. (There is also another level offilter, called the Retrieval
Filter, for more transient queries; this is explained below.)

53

The Design of Star's Records Processing

4.4 Display Form
The third important attribute of a vi",w is the display form. Any Star document may be used as the
display form ofa view, although normally forms whose field structure has some correspondence to
that of the record file are used. By changing the display form of a view, the user is able to control the
format with which the data is displayed. Although in practice, some forms might be used
predominantly for reports, others for interactive querying, and still others for updates, there is
nothing that requires this. All display forms can be used for both input and output.
4.5 Current View
Each record file has a current view, which is the view that was last selected by the user. It is
maintained after the record file is closed and selected automatically by Star when the record file is
opened. The current view is important in printing record files and in moving or copying one record
file icon to another.
4.6 Indices
The sort order and view filter together define an index, which is maintained across all record updates.
The more distinct views that are defined for a given record file, the more indices have to be updated as
records are added, deleted, or revised. This is the standard retrieval vs. update tradeoff of data
management. If the record file is relatively stable, then the user would likely want to capture as
many of his frequent queries as possible in views, but if the record file were in a constant state of flux,
having this many indices might impose too high a cost on updates.
The View Property Sheet contains a parameter called Save Index, which can be used to specify
whether the index is to be permanently maintained, or created dynamically each time the view is
opened and deleted when it is closed. This allows the user to make the tradeoff referred to above. For
example, a view that is used only once a month for reporting might be defined with Save Index off;
this would allow its definition to be permanently stored, but the view would not require any overhead
to maintain when not in use.
4.7 Retrieval Filter
Many of the queries that will be made against a record file cannot be predicted in advance, and they
are often of a one-time-only nature. For such queries, it may not be appropriate to pay the cost of
creating an index. The Retrieval Filter provides a low-cost alternative for this sort of application.
The Retrieval Filter has exactly the same appearance and operations as the View Filter. It is applied
in addition to the View Filter; that is, it further restricts the set of records that are displayed in a
view.

5. Record File Manipulations at the Icon Level
Most of the operations described so far (filtering, adding, deleting and modifying records, even
defining record files and views) are performed within a record file window, Le. an opened record file
icon. Icon-level operations are also used in RP, in a way analogous to their use in other Star domains.

54

The Design of Star's RecQrds Processing

5.1 Record File to Printer
The normal way of printing something in Star is to select its icon and move or copy it to a printer icon.
The current view is what is printed when a record file is moved or copied to a printer. Thus, the user
chooses the report format desired by selecting the appropriate view. The task of making regular
reports from a Star record file now becomes simply that of defining the appropriate view once, and
then printing it as needed. During the printing process, the records for the current view are laded
into the display form, producing either a single document including a table with one row per record
(with a tabular form), or multiple copies of the document, with one document per record (a nontabular form). Repetitivemail (form letters) may be generated by using the form letter as the display
form for a record file of names and addresses.
5.2 Document or Folder to Record File
New records can be inserted into a record file by moving or copying a document or folder to the record
file icon. In this case, each document is matched to the record file structure, as described above in
Lading (3.2.1). If any fields in the document have names matching fields in the record file, a new
record is created, and the contents of those fields are copied over. This process is repeated for each
item in the folder. Documents which are not accepted for some reason (e.g. failure to meet format or
range constraints) are copied into another special folder, called the Error Folder, for the user's
subsequent examination and editing. Using this facility, records can be created as forms and added to
the record file whenever it is convenient.
5.3 Record File to Record File
By moving or copying one record file icon to another, records can be added to the destination en masse.
This facility also provides a form of reorganization: the same process of matching on field names that
is performed between documents and record files is also done between record files. Thus, fields can be
added to a record file by creating a new record file with the same fields plus the new ones, and moving
the old record file icon to the new one. In this case, the new fields are left empty in the destination
record file. Similarly, fields can be deleted, reordered, or have their types, formats, or ranges changed
by creating a new record file with the desired characteristics. When a record file is moved or copied,
the current view is the source of records. By setting the appropriate filter on some view and making it
current, the user can transfer only a subset of the records to the destination file.
5.4 Record File to Other Icons
A record file is transferred to a file server by moving or copying its icon to a file drawer icon on the
user's Desktop. By opening the file drawer icon, the user can select and move or copy the record file
icon back to his Desktop. Folders may hold record files as wells as simple documents and other
folders.
A record file is mailed by moving or copying it to an outbasket icon, just like a document. In this case,
the entire record file, including the Forms Folder and all its display forms, is transferred to the
recipients'inbaskets.

55

The Design of Star's Records Processing

5.5 Make Document
The Make Document command in the View window menu creates a Star document on the Desktop (or
folder full of them, in the case of a non-tabular form) corresponding to all the records in the Current
View. Such a document can now be edited and annotated, merged with other document contents,
filed, mailed, printed, etc.

6. Review and outlook
6.1 Overall Appraisal
In general, we believe Star's RP feature has fulfilled its design goals. In the first place, RP objects and
actions co-exist with the rest of Star; there is no more necessity to switch contexts to perform data
retrieval or update functions than to draw a picture or to send electronic mail. Further, users remain
within the standard Star paradigm. Intuitions about the general nature and behavior of icons extend
naturally to record files; they behave in corresponding fashion, and the functions they share with
other Star objects are invoked with the same user actions, particularly in the use of the universal
commands. Data entry and update follows directly on the text processing model, and query
specification by filters demonstrates an extension of the What-you-see-is-what-you-get principle to a
new and powerful application.
More particularly, access to Star's document production facilities offers benefits in several areas. Our
experience has been that report formatting constitutes a significant burden on computer
professionals (from DBMS implementors to computing center personnel). All of the power of Star's
text world is made available for the definition of output from RP; what has been a tedious and errorprone task for programmers becomes a straightforward matter for the end user to specify, with a final
product that offers unsurpassed visual quality.
The lading paradigm has proved powerful in designing applications and extensions. The progression
from a simple forms-processing model of an office application to a more sophisticated RP environment
is eased by the use of forms for record file definition and data entry. Future extensions, such as
graphic idioms (e.g. bar- and pie-charts) driven from record file data, appear natural and
straightforward.
The success of the attempt to encapsulate stylized user applications in the View is less complete. Our
experience to date indicates there is a significant conceptual hurdle in the concept of the view. One
difficulty involves terminology: naive users often equate the view with its display document. Some
users have found it difficult to understand what might be an appropriate use of the view mechanism
in their own applications. Once comprehended, it seems to be enthusiastically accepted and
effectively used, but the lack of immediacy is troublesome. Further research on sources of user
confusion and means of obviating it seems appropriate.

6.2 Particular Risks
For all the benefits of unification with the rest of Star (the text world in particular), it also entails two
major risks: one is the well-known tendency for performance to vary inversely with generality, and
the other arises from the organizational difficulties attendant on increasing the size of any project.

56

The threat of diminished performance is not absolute for several reasons. Consistency in the user
interface need not preclude recognizing and taking advantage of appropriate special cases in the
implementation. The incentive to make effective optimizations is, if anything, increased in a more
general system. And a global approach to implementing a system promotes application of talents to
areas where they will produce best results. But the problem is real, and requires careful attention, in
Star in particular as well as in the world in general.
The organizational difficulties in dealing with a system as large as Star may also be ameliorated, but
they have had a real impact. The design task was painfully extended by the requirement to maintain
consistency with the rest of Star, and that consistency sometimes was bought at the price of an
"obvious" solution regarded strictly within the context ofRP. A trivial example concerns the fact that
records are "filtered" in a query; it would have been much closer to common usage to speak of
"selecting" them, but the conflicts that would have introduced with the rest of Star would have been
intolerable. In a more serious vein, support for the RP functions described here has laid an additional
(and heavy) burden on the implementors of Star's document facilities. There have been a number of
painful choices to make in the distribution oflimited resources.
6.3 Contemplated extensions
Facilities for combining data in multiple record files are an obvious extension. Several approaches
present themselves, ranging from providing sufficient power in CUSP for users to specify joins
themselves, up to providing a graphical editor for constructing expressions in some version of a
relational calculus. The database issues are reasonably well understood; selecting a user model and
finding implementation resources present more difficulties.
Another extension would make the view closer to what goes under that name in database
terminology, a virtual relation constructed by an established query. Such a step might involve
distributing views to users, while a Database Administrator reserves access to the real record file.
Benefits accrue in security (users can see only the records and fields in their own view), more effective
data sharing, and database administration (centralized allocation and backup become feasible, for
instance). But the issue of updates in virtual data also arises. This is a problem both in the semantics
of the database (see e.g. [Bancilhon 81]), and in presenting an intelligible user model of those
semantics. The current design o{RP is intended to allow compatible growth into such a scheme.

7. Acknowledgements
Dave Smith, Derry Kabcenell, Ralph Kimball, Charles Irby, Eric Harslem, and Jim Reiley, as well as
the authors, made major contributions to the RP user interface. The implementors of Star RP were:
Fred Bulah, Dan DeSantis, Eric Harslem, Derry Kabcenell, Paul Klose, Robert Levine, Dimitri
Moursellas, Chi Nguyen, Charlene Nohara, Robert Purvy, and Jim Reiley.

57

The Design of Star's Records Processing

8. References
[Bancilhon 81) Bancilhon, F., and Spyratos, N., "Update Semantics of Relational Views," ACM
Transactions on Database Systems 6, 4 (December 1981), 557 - 575
[DEC I Intel I Xerox 80] Digital Equipment Corp., Intel Corp., and Xerox Corp., "The Ethernet:
Local Area Network", Version 1.0, September 1980

A

[Ellis 80] Ellis, C., and Nutt, G. "Computer Science and Office Automation," Computing Surveys
12,1 (March 1980), 27-60
[Embley 80) Embley, David "A Forms-Based Nonprocedural Programming System," Dept. of
Computer Science, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588
[Seybold 81] Seybold, Jonathon, "Xerox's 'Star'" The Seybold Report 10,16 (April 27 1981) Seybold
Publications, Inc., Box 644, Media, PA 19063
[Smith 82] Smith, Harslem, Irby and Kimball, "The Star User Interface: An Overview," AFIPS
National Computer Conference 51 (1982), AFIPS Press, Arlington, VA 22209.
[Tsichritzis 80] Tsichritzis, D., "OFS: An Integrated Form Management System," Proceedings of the
6th Conference on Very Large Data Bases, Montreal (1980),161-166
[Yao 81] Yao, S. B. and Luo, D. "Form Operation by Example: A Language for Office Information
Processing," Proceedings of the ACM SIGMOD Conference on Mangement ofData (1981),212-223.
[Zloof77] Zloof, Moshe, "Query-By-Example: A Database Language," IBM Systems Journal 16 (Fall
1977) 324-343
[Zloof 81] Zloof, Moshe, "QBE/OBE: A Language for Office and Business Automation," Computer
14,5 (May 1981) 13-22

58

Evaluation of Text Editors
Teresa L. Roberts

Thomas P. Moran

Xerox Systems Development Department

Xerox Palo Alto Research Center

3333 Coyote Hill Road

3333 Coyote Hill Road

Palo Alto, CA 94304

Palo Alto, CA 94304

This paper presents a methodology for evaluating
computer text editors from the viewpoint of their
users-from novices learning the editor to dedicated
experts who have mastered the editor. The dimensions
which this methodology addresses are:

- Time to perform edit tasks by experts.
-Errors made by experts.
-Learning of basic edit tasks by novices.
-Functionality over all possible edit tasks.
The methodology is objective and thorough, yet easy
to use. The criterion of objectivity implies that the
evaluation scheme not be biased in favor of any particular
eaitor's conceptual model-its way of representing teX'l
and operations on the text. . In addition, data is gathered
by observing people who are equally familiar with each
system. Thoroughness implies that several different aspects
of editor usage be considered. Ease-ol-use means that the
methodology is usable by editor designers, managers of
word processing centers, or other non-psychologists who
need this kind of information, but have limited time and
equipment resources.
In this paper, we explain the methodology first, then
give some int~resting empirical results from applying it to
several editors.
THE METHODOLOGY

The methodology is based on a taxonomy of 212
editing tasks which could be performed by a text editor.
These tasks are specified in terms of their effect on a
document, independent of any specific editor's conceptual
model. The tasks cover:
-modifying the content of the document,
-altering the appearance of paragraphs and characters and the page layout,
This is a minor modification of a paper which appeared in the
Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors ill Computer
Systems. Gaithersburg, Md.. 15·17 March 1982. Reprinted with
permission from the Association for Computing Machinery.

~reating

and modifying special kinds of text
(such as tables),

-specifying locations and text in the document in
various ways,
-programming automatic repetition of edits,
-displaying the document in various ways,
-printing, filing, and other miscellaneous tasks.
The functionality dimension of an editor is measured with
respect to this taxonomy. However, comparisons between
editors on the performance dimensions (time, errors, and
learning) must be done on tasks which all editors can do.
For this purpose, a set of 32 core tasks was identified.
The core tasks were chosen to.be those tasks that most
editors perform and that are most common in everyday
work. Most of the core tasks are generated by crossing a
set of basic text editing operations with a set of basic text
entities. Thus, a core task consists of one of the operations
(insert, delete, replace, move, copy, transpose, split, merge)
applied to one of (or a string of) the text entities
(character, word, number, sentence, paragraph, line,
section). The core tasks also include locating a place in the
online document which corresponds to a place in a
hardcopy document (using the editor's simplest addressing
mechanism), locating a string of text according to its
contents, displaying a continuous segment of the
document, saving and retrieving copies of the document,
printing, and creating a new document

Time. The speed at which normal text modification
can be done is measured by observing expert users as they
perform a set of benchmark tasks from the core tasks.
There are 50 editing tasks in the benchmark, embedded in
four documents: a short inter-office memo, two two-page
reports, and one chapter from a philosophy book. The
locations and complexities of the benchmark tasks are
randomly distributed. The distribution emphasizes small
tasks because those are most common in normal work and
tasks involving boundary conditions in order to identify
special cases, such as insertion at the beginning of a
paragraph, which editors may treat awkwardly. Four

59

experts are tested separately on the benchmarks. They are
chosen to represent a spectrum of the user community: at
least one user must be non-technical (i.e.• does not have a
programming background) and at least one must be
technJcal (i.e., is very familiar with programming). The
evaluator measures the performance in the test sessions
with a stopwatch. timing the error-free performance of the
tasks (errors are discussed below), and noting whether or
not all tasks are performed correctly. This method of
measurement is used because of the requirement that the
test be easy for anyone to run (not everyone has an
instrumented editor or a videotape setup. but anyone can
aq,uire ~ stcpwatch), That is also &e reaso'} for the
limited number of subjects. The benchmark tasks typically
take 30 minutes of steady work to complete. The score
which results from this part of the test is the average errorfree time to perform each task (the error-free time is the
elapsed time minus time spent making and correcting
errors). The overall time score is the average score for the
four experts.
Additional information about the speed of use of a
text editor may be obtained by applying the theoretical
Keystroke-Level Model [1] to the benchmark tasks. This
model predicts editing time by counting the number of
physical and mental operations required to perform a task
and by assigning a standard time to each operation. The
operations counted include typing, pointing with the
mouse, homing on the keyboard, mentally preparing for a
group of physical operations, and waiting for system
responses. In the present methodology, the evaluator must
predict what methods a user would employ to perform the
benchmark tasks; then the model is used to predict the
amount of time to execute those methods. Differences
between the conditions under which the Keystroke-Level
Model was validated and the conditions here (e.g., small
typographic errors are included, not all subjects use the'
same methods, etc.) lead to expected differences between
predicted performance and the results of the experiments
above. However, in addition to being a prediction of the
benchmark time, the model also serves as a theoretical
stand,ard of expen performance.
Errors. The error-proneness of the editor is measured
by recording the amount of time the expen users spend
making and correcting errors on the benchmark tasks.
Only those errors which take more than ,a few seconds to
correct are noted (which is the best that can be done with
a stopwatch).
Thus, the time taken by simple
typographical errors is not counted. Actually, this does not
hun the error time estimate too much, since the total
rmCl'nt f)f time :n these l(!nds of small err0rs is relatively
small. In addition to timing errors made and corrected
while the user is working on the benchmarks, the evaluator

60

also notes the tasks incorrectly performed; at the end of
the experiment the user is asked to go back and complete
those tasks correctly. The time to redo these tasks is added
to the error time. Thus, the error score consists of all this
error time as a percentage of the error-free time. The
overall error score is the average for the four exj:>en users.

Learning. The ease of learning to perform basic text
modifications on the editor is tested by teaching four
novices (with no previous computer or word processing
experience) to perform the core tasks. The learning tests
are performed in a one-on-one situation, i.e., by
The
individually teaching each novice- the editor.
evaluator orally teaches the novice how to do the core
tasks in the editor, and the subject practices the tasks on
the system. The methodology specifies the order in which
to teach the tasks, but it is up to the evaluator to determine
which specific editor commands to teach. Although all the
teaching is oral, the evaluator supplies the novice with a
one-page summary sheet listing all commands, so that the
training is not hung up because of simple memory
difficulties. After a set of tasks is taught, the novice is
given it quiz. consisting of a document marked with
changes to be made. Only a sample of possible tasks
appears on each quiz, and not all tasks on the quiz have
necessarily been taught up to that point. This allows for
the novice to figure out, if possible, how to do tasks which
haven't explicitly been taught. Referring to the summary
sheet is permitted, but discouraged. The novice performs
all of the tasks that he or she knows how to do, after which
s/he is invited to take a shon break if slhe wants it. Then
another teaching period begins. In all, there are five
training-plus-quiz cycles to teach all of the core tasks.
Learning is evaluated by scoring the number of different
tasks the subject has shown the ability to perform on the
quiZZef. The It'Af11irg scorp. is T.he t0tal number of
different tasks learned divided by the amount of time
taken for the experiment, that is, the average time it takes
to learn a task. The overall learning score is the average
learning time for the four novices.
Functionality. The range of functionality available in
the editor is tested by a checklist of tasks covering the full
task taxonomy. Determining whether a task can be done
or not with a given system isn't as trivial as it seems at first
glance. Almost any task can be performed on almost any
system. given 'enough effon. Consequently, the editor gets
full credit for a task only if the task can be done efficiently
with the system. It gets half credit if the task can be done
clumsily (where clumsiness has several aspects: repetitiousness, requiring excessive text typing, limitations in the
values of parameters to the task, interference with other
functions, or a requirement of substantial planning by the

termin"l~, the rest are fo" display-ba')~d terminals. The
intended users of these editors range from devoted system
hackers to publishers and secretaries who have had little or
no contact with computers.
The results of these
evaluations may be used in several ways: (1) as a
comparison of the editors, (2) as a validation of the
evaluation methodology itself, and (3) as general
behavioral data on user performance.

user). The editor gets no credit for a task if either it can't
be done at all (like use of italic typefaces on a system
made for a line printer) or if doing the task requires as
much work as retyping all affected text (such as manually
inserting a heading on every page). The functionality
checklist is filled out by a very experienced user of the
editor, who may refer to a reference manual to ensure
accuracy. The overall functionality score is the percentage
of the total number of tasks that the editor can do. This
percentage may be broken down by subclasses of tasks to
show the strengths and weakness of the editor.

Comparison of Editors. An editor's evaluation is a
multi~dimensional score-a four-tuple of numbers, one
from each performance dimension. A summary of the
overall evaluation scores for the nine editors is given in
Figure 1. Differences were found between the edi.tors on
all the evaluation dimensions (although only large
differences were statistically significant, because of the
large individual differences between the users tested). No
editor was superior on all dimensions, indicating that
tradeoffs must be made in deciding which editor is most
appropriate for a given application.

EMPIRICAL RESULTS

This methodology has been used to evaluate a diverse
set of nine text editors: TEeo [5], WYLBUR [9], a WANG
word processor [10], !\LS [3.41, EMACS [8], STAR [11],
BRAVO [7], BRA VOX [6], and GYPSY (the last three editors
are experimental systems developed within Xerox). The
first two of these editors are made for teletype-like

Evaluation Dimensions

Editor

TECO
. WYI.BUR
EMACS
NI.S
BRAVOX
WANG
BRAVO
STAR
GYPSY

M(M) M(CV)
CV(0)

Time
M± CV

Errors
M±CV

Learning
M±CV

(sec/task)

(%Time)

(min/task)

49
42
37
29

± .17
± .15
± .15
± .15
29 ± .29
26 ± .21
26 ± .32
21 ± .16
19±.11

15%.± .70
18%± .85
6% ± 1.2
22%± .71
8% ± 1.0
11%±1.1
8%± .75
19%± .51
4% ± 2.1

31
.31

12%
.49

.19

.99

19.5 ±.29
8.2 ± .24
6.6 ± .22
7.7 ± .26
1'5.4 ±.De
6.2 ± .45
7.3 ± .14
6.2 ±.42
4.3 ±.26
7.9
.53

.26

Fu nctionality
(% tasks)

39%
42%
49%
77%
70%
50%
59%
62%
37%
54%
.25

Figure 1. Overall evaluation scores for nine text-editors.
~he Time score is the average error· free time per benchmark task.

The Error score is the average
time, as a percentage of the error·free, that time experts spend making and correcting errors. The
Learning score is the average time to learn a core task. The Functionality score is the percentage of
the tasks in the task taxonomy that can be accomplished with the editor. The Coefficient of Variation
(CV) '" Standard Deviation / Mean is a normalized measure of variability. The CV's on the individual
scores indicate the amount of between·user variability. The M(CV)'s give the mean between·user
variability on each dimension. and the CV(M)'s give the mean between·editor variance on each
dimension. The evaluations for TEeD. NLS. WANG, and WYLBUR are from Roberts [2).

61

eo

•

eo

•

_0..

......

..

40

--

~

Pett_
lime
30

T

• •
......

I

I

0 • Non·Technical Expert
• • Technical Expert
....... PredlCllon

0

•

...
0

-

oe

•

......
20

0

0

<;I

8

0

•

-

-

0

0

•
.......... -

..•..
c:e

.......

~
~

•

I

;:t;

10~~----------------------------~
riCO

~

EWACS

NLS

SAAVOX WANG

SAAVO

STAR

GYPSY

EDITOR

Figure 2. Time scores for individual expert users.

40

0

I

0
0

O. Non·Tecllnlcal Expert
• • Technical Expert

0

30
0

E~me

•

0

0

0

I

20

(=,:

•

Time)

10

0

•
NLS

• ••
STAR

WY1.8UR

0
0

•

0

•

0

TECO

Q

•

.!?.

WANG "AVOX IAAVO

Etoearch Center. NLS-8 Command
Summary. Menlo Park, California: Stanford Research
Institute, May 1975.
Augmentation Research Center. NLS-8 Glossary.
Menlo Park, California: Stanford Research Institute,
July 1975.
Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, Inc. TENEX Text
Editor and CorrecTor (Manual DECI0-NGZEB-D).
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Author, 1973.
Garcia, Karla. Xerox Document System Reference
Manual. Palo Alto, California: Xerox Office Products
Division, 1980.
Palo Alto Research Center. Alto User's Handbook.
Palo Alto, California: Xerox PARC, September 1979.
Stall Tl" an, R. M. EM;1CS MrInuol for ITS Users
MIT, AI Lab Memo 554, 1980.
Stanford Center for Information Processing.

Wylbur/370
The Stanford Timesharing System
Reference Manual. 3rd ed Stanford, California:
Stanford University, November 1975.
[10] Wang Laboratories, Inc.
Wang Word Processor
OperaTors Guide. 3rd release. Lowell, Mass., 1978.
[11] Xerox Corporation. 8010 STar InformaTion System
Reference Guide. Dallas, Texas, 1981.

64

The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized Agent
for Locating Named Objects in a Distributed Environment
Derek C. Oppenl and Yogen K. Dalal 2
Xerox Office Systems Division
April,1983
Authors' Current Addresses:
1495 Arbor Road, Menlo Park, California 94025
2 Metaphor Computer Systems, 2500 Garcia Avenue, Mountain View, California 94043
Abstract: We consider the problem of naming and locating objects in a distributed environment, and
describe the clearinghouse, a decentralized agent for supporting the naming of these "networkvisible" objects. The objects "known" to the clearinghouse are of many types, and include
workstations, file servers, print servers, mail servers, clearinghouse servers, and human user. All
objects known to the clearinghouse are named using the same convention, and the clearinghouse
provides information about objects in a uniform fashion, regardless of their type. The clearinghouse
also supports aliases.
The clearinghouse binds a name to a set of properties of various types. For instance, the name of a
user may be associated with the location of his local workstation, mailbox, and non-location
information such as password and comments.
The clearinghouse is decentralized and replicated. That is, instead of one global clearinghouse server,
there are many local clearinghouse servers, each storing a copy of a portion of the global database.
The totality of services supplied by these clearinghouse servers we call "the clearinghouse."
Decentralization and replication increase efficiency, security, and reliability.
A request to the clearinghouse to bind a name to its set of properties may originate anywhere in the
system and be directed to any clearinghouse server. A clearinghouse client need not be concerned
with the question of which clearinghouse server actually contains the binding-the clearinghouse
stub in the client in conjunction with distributed clearinghouse servers automatically find the
mapping if it exists. Updates to the various copies of a mapping may occur asynchronously and be
interleaved with requests for bindings of names to properties; updates to the various copies are not
treated as indivisible transactions. Any resulting inconsistency between the various copies is only
transient: the clearinghouse automatically arbitrates between conflicting updates to restore
consistency.
CR Categories and Subject Descriptors: C.2.3 [Computer-Communication Networks]:
Network Operations-network management; C.2.4 [Computer-Communication Networks]:
Distributed Systems-distributed databaseses, network operating systems; H.2.1 [Database
Management]: Logical Design-data models; H.3.3 [Information Storage and Retrieval]:
Information Search and Retrievel-search process; H.4.3 [Information Systems Applications]:
Communications Applications-electronic mail.
General Term: Design
Additional Key Words and Phrases: clearinghouse, names, locations, binding, network-visible
objects, internetwork.

65

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

66

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

1.

Introduction

We introduce the subject matter of this paper by considering the role of the information operator, the
"White Pages" and the "Yellow Pages" in the telephone system.
Consider how we telephone a friend. First we find the person's telephone number, and then we dial
the number. The fact that we consider these to he "steps" rather than "problems" is eloquent
testimony to the success of the telephone system. But how do the two steps compare? The
second--making the connection once we have the telephone numher--is certainly the more
mechanical and more predictable, from the user's point of view, and the more automated, from the
telephone system's point of view. The first step-finding someone's telephone number given his or her
name-is less automatic, less straightforward, and less reliable. We have to use the telephone
system's information system, which we call the telephone clearinghouse. If the person lives locally, we
telephone "information" or look up the telephone number in the White Pages. [f the person's
telephone is non-local, we telephone "information" for the appropriate city. We always have to treat
whatever information we get from the telephone clearinghouse with a certain amount of suspicion,
and treat it as a "hint." We have to accept the possibility that we have been given an incorrect
number, perhaps because the person we wish to call has just moved. We are conditioned to this and
automatically begin calls with "Is this ... ?" to validate the hint.
In other words, although making the connection once we have the correct telephone number offers
few surprises, finding the telephone number may be a time-consuming and frustrating task. The
electrical and mechanical aspects of the telephone system have become so sophisticated that we can
easily telephone almost anywhere in the world. The telephone clearinghouse remains unpredictable,
and may require considerable interaction between us, as clients, and the information operator. As a
result we all maintain our own personal database of telephone numbers (generally a combination of
memory, little black books, and pieces of scrap paper) and rely on the telephone system's database
only when necessary.
The telephone clearinghouse provides another service: the Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages map
generic names of services (such as "Automobile Dealers") into the names, addresses and telephone
numbers of providers ofthese services.
In brief, there are three ways for objects in the telephone system to be found: by name, by number, or
by subject. The telephone system prefers to use numbers, but its clients prefer subscriber and subject
names. The telephone clearinghouse provides a means for mapping between these various ways of
referring to objects in the telephone wor ld.
We move from the telephone system to distributed systems and, in particular, to interconnections of
local networks of computers. Suppose that we want to send a file to our local printer or to someone
else's workstation, or we want to mail a message to someone elsewhere in the internetwork. The two
steps we have to take remain the same: finding out where the printer, workstation, or mail server is
(that is, what its network address is), and then using this network address to access it. The
internetwork knows how to use a network address to route a packet to the appropriate machine in the
internetwork. So the second step-accessing an object once we know its network address-has wellknown solutions. It is the first step-finding the address of a distributed object given its name-that
we consider here.

67

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

Why do we need names at all? Why not just refer to an object by its address? Why not just directly use
the network address of our local file server, mail server, or printer? The reasons are much like those
for using names in the telephone system or in a file system. The first is that locations are
unappealingly unintuitive; we do not want to refer to our local printer by its network address
5#346#6745 any more than we want to refer to a colleague as 415-494-4763. The second is that
distributed objects change locations much more frequently than they change names. We want a level
of indirection between us and the object we wish to access, and that level of indirection is given by a
name. (See also [Shoch 1978], [Abraham and Dalal 1980), [Saltzer 19821, [Pickens, Feinler, and
Mathis 1979], and [Solomon, Landweber, Neuhengen 1982).)
When a network object is referred to by name, the name must be bound to the address of the object.
The binding technique used greatly influences the ability of the system to react to changes in the
environment. If client software binds names to addresses statically (for instance, if software
supporting printing has the addresses of the print servers stored in it), the software must be updated
if the environment changes (for instance, if new print servers are added or old servers are moved or
removed). If client software binds names to addresses dynamically, the system reacts much more
gracefully to changes in the environment (they are not necessarily even noticed by the client).
The problems we address in this paper are therefore the related problems of how to name objects in a
distributed computer environment, how to find objects given their names, and how to find objects
given their generic names. In other words, how to create an environment similar to the telephone
system's with its notions of names, telephone numbers, White Pages and Yellow Pages. Before
leaving this introduction, we see how the telephone clearinghouse works.
1.1.

Locating Telephone Subscribers

The database used by the telephone clearinghouse-the "telephone book"-is highly decentralized.
The decentralization is based on physical locality: each telephone book covers a specific part of the
country. It is up to the the telephone clearinghouse client to know which telephone book is to be used.
This decentralization is partly motivated by size; there are just too many telephones for one common
database. It is also motivated by the fact that people's names are ambiguous. Many people may share
the same name, and corresponding to one name may be many telephone numbers. Decentralizing the
telephone clearinghouse is one way to provide additional information for disambiguating a reference
to a person-there may be many John Smiths in the country but hopefully not all are living in the
same city as the John Smith whose telephone number we want. However, even by partitioning the
database by city and by using other information such as street address, the telephone clearinghouse
still may be confronted with a name for which it has several telephone numbers. When this happens it
becomes the client's responsibility to disambiguate the reference, perhaps by trying each telephone
number until he finds the one he wants. The telephone clearinghouse cannot assume that names are
unambiguous, and leaves it to the client to resolve ambiguities.

68

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

1.2.

Creating, Deleting and Changing Telephone Numbers

Responsibility for initiating updates rests with the telephone users. However, the actual updating of
the database is done by the telephone company. Users of the telephone clearinghouse have read-only
access to the clearinghouse's database. Allocation of telephone numbers is the responsibility of the
telephone company; the telephone company provides a naming authority to allocate telephone
numbers.
The updating process deserves scrutiny because it helps determine the accuracy of the information
gi.ven out by the telephone clearinghouse. The information is not necessarily "correct." Offline
"telephone books" are updated periodically and so do not contain recent updates. Even the online
telephone directory used by information operators may give "old" information. One reason for this is
that asking the operator for a telephone number and using it some time later to make a call are not
treated by the telephone system as an indivisible operation: the directory may be updated between
the two events. Another reason is that physically changing a telephone number and updating the
database are asynchronous operations.
The partitioning of the telephone clearinghouse's database is not strict. The database is a replicated
database. Copies of a directory may appear in different versions, and telephone directories for
different cities may overlap in the telephone numbers they cover. Since the updating process is
asynchronous, the database used by the telephone company may not be internally consistent.
The effect of this-information given out by the telephone clearinghouse does not necessarily reflect
all existing updates-is that the information provided by the telephone clearinghouse can only be
used as a hint. The user must accept the possibility that he is dialing a wrong number, and validate
the hint by checking in some way that he has reached the right person. However, the telephone
company does provide some mechanisms for helping a user who is relying on an out-of-date directory,
memory, or little black book. For instance, if a person moves to another city, his old telephone number
is not reassigned to another user for some time, and during that period callers of his old number are
either referred to his new number, or are less informatively told that they have reached an out-ofservice number.
1.3.

Creating, Deleting and Changing Subscriber Names

What we said above about updating telephone numbers generally applies as well to updating names,
with one exception. The choice of name appearing in the telephone clearinghouse database rests with
the holder ofthe telephone being named, and only the holder can request an update. (That is, you are
permitted to choose under what name you will appear in the telephone directory, even if the name is
ambiguous.) This raises an interesting issue, that of nicknames, abbreviations and aliases. The above
does not mean that we, as users of the telephone system, cannot choose our own name for you (a
nickname), but only that the telephone company will not maintain the mapping of my name for you
into your telephone number-it will only maintain the mapping of your name for yourself into your
telephone number. We may have my own "little black book" containing our own relativized version of
the telephone clearinghouse, but the telephone company does not try to maintain its accuracy.
Similarly, the telephone clearinghouse does not necessarily respond to abbreviations of names. And,
finally, the telephone clearinghouse will handle aliases only if they are entered in its database. That
is, the telephone clearinghouse allows names to be non-unique: a person may have more than one
name.

69

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

1.4.

Passing Subscriber Names and Telephone Numbers

Giving someone else a telephone number cannot raise problems because telephone numbers are
unambiguous. (Of course, the telephone number may be incorrect by the time that person uses it.)
Giving a name to someone else is trickier since names are ambiguous. For instance, because the
telephone clearinghouse database is decentralized, giving a name to an information operator in one
part of the country may elicit a different response from giving it to one in another part of the country.
In the telephone clearinghouse, names are context-dependent. You can ensure that the person to
whom you are giving a name will get exactly the same response only if you specify the appropriate
telephone clearinghouse as well.

2.

Naming Distributed Objects

With this background, we return to the problem of designing a distributed system clearinghouse. A
central question in designing such a clearinghouse is how to name the objects known to the
clearinghouse.
2.1.

Naming Conventions

A naming convention describes how clients of the naming convention refer to the objects named using
the convention. The set of clients may overlap with the set of named objects; for instance, people are
both clients of, and objects named using the common firstname-middlename-surname naming
convention.
Our basic model for describing naming conventions is a directed graph with nodes and edges. Nodes
and edges may be labelled. If node u has edge labelled i leading from it, then uri] denotes the node at
the end of the edge. (Edges leading from any node must be unambiguously labelled.)
We assume that each named object and each client is represented by exactly one node in the graph.
With these assumptions, we need not distinguish in the rest of this section between nodes in the name
graph, named objects, and clients of the naming system, and our problem becomes: what is the name
of one node (a named object) relative to another (a client)? There are two fundamental naming
conventions, each of which we now describe.
2.2.

Absolute Naming

Under the absolute naming convention, the graph has only unlabelled nodes. There is a distinguished
node called the directory or root node. There is exactly one edge from the directory node to each other
node in the graph; each such edge is uniquely and unambiguously labelled. There are no other edges
in the graph. The name of a node is the label of the edge leading from the directory node to this node.
This is defines what is usually meant by "choosing names from a flat name space." One obvious
example of names using absolute naming conventions are Social Security numbers.

70

THg CLEARINGHOUSE

2.3.

Relative Naming

Under the relative naming convention, the graph has unlabelled nodes but labelled edges. There is
either zero or one uniquely-labelled edge from any node to any other. If there is an edge labelled i from
u to v, then the distinguished name of v re(ative to u is i. Here, u is the client and v the named object.
Names are ambiguous-a relative name is unambiguous only if qualified by some source node, the
client node. Without additional disambiguating information, people's names are relative. One
person's use of the name "John Smith" may well differ from another's.
2.4.

Comparison of the Absolute and Relative Naming Conventions

Locating Named Objects. One important role of the clearinghouse is to maintain the mapping
LookUp from names to objects. If i is the name of an object, then LookUp( i) is that object. Under the
relative naming convention, LookUp is relative to each client node. That is, if the name of an object v
relative to u is i, then LookUPu(i) is v. Under the absolute naming convention, LookUp is relative to
the whole graph. That is, if the name of an object v is i, then LookUp( i) is v; we do not have to qualify
LookUp with the source node. Thus, the database required by the absolute convention may be smaller
than under the relative convention (where the number of names is on the order of the square of the
number of nodes). However, since the relative convention does not require that every node to directly
name every other node, the domain of each LookUp under the relative convention will typically be
much smaller than the domain for LookUp under the absolute convention.
The relative convention encourages decentralization, since the mapping from names to objects is
relative to each node. The absolute convention encourages centralization, since there is only one
mapping for the whole system. Thus the relative convention allows more efficient implementation of
the LookUp function. Of course, one can use efficient methods such as binary search or hashing with
either convention, but these make use only of syntactic information in names, not semantic
information.
Changing Locations or Names. The main considerations here are the size and degree of
centralization of the databases. Consider, for instance, the allocation of names. The absolute naming
convention requires a centralized naming authority, allocating names for the whole graph. The
relative naming convention permits decentralized naming authorities, one for each node. The local
data base handled by the naming authority under the relative convention will typically be much
smaller than the global data base handled by the naming authority under the absolute convention.
Passing Names and Locations. A major advantage of the absolute naming convention is that there
is a common way for clients to refer to named objects. It is possible for any client to hand any other
client the name of any object in the environment and be guaranteed that the name will mean the
same thing to the second client (that is, refer to the same object). This is not the case with the relative
addressing convention; if u and v are nodes, uri] need not equal vii]. Under the relative naming
convention, the first client must give the second client the name of the object relative to the second
client. In practice, this means that the first client has to understand how the second client names
objects. This suggests excessive decentralization; it requires too much coordination when objects are
to be shared or passed.

71

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

2.5.

Hierarchical Naming

Neither the absolute nor the relative naming convention is obviously superior to the other. We can do
better by adding another layer of structure to the basic naming model.
We partition the graph into subgraphs, consisting of subsets of the set of nodes. We assume that each
node is in exactly one subgraph. The distinguished name of a node is nodename:subgraphname where
subgraphname is the name of its containing subgraph and node name is the name of the node in that
subgraph. This definition is well-defined only if names are unambiguous within a subgraph; the
absolute naming convention must be used within a subgraph. That is, within any subgraph, no two
nodes can have the same name. Two different nodes may have names A:B and A:C however; names
need be unambiguous only within a subgraph.
The name of a node consists of both its name within a subgraph and the name of the subgraph. As
mentioned, the absolute naming convention must be used for naming nodes within any subgraph.
Sub graphs are named using either the relative or the absolute naming convention.
If the absolute naming convention is used, each distinct subgraph has an unambiguous name. Since
the absolute naming convention is also used for naming nodes within each subgraph, it follows that
nodes have unambiguous distinguished names. Telephone numbers such as 494-4763 fit into this twolevel absolute naming hierarchy. The local exchange is uniquely and unambiguously determined
(within each area code) by the exchange number 494; within exchange 494, exactly one telephone has
number 4763.
If the relative naming convention is used, each distinct subgraph has an unambiguous distinguished
name relative to each other subgraph. And, since we are using the absolute naming convention
within subgraphs, it follows that each node has an unambiguous distinguished name relative to each
source. An example of this is the interface between the Xerox Grapevine mail transport mechanism
[Birrell, Levin, Needham and Schroeder 1982] and the Arpanet mail transport system. A name may
be Jones.PA within Xerox but Jones@MAXC outside-the subgraph name has changed.
In either case, the advantages of using a hierarchy is clear: absolute naming can be used without
barring decentralization. A partitioned name suggests the search path to the object being named and
encourages a decentralized naming authority.
One can imagine a hierarchy of graphs with corresponding names of the form iri2: ... :ik. Examples
include telephone numbers fully expanded to include country and area codes (a four-level hierarchy),
or network addresses (a three-level hierarchy of network number, host number, socket number), or
booknaming conventions such as the Dewey Decimal System.
For the reasons cited above, the usual distinction made between "flat" and "hierarchical" is somewhat
misleading. The distinctions should be "flat" versus "relative" and "hierarchical" versus "nonhierarchical."

72

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

2.6.

Abbreviations

The notion of abbreviation arises naturally with hierarchical naming. Within subgraph B, the name
A:B can be abbreviated to A without ambiguity, given the convention that abbreviations are
expanded to include the name of the graph in which the client node exists. Abbreviation is a relative
notion. (See, for example, [Daley and Neumann 1965) for another approach to abbreviations.)
2.7.

Combining Networks

One major advantage of the hierarchical superstructure that we have not considered before, and
which is independent of the absolute versus relative naming question, concerns combining networks.
One feature that any clearinghouse should be able to handle gracefully is joining its database with
the database of another clearinghouse, an event that happens when their respective networks are
joined. For instance, consider the telephone model. When the various local telephone systems in
North America combined, they did so by adding a superstructure above their existing numbering
system, consisting of area codes. Area codes ape the names of graphs encompassing various collections
of local exchanges.
Adding new layers to names is one obvious way to combine networks. The major advantage is that if a
name is unambiguous within one network then it is still unambiguous with its network name as
prefix, even if the name also appears in some other network (because the latter name is prefixed by
the name of that network). The major disadvantages are that the software or hardware has to be
modified to admit the new level of naming, and that a centralized naming authority is needed to
choose names for the new layer.
The alternative to adding a new layer is expanding the existing topmost layer. For instance, the
North American area code numbering system is sufficiently flexible that another area code can be
added if necessary. The advantage of this is that less change is required to existing software and
hardware. The disadvantage is that the interaction with the centralized naming authority, to ensure
that the new area code is unambiguous, is more intimate than in the case of adding a new layer.
2.8.

Levels of Hierarchy

If one chooses to use a hierarchical naming convention, an obvious question is the following: should
we agree on a constant number ofievels (such as two levels in the Arpanet mailing system or four in
the telephone system) or an arbitrary number of levels? If a name is a sequence of the form il:i2: ... :ik,
should k be constant or arbitrary? There are pros and cons to either scheme. The advantage of the
arbitrary scheme is that the naming system may evolve (acquire new levels as a result of combining
networks) very easily. That is, if we have a network now with names of the form A:B, and combine
this network (let us call it network C) with another network, then we can just change all our names to
names of the form A:B:C without changing any of the algorithms manipulating names. Allowing
arbitrary numbers of levels clearly has an advantage. It also has several non-trivial disadvantages.
First, all software must be able to handle an arbitrary number of levels, so software manipulating
names will tend to be more complicated than in the constant level scheme. Second, abbreviations
become very difficult: does A:B mean exactly that (an object with a two-level name) or is it an
abbreviation for some name A:B:C? The disadvantage with the constant scheme is that one has to
choose a number, and if we later add new levels, we have to do considerably more work.

73

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

2.9.

Aliases

Our basic model allows each node to have exactly one name under the absolute naming convention,
and exactly one name relative to any other node under the relative naming convention. An obvious
extension to this model is to allow aliases or alternative names for nodes. To do this, we define an
equivalence relation on names; if two names are in the same equivalence class, they are names of the
same node. Under the relative naming convention, there is one equivalence relation defined on names
for each client node in the graph. Under the absolute naming convention, there is only one
equivalence relation for the whole graph. Each equivalence class has a distinguished member, and
this we designate the distinguished name of the node.
The notion of aliasing is easily confused with the notion of relative naming, since each introduces
multiple names for objects. The difference lies in the distinction between ambiguity and nonuniqueness. Under the relative naming convention, a name can be ambiguous in that it can be the
name of more than one node (relative to different source nodes). Under the absolute naming
convention, names are unambiguous. In either case, without aliasing, names are unique: if a node
knows another node by name, it knows that node by exactly one name. With aliasing, names are nonunique; one node may know another by several names. Another way of expressing the difference is to
consider the mapping from names to nodes. Without aliasing, the mapping is either one-to-one (under
the absolute naming convention: each object has exactly one name and no two objects have the same
name) or one-to-many (under the relative naming convention: each object has exactly one name
relative to any other, but many nodes may have the same name). With aliasing, the mappings become
many-to-one or many-to-many.

3.

Clearinghouse Naming Convention

We now describe the naming system supported by our clearinghouse. Recall first that we have a very
general notion of the objects being named: an object is anything that has a name known to the
clearinghouse and the intuitive property of "network visibility." We shall give some concrete
examples in the following sections.
Objects are named in a uniform fashion. We use the same naming convention for every object,
regardless of whether it is a user, a workstation, a server, a distribution list or whatever.
A name is a non-null character string of the form : : ,
where substringl denotes the localname, substring2 the domain, and substring3 the organization.
Thus names are of the form L:D:O where L is the localname, D the domain and 0 the organization.
None of the substrings may contain occurrences of" " or "*,, (the reason for the latter exclusion is
given later).
Each object has a distinguished name. Distinguished names are absolute; no two objects may have the
same distinguished name. In addition to its distinguished name, an object may have one or more
aliases. Aliases are also absolute; no two objects may have the same alias. A name is either a
distinguished name or an alias, but not both.
We have thus divided the world of objects into organizations, and subdivided organizations into
domains: a three-level hierarchy. An object is in organization 0 if it has a name of the form

74

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

: :0. An object is in domainD in organization 0 or inD:O if it has a name of
the form :D:O.
This division into organizations and, within them, domains is a logical rather than physical di vision.
An organization will typically be a corporate entity such as Xerox Corporation. The names of all
objects within Xerox will be of the form : :Xerox. Xerox will choose domain
names to reflect administrative, geographical, functional or other divisions. Very large corporations
may choose to use several organization names if their name space is very, very large. In any case, the
fact that two addressable objects have names in the same domain or organization does not necessarily
imply in any way that they are physically close.
3.1.

Rationale

We use a uniform naming convention for all objects, regardless of their type.
Objects known to the clearinghouse have absolute distinguished names and aliases. Thus we favor an
absolute naming convention over a relative naming convention. Most systems (including most mail
transport systems) have opted for a relative naming convention. However, the advantages of an
absolute convention are so clear that we are willing to put up with the burden of some centralization.
By choosing the naming convention carefully, we can reduce the pain of this centralization to an
acceptable level.
Names are hierarchical. We rejected a non-hierarchical system because, among their other
advantages, hierarchical names can be used to help suggest the search path to the mapping.
We have chosen a three-level naming hierarchy, consisting of organizations, within them domains,
and within them localnames. We did not choose the arbitrary level scheme because of the greater
complexity of the software required to handle names, because we do not think that networks will be
combined very often, and because (as with area codes) we will make the name space for organizations
large enough so that combinations can generally be made within the three-level hierarchy by
merging two sets of existing ones. We choose three levels rather than, say, two or four, for pragmatic
reasons. A mail system such as Grapevine [Birrell, Levin, Needham and Schroeder 1982] works well
with only a two-level hierarchy, combining networks across the company's divisional boundaries. We
add the third level primarily to facilitate combining networks across company lines. However, the
clearinghouse does not give any particular meaning to the partitions; this is why we chose the
relatively innocuous names "organization" and "domain."

4.

User Names

One important class of "objects" known to the clearinghouse is the set of users. For instance, the
clearinghouse may be used to map a user's name into the network address of the mail server where
his mailbox resides. To deliver a piece of mail to a user, an electronic mail system first asks the
clearinghouse where the mailbox for that user is and then routes the piece of mail to that server.
A major design decision is how the local name of users are chosen. We describe our approach to
naming users as this will provide further motivation for our naming convention. The following is not
part of the design of our clearinghouse, but illustrates one of its important uses.

75

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

A User Name is a string of the form:

    : : .
Here, ,  and  are strings separated by blanks (they may
themselves contain blanks, as in the last name de Gaulle). , < middlename > and
 are the first name, middle name and last name of the user being named. The following
are examples of user names:

David Stephen Jones:SDD:Xerox
John D. Smith:SDD:Xerox
The basic scheme, therefore, is that a name consists of the user's three-part localname, domain and
organization. The localname is the person's legal name. The reason for making the user name the
complete three-part name (rather than just the last name) is to discourage clashes of names and
encourage unambiguity. The chance of there being two people with the name Derek Charles Jones in
domain SDD in organization Xerox is hopefully rather remote, and certainly more remote than their
being two people with last name Jones.
Our convention for naming users differs from those used in most computer environments in requiring
that names be absolute and in using full names to reduce the chance of ambiguity. We have discussed
the issue of absolute versus relative naming conventions already, but the second topic deserves
attention because it shows the advantages of having a consistent approach to aliases.
The most common way of choosing unambiguous user names in computer environments is to use last
names prefixed with however many letters are needed to exclude ambiguity. Thus, if there are two
Jones's, one might be DJones and the other HJones. This scheme we find unsatisfactory. It is difficult
for users (who have to remember to map their name for the person into the system's name for the
person) and difficult for system administrators (who have to manage this rather artificial scheme).
Further, it requires users to occasionally change their system names: if a system name is presently
DJones and another D. Jones becomes a user, the system name must be changed to avoid ambiguity.
Our convention is not cumbersome to the user, since we use the same firstname-middlenamelastname convention people are used to already. However, since users would find it very cumbersome
to type in full names, various aliases for user names are stored in the clearinghouse. For instance,
associated with the user name David Stephen Jones might be the aliases David Jones, D Jones and
Jones. Since our naming convention requires that aliases be absolute, it follows that no two users can
have the same alias.

4.1.

Birthmarks

Even with our convention of using a user's full name, there is a possibility that there will be two users
with exactly the same name in a domain. Our approach is to disallow this, and let the two users (or a
system administrator) choose unambiguous names for each. Another approach is to add as a suffix to
each full name a "birthmark." A  is any string which, together with the user name, the
domain name and the organization name, unambiguously identifies the user. The birthmark may be
a universal identifier (perhaps the concatenation of the processor number ofthe workstation on which
the name is being added together with the time of day). It might be the social security number of the
individual (perhaps not a good idea on privacy grounds). It might be just a positive integer; the

76

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

naming authority for each domain is responsible for handing out integers. In any case, the
combination ofthe full name and the birthmark must be unambiguous so that no two users can have
the same legal name. In the case that a birthmark is not meaningful to humans, ambiguities must be
resolved by providing users of such names with additional information such as a "title." The
mappings described next provides a mechanism for providing such disambiguating comments.

5.

Mappings

Now that we know how to name the objects known to the clearinghouse, we treat the question of what
names are mapped into.
The clearinghouse maps each name into a set of properties to be associated with that name. A
property is an ordered tuple consisting of a PropertyName, a Property Type and a Property Value. The
clearinghouse maintains mappings of the form:

name ~ { < PropertyName I, PropertyType 1, Property Value I >,
... ,

}·
More precisely, to admit aliasing, the clearinghouse maps equivalence classes, rather than names,
into sets of properties. Each equivalence class consists of a distinguished name and its aliases. The
value of k is not fixed for any given name. A name may have associated with it any number of
properties.
A Property Value is a datum of type PropertyType. There are only two types of property values. The
first, of type item, is "uninterpreted block of data." The clearinghouse attaches no meaning to the
contents of this datum, but treats it as just a sequence of bits. The second, of type group, is "set of
names." A name may appear only once in the set, but the set may contain any number of different
names (including aliases and names of other groups). The names "item" and "group" reflect the
semantics attached by the clearinghouse, whether the property is an individual datum or a group of
data.
Mapping a name into a network address is an example ofa type item mapping, as in:

Daisy:SDD:Xerox ~ {}.
A distribution list in electronic mail is an example of a mapping oftype group, as in:

CHAuthors:SDD:Xerox ~ {
}.

77

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

Many properties may be associated with a name, as in:

JohnD. Smith:SDD:Xerox~ {
,
,
,
,
}.
In this example, the clearinghouse is used to store the user's "profile." Note that we choose to map the
user's name into the name of his local file server (and mailbox and printer) rather than directly into
its network address. The reason for this extra level of indirection is that the name of the file server
will perhaps never change but its location certainly will occasionally change, and we do not want a
change in a server's location to require a major update of the clearinghouse's database.
5.1.

Rationale

Objects tend to fall into two broad categories: objects such as workstations, servers or people whose
names are mapped into descriptions, and objects such as distribution lists whose names are mapped
into sets of names.
We differentiate between properties of type item and properties of type group, but allow many
properties of differing types to be associated with each name. The example given above showing the
mapping for a user name shows why. Unlike the simpler telephone model where a single mapping
from a user name into a telephone number suffices, we want to map a user's name into a richer
collection of information. This applies even to non-user individuals. We may want to associate with a
printer's name not only its location (so that files to be printed can be sent to it), but also information
describing what fonts the printer supports, ifit prints in color, and so on.
The main reason for having "set of names" as a distinct data type is to allow different clients to update
the same set simultaneously. For instance, if the set represents an electronic mail distribution list, we
allow two users to add themselves to this list asynchronously.

5.2.

Generic Names

The set of property names known to the clearinghouse defines a set of generic names by which the
clearinghouse provides a Yellow Pages-like facility. Such a capability can be used as follows:
Client software can request a service in a standardized fashion, and need not remember what named
resources are available. For instance, each user workstation generally has a piece of software that
replies to the user command "Help!" This software accesses some server to obtain the information
needed to help the user. Suppose the generic name "Help Service" is agreed upon as the standard
property name for such a service. To find the addresses of the servers providing help to users in
SDD:Xerox, the workstation software calls asks to list all objects of name "*:SDD:Xerox" with
propertyname Help Service. The wildcard character "*,, matches zero or more characters. This piece of
code can be used by any workstation, regardless of its location.

78

TIm CLE<:ARINGHOUSE

The "wildcard" feature allows clients to find valid names where they have only partial information on
or can only guess the name. It is particularly useful in electronic mail and in other uses of user names.
If looking up "Smith", with propertyname Mailbox fails, because "Smith" is ambiguous, the
electronic mail system may choose to list all names of the form "*Smith* :SDD:Xerox ", with
propertyname User to find the set of user names matching this name. It presents this set to the sender
of the mail and allows him to choose which unambiguous name is appropriate. A simple algorithm to
use in general might be to take any string provided by the user, surround the string with *s, delete
any periods, and replace any occurrence of < blank> by * < blank>. Thus David S. Jones becomes
*David* S* Jones*, which matches David Stephen Jones, as desired.

6.

The Client's Perspective

Recall first that the clients of the clearinghouse are pieces of software and hardware making use of
the clearinghouse client interface. The fact that people are not clients of the clearinghouse (except
indirectly by means of a software interface) immediately introduces an important difference between
our clearinghouse and the telephone system's. The telephone system relies on human judgement and
human interaction. The clients of our clearinghouse are machines, not people, and so all aspects of
client-clearinghouse interaction, including fault-tolerance, must be fully automated.
The clearinghouse (and its associated database) is decentralized and replicated. That is, instead of one
global clearinghouse, there are many clearinghouse servers scattered throughout the internetwork
(perhaps, but not necessarily, one per local network), each storing a copy of a portion of the global
database. Decentralization and replication increase efficiency (it is faster to access a clearinghouse
server physically nearby), security (each organization can control access to its own clearinghouse
servers) and reliability (if one clearinghouse server is down, perhaps another can respond to a
request). However, we do assume that there is one global database (conceptually, that is; physically
the database is decentralized). Each clearinghouse server contains a portion of this database: We
make no assumptions about how much of the database any particular clearinghouse server stores.
The union of all the local databases stored by the clearinghouse servers is the global database.
A client of the clearinghouse may refer by name to, and query the clearinghouse about, any named
object in the distributed environment (subject to access control) regardless of the location ofthe object,
the location of the client or the present distributed configuration of the clearinghouse. We make no
assumptions about the physical proximity of clients of the clearinghouse to the objects whose names
they present to the clearinghouse. A request to the clearinghouse to bind a name to its properties may
originate anywhere in the internetwork. This makes the internal structure of our clearinghouse
considerably more intricate than that of the telephone clearinghouse (where clients have to know
which local telephone directory to access), but makes it much easier to use.
In order to provide a uniform way for clients to access the clearinghouse, we assume that all clients
contain a (generally very small) clearinghouse component, which we call a clearinghouse stub.
Clearinghouse stubs contain pointers to clearinghouse servers, and they provide a uniform way for
clients to access the clearinghouse.
A client requests a binding from its stub clearinghouse. The stub communicates with clearinghouse
servers to get the information. A client of the clearinghouse stub need not concern itself with the

79

THE CLEARINGHOUSg

question of which clearinghouse server actually contains the binding--the client's stub
conjunction with the clearinghouse servers automatically find the mapping if it exists.

In

Updates to the various copies of a mapping may occur asynchronously and be interleaved with
requests for bindings of names to properties. Therefore, clearinghouse server databases may
occasionally have incorrect information or be mutually inconsistent. (In this respect, we follow the
telephone system's model and not the various models for distributed databases in which there is a
notion of "indivisible transaction." We find the latter too complicated for our needs.) Therefore, as in
the telephone system, bindings given by clearinghouse servers should be considered by clients to be
hints. If a client requests the address of a printer, it may wish to check with the server at that address
to make sure it is in fact a printer. If not, it must be prepared to find the printer by other means
(perhaps the printer will respond to a local broadcast of its name), wait for the clearinghouse to
receive the update, or reject the printing request. Ifthe information given out by the clearinghouse is
incorrect, it cannot, of course, guarantee that the error in its database will be corrected. It can only
hope that whoever has invalidated the information will send (or preferably already has sent) the
appropriate update. However, the clearinghouse does guarantee that any inconsistencies between
copies of the same portion of the database will be resolved, that any such inconsistency is transient.
This guarantee holds even in the case of conflicting updates to the same piece of information; the
clearinghouse arbitrates between conflicting updates in a uniform fashion.
Assuming this model of goodwill on the part of its clients-that they will quickly update any
clearinghouse entry they have caused to become invalid-and assuming an automatic arbitration
mechanism for quickly resolving in a predictable fashion any transient inconsistencies between
clearinghouse servers, clients can assume that any information stored by the clearinghouse is either
correct or, if not, will soon be corrected. Clients therefore may assume that the clearinghouse either
contains the truth about any entry, or soon will contain it. It is very important that clients can trust
the clearinghouse in this way, because the clearinghouse is often the only source of information
available to the client on the locations of servers, on user profiles, and so on.
The fact that the information returned by the clearinghouse is treated by the clients as both the truth
(the information is available only from the clearinghouse and so had better be correct) and a hint (the
information may be temporarily incorrect) is not self-contradictory. It merely reflects the difference
between the long-term and short-term properties of clearinghouse information.

6.1.

Binding Strategies

An important consideration to be taken by the client is that of when to ask the clearinghouse for a
binding. The binding technique used greatly influences the ability of the system to react to changes in
the environment.
There are three possibilities: static binding, in which names are bound at the time of system
generation; early binding, in which names are bound, say, at the time the system is initialized; and
late binding, in which names are bound at the time their bindings are to be used. (The boundaries
between the three possibilities are somewhat ill-defined; there is a continuum of choices.) The main
tradeoff to be taken into consideration in choosing a binding strategy is performance versus flexibility.
The later a system binds names, the more gracefully it can react to changes in the environment. If
client software binds names statically, the software must be updated whenever the environment
changes. For instance, if software supporting printing directly stores the addresses of the print

80

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

servers (that is, uses a static binding strategy), it must be updated whenever new print servers are
added or existing servers are moved or removed. If the software uses a late binding strategy, it will
automatically obtain the most up-to-date bindings known to the clearinghouse.
On the other hand, binding requires the resolution of one or more indirect references, and this takes
time. Static or early binding increases runtime efficiency since, with either, names are already bound
at runtime. Further, late binding requires interaction with the clearinghouse at runtime. Although
we have designed the clearinghouse to be very reliable, the possibility exists that a client may
occasionally be unable to find any clearinghouse server up and able to resolve a reference.
There are therefore advantages and disadvantages to any binding strategy. A useful compromise
combines early and late binding, giving the performance and reliability of the former and the
flexibility of the latter. The client uses early binding wherever possible, and uses late binding only if
any of these (early) bindings becomes invalid. Thus, software supporting printing stores the addresses
of print servers at initialization, and updates these addresses only if they become invalid. Of course,
the client must be able to recognize if a stored address is invalid (just as it must accept the possibility
that the information received from the clearinghouse is temporarily invalid). We discuss hint
validation further in Appendix 1.

7.

Client Interface

The clearinghouse provides a basic set of operations, some of which are exported operations which
may be called by clients of the clearinghouse by means of the clearinghouse stub resident in the client,
and some of which are internal operations used by clearinghouse components to communicate with
each other. Strictly speaking, the clearinghouse requires only a very few commands, for reading,
adding, and deleting entries. We provide many different operations, however, as described in detail in
[Oppen and Dalal 19811.
We give different commands for different types (for instance, different commands to add an item and
to add a group) to provide a primitive type-checking facility.
We give different operations for different levels of granularity (for instance, different commands for
adding groups and adding elemenets to a group) for three reasons. First, it minimizes the data that
must be transmitted by the clearinghouse or the client when reading or updating an entry. Second, it
allows different clients to change different parts of the same entry at the same time. For instance, two
clients may add different elements to the same group simultaneously; if each were required to update
the whole entry, their two updates would conflict. Third, we make use of the different operations for
different levels of granularity in our access control facility.
Finally, we provide separate operations for changing a propertyvalue although these operations are
functionally equivalent to deleting the original and adding the new one. However, changing an entry
constitutes one indivisible transaction; deleting and adding an entry constitute two transactions
separated by a time period during which another client may try to read the incorrectly-empty entry.

81

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

8.

Clearinghouse Structure

We now describe how the clearinghouse is structured internally.

8.1.

Clearinghouse Servers

The database of mappings is decentralized. Copies of portions of the database are contained in
clearinghouse servers which are servers spread throughout the internetwork. We refer to the union of
all these clearinghouse servers as "the clearinghouse." Each clearinghouse server is a named object in
the internetwork, and so has a distinguished name and possibly aliases as well.
Every client of the clearinghouse contains a clearinghouse component, called a clearinghouse stub.
Clearinghouse stubs provide a uniform way for clients to access the clearinghouse. Stub
clearinghouses do not have names (although they will typically be on machines containing named
objects). Stubs are required to find at least one clearinghouse server (for example, by local or directed
broadcast [Boggs 1981]).

8.2.

Domain and Organization Clearinghouses

Corresponding to each domain D in each organization 0 are one or more clearinghouse servers each
containing a copy of all mappings for every name of the form :D:O. Each such
clearinghouse server is called a domain clearinghouse for D:O. (Each clearinghouse server that is a
domain clearinghouse for D:O may contain other portions of the database other than just the
database for this domain, and each of the domain clearinghouses for D:O may differ on what other
portions of the global database, if any, they contain.) There is at least one domain clearinghouse for
each domain in the distributed environment. Domain clearinghouses are addressable objects in the
internetwork and hence have names. Each domain clearinghouse for each domain in organization 0
has a name of the form :O:CHServers which maps into the network address of the
server, under property name CH Location. (CHServers is a reserved organization name.) Thus, if
L:O :CHServers is the name of a domain clearinghouse for D:a, then there is a mapping of the form:

L:O:CHServers ---+ {. •. , , ... j.
For each domain D:D, we require that D:O:CHServers map into the set of names of domain
clearinghouses for D:O, under property name Distribution List. For example, if the domain
clearinghouses for domain D:O have names Ll:0:CHServers, ... , Lk."O:CHServers, then there is a
mapping of the form:

D:O:CHServers ---+ { •.• , , .. .}.
For each i andj, Li:O:CHServers is a sibling of LFO:CHServers for domain D:O. Thus, we have given
a name to the set of sibling domain clearinghouses for each domain in organization 0.

°

The names of all domain clearinghouses, and all sets of sibling domain clearinghouses, for domains in
organization are themselves names in the reserved domain O:CHServers. We will call each domain
clearinghouse for this reserved domain an organization clearinghouse for since it contains the name
and address of every domain clearinghouse in the organization. In particular, if Lz:O:CHServers, ... ,

82

°

TIlE CLEARINGHOUSE

Lk:O:CHServers are the domain clearinghouses for any domain 0:0, then each organization
clearinghouse for 0 contains the mappings:
D:O:CHServers ~ {. .. , , ... j,
L}:O:CHServers ~ {. .. , , ... j,
... ,

Lk:O :CHServers ~ {. .. , , .. .}.
Since O:CHServers is a domain, there is at least one domain clearinghouse for O:CHServers and
hence at least one organization clearinghouse for O. Each such clearinghouse has a name ofthe form
:CHServers:CHServers which maps into the network address of the server, under
property name CH Location. Thus, if L·CHServers:CHServers is the name of a domain clearinghouse
for O:CHServers (that is, an organization clearinghouse for 0), then there is a mapping of the form:

L:CHServers:CHServers ~ {. .. , , .. .}.
For each organization 0, we require that O:ClIServers:CHServers map into the set of names of
organization clearinghouses for 0, under property name Distribution List. For example, if the
organization clearinghouses for 0 have names Ll:CHServers:CHServers,
Lk:CHServers:CHServers, then there is a mapping of the form:

o:CHServers:CHServers ~ {. .. ,
,
...j.

Each Li:CHServers:CHServers is called a sibling of LiCHServers:CHServers for organization O.
Thus, we have given names to the set of sibling organization clearinghouses for each organization O.
Note that each organization clearinghouse for 0 points directly to every domain clearinghouse for
any domain in 0, and hence indirectly to every object with a name in O.
Note the distinction between clearinghouse servers on the one hand and domain and organization
clearinghouses on the other. The former are physical entities that run code, contain databases and are
physically resident on network servers. The latter are logical entities, and are a convenience for
referring to the clearinghouse servers which contain specific portions of the global database. A
particular clearinghouse server may be a domain clearinghouse for zero or more domains, and an
organization clearinghouse for one or more organizations.

8.3.

Interconnections between Clearinghouse Components

Organization clearinghouses point "downwards" to domain clearinghouses, which point "downwards"
to objects. Further interconnection structure is required so that stub clearinghouses can access
clearinghouse servers, and clearinghouse servers can access each other.
Each clearinghouse server is required to be an organization clearinghouse for the reserved
organization CHServers, and hence each clearinghouse server points "upwards" to every organization
clearinghouse. In this way, each clearinghouse server knows the name and address of every
organization clearinghouse.

83

THE CLEARINGHOUS[<~

We do not require a clearinghouse server to keep track of which clearinghouse stubs point to it, so
these stubs will not be told if the server changes location, and must rely instead on other facilities,
such as local or directed broadcast, to find a clearinghouse server if the stored address becomes
invalid.
8.4.

Summary

Each clearinghouse server contains mappings for a subset of the set of names. If it is a domain
clearinghouse for domain D in organization 0, it contains mappings for all names of the form
:D:O. If it is an organization clearinghouse for organization 0, it contains mappings for
all names of the form :O:CHServers (names associated with domains in 0). Each
clearinghouse server contains the mappings for all names of the form
:CHServers:CHServers (names associated with organizations); that is, the database
associated with the reserved domain CHServers:CHServers is replicated in every clearinghouse
server. Stubs point to any clearinghouse server.
For every domain D in an organization 0, D:O:CHServers names the set of names of sibling domain
clearinghouse servers for D:O. For every organization 0, O:CHServers:CHServers names the set of
names of sibling organization clearinghouse servers for O. The name
CHServers:CHServers:CHServers contains the set of names of all clearinghouse servers. (We do not
make use of this name in this paper).
This clearinghouse structure allows a relatively simple algorithm for managing the decentralized
clearinghouse. However, it does require that copies of the mappings for all names of the form
 :CHServers:CHServers be stored in all clearinghouse servers.

9.

Distributed Lookup Algorithm

Suppose that a stub clearinghouse receives the query to look up an item. The stub clearinghouse
follows the following general protocol.
The stub clearinghouse contacts any clearinghouse server and passes it the query. If the
clearinghouse server that receives the stub's query is a domain clearinghouse for B:C, it can
immediately return the answer to the stub who in turn returns it to the client. Otherwise, the
clearinghouse server returns the names and addresses of the organization clearinghouses for C,
which it is guaranteed to have. The stub contacts any of these clearinghouse servers. If this
clearinghouse server happens also to be a domain clearinghouse for B:C, it can immediately return
the answer to the stub who in turn returns it to the client. Otherwise the clearinghouse server returns
the names and addresses of the domain clearinghouses for B:C, which it is guaranteed to have. The
stub contacts any of these, since any of them is guaranteed to have the answer. An algorithmic
description of this search process can be found in [Oppen and Dalal 19811.
The domain clearinghouse for B:C that returns the answer to the query does so after authenticating
the requestor and ascertaining that the requestor has appropriate access rights.
In the worst case, a query conceptually moves "upwards" to a domain clearinghouse to an
organization clearinghouse, and then "downwards" to one of that organization's domain
clearinghouse. The number of clearinghouse servers that a stub has to contact will never exceed

84

TIm CLEARINGHOUSE

three: the clearinghouse server whose address it knows, an organization clearinghouse for the
organization containing the name in the query, and a domain clearinghouse in that organization.
However, before sending the query "upwards," each clearinghouse component optionally first sees if it
can shortcut the process by sending the query "sideways," cutting out a level of the hierarchy. (This is
similar to the shortcuts used in the routing structure of the telephone system.) These "sideways"
pointers are cached pointers, maintained for efficiency. For instance, consider domain clearinghouses
for PARC and for SDD, two logical domains within organization Xerox. Depending on the traffic, it
may be appropriate for the PARC clearinghouse to keep a direct pointer to the SDD clearinghouse,
and vice versa. This speeds queries that would otherwise go through the Xerox organization
clearinghouse. (Cached entries are not kept up to date by the clearinghouse. This is not a serious
problem; if a cached entry is wrong it is deleted, and the general algorithm described above is used
instead.)
To increase the speed of response even further, each clearinghouse server could be a domain
clearinghouse for both domains. Alternatively, if the number of domains in Xerox is relatively small,
it may be appropriate to make each clearinghouse server in Xerox an organization clearinghouse for
Xerox. In this way, each clearinghouse server in Xerox always points to every other clearinghouse
server in Xerox.
Local queries (that is, queries about names "logically near" the clearinghouse stub) will typically be
answered more quickly than non-local queries. That is appropriate. The caching mechanism (for
storing of "sideways" pointers) can be used to fine-tune clearinghouse servers to respond faster to nonlocal but frequent queries.

10.

Distributed Update Algorithm

The distributed update algorithm we use to alter the clearinghouse database is closely related to the
distributed update algorithm used by Grapevine's registration service [Birrell, Levin, Needham, and
Schroeder 1982].
The basic model is quite simple. Assume that a client wishes to update the clearinghouse database.
The request is submitted via the stub resident in the client. The stub contacts any domain
clearinghouse containing the mapping to be updated. The domain clearinghouse updates its own
database and acknowledges that it has done so. The interaction with the client is now complete. The
domain clearinghouse then propagates the update to its siblings if the database for this domain is
replicated in more than one server.
The propagation of updates is not treated as an indivisible transaction. Therefore, sibling
clearinghouse servers may have databases that are temporarily inconsistent; one server may have
updated its database before another has received or acted on an update request. This requires
mechanisms for choosing among conflicting updates and dealing with out-of-order requets. The
manner in which the clearinghouse deals with these issues in the context of the services it provides
can be found in [Oppen and Dalal 1981].
Since distributed office information systems usually have an electronic mail delivery facility that
allows "messages" to be sent to recipients that are not ready to receive them (see [Birrell, Levin,
Needham, and Schroeder 1982]), we make use of this facility to propagate updates. Clearinghouse

85

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

servers send their siblings timestamped update messages (using the appropriate distribution lists
reserved for clearinghouse servers) telling them of changes to the databases. There is a possible timelag between the sending and the receipt of a message. Since our clearinghouse design does not require
that updating be an indivisible process, this is not a problem.

11.

Security

We restrict ourselves to a brief discussion of two issues. The first concerns protecting the
clearinghouse from unauthorized access or modification, and involves authentication (checking that
you are who you say you are), the second concerns access control (checking that you have the right to
do what you want to do). We do not discuss how the network ensures (or does not ensure) secure
transmission of data, or how two mutually-suspicious organizations can allow their respective
clearin.ghouse servers to interact and still keep them at arms' length.
11.1

Authentication

When a request is sent by a client to a clearinghouse server to read from or write onto a portion of the
clearinghouse database, the request is accompanied by the credentials of the client. If the request is
an internal one, from one clearinghouse server to another, the requestor is the name of the
originating clearinghouse server and carries the credentials of the originating clearinghouse server.
The clearinghouse thus makes sure that internally-generated updates come only from "trusted"
clearinghouse servers. The clearinghouse uses a standard authentication service to handle
authentication, and the authentication service uses the clearinghouse to store its authentication
information [Needham and Schroeder 1979].
11.2. Access Control
Once a client has been authenticated, it is granted certain privileges. Access control is provided at the
domain level and at the property level, and not at the mapping (set of properties) level nor at the level
of element of a group. Associated with each domain and each property is an access control list, which
is a set of the form {, ... , }. Each
tuple consists of a set of names and the set of operations each client in the set may call. Access control
is described in [Oppen and Dalal 1981].
Certain operations that modify the clearinghouse database are protected only at the domain level.
These are operations that are typically executed only by domain system administrators and by other
clearinghouse servers. Examples of such operations are: adding or deleting a new name or alias,
adding or deleting an item or group for a name. Other operations such as looking up an item, or
adding a name to a group are protected at the property level.

12.

Administration

An internetwork configuration of several thousand users and their associated workstations, printers,
file servers, mail servers, etc., requires considerable management. Administrative tasks include
managing the name and property name space; bringing up new networks; deciding how to split an
organization into domains (reflecting administrative, geographical, functional or other divisional

86

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

lines); deciding which objects (users, services, etc.) belong to which domains; adding, changing and
deleting services (such as mail services, file services, and even clearinghouse services); adding and
deleting users; maintaining users' passwords, the addresses of their chosen local printers, mail and
file servers, and so on; and maintaining access lists and other security features of the network. We
have designed the clearinghouse so that system administration can be decentralized as much as
possible.
An algorithmic description of the process by which a new organization or domain clearinghouse
server is added to the internetwork can be found in [Oppen and Dalal 1981 ].

13.

Conclusions

A powerful binding mechanism that brings together the various network-visible objects of a
distributed system is an essential component of any large network-based system. The clearinghouse
provides such a mechanism.
Since we do not know how distributed systems will evolve, we have designed the clearinghouse to be
as open-ended as possible. We did not design the clearinghouse to be a general-purpose, relational,
distributed database nor a distributed file system, although the functions it provides are superficially
similar. It is not clear that network binding agents, relational databases, and file systems should be
thought of as manifestations of the same basic object; their implementations appear to require
different properties. In any case, we certainly did not try to solve the "general database problem," but
rather attempted to design a system which is implementable now within the existing technology yet
which can evolve as distributed systems evolve.
A phased implementation of this design is currently under way. Xerox's Network Systems product
may chose to deviate in minor ways from this design and enforce different administrative policies
than described here. A future paper will describe the network protocols used in implementing the
clearinghouse, and our experiences with them.

Acknowledgments
Many people have examined the requirements and structure of clearinghouse-like systems; and we
have profited from the earlier efforts by Steven Abraham, Doug Brotz, Will Crowther, Bob Metcalfe,
Hal Murray, and John Shoch. The organization of the clearinghouse, and, in particular, the lookup
and updating algorithms, have been very heavily influenced by the work of the Grapevine project; we
thank Andrew Birrell, Roy Levin, and Mike Schroeder for many stimulating discussions. The
clearinghouse is a fundamental component of Xerox's Network Systems product line, and we are
indebted to Marney Beard, Charles Irby, and Ralph Kimball for their considerable input on what the
Star workstation needed from the clearinghouse. Dave Redell, who is responsible for the Network
System electronic mail system, was a constant source of inspiration and provided us with many useful
ideas. Bob Lyon and John Maloney implemented the clearinghouse; we thank them for turning the
clearinghouse design into reality.

87

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

References
[Abraham and Dalal 1980] S. M. Abraham and Y. K. Dalal, Techniques for Decentralized
Management of Distributed Systems, 20th IEEE Computer Society International Conference
(Compeon), February 1980, pp. 430-436.
[Birrell, Levin, Needham, and Schroeder 19821 A. D. Birrell, R. Levin, R. M. Needham and M. D.
Schroeder, Grapevine: an Exercise in Distributed Computing, CACM, vol 25 , no 4, April 1982, pp.
260-274.
[Boggs 1981J D. R. Boggs, Internet Broadcasting, Ph.D. Thesis, Stanford University, January 1982.
[Boggs, et al. 1980] D. R. Boggs, J. F. Shoch, E. A. Taft, and R. M. Metcalfe, PUP: An internetwork
architecture, IEEE Transactions on Communications, com-28:4, April 1980, pp. 612-624.
[Dalal 1982] Y. K. Dalal, Use of Multiple Networks in Xerox's Network System, IEEE Computer
Magazine, vol 15, no 8, August 1982, pp. 10-27.
[Daley and Neumann 1965] R. C. Daley and P. G. Neumann, A general-purpose file system for
secondary storage, Proc. Fall Joint Computer Con{., 1965, AFIPS Press, pp. 213-228.
[Ethernet 1980] The Ethernet, A Local Area Network: Data Link Layer and Physical Link Layer
Specifications, Version 1.0, September 30,1980.
[Metcalfe and Boggs 19761 R. M. Metcalfe and D. R. Boggs, Ethernet: Distributed packet switching for
local computer networks, CACM, 19:7, July 1976, pp. 395-404.
[Needham and Schroeder 1979] R. M. Needham and M. D. Schroeder, Using Encryption for
Authentication in Large Networks of Computer, CACM, 21:12, December 1978, pp. 993-999.
[Oppen and Dalal 1981] D. C. Oppen and Y. K. Dalal, The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized Agent for
Locating Named Objects in a Distributed Environment, Xerox Office Systems Division, OPD-T8103,
October 1981.
[Pickens, Feinler, and Mathis 1979] J. R. Pickens, E. J. Feinler, and J. E. Mathis, The NIC Name
Server-A Datagram Based Information Utility, Proceedings 4th Berkeley Workshop on Distributed
Data Management and Computer Networks, August 1979.
[Saltzer 1982] J. H. Saltzer, On the Naming and Binding of Network Destinations, Proe. IFIP TC 6
Symposium on Local Networks, April 1982, pp. 311-317.
[Schickler] P. Schickler, Naming and Adressing in a Computer-Based Mail Environment, IEEE
Trans, Comm., vol. COM-30, no. 1, January 1982, pp. xxx.
[Shoch 1978] J. F. Shoch, Internetwork Naming Addressing and Routing, 17th IEEE Computer
Society International Conference (Compeon), September 1978.

88

THE CLEARINGHOUSE

[Solomon, Landweber, and Neuhengen] M. Solomon, L. H. Landweber, and D. Neuhengen, The
CSNET Name Server, Computer Networks, vol. 6, no. 3 July 1982. pp. xxx.
[Xerox 19821 Office Systems Technology, Xerox Office Systems Division, OSD-R8203, November
1982.

Appendix 1: Network Addresses and Address Verification
In Xerox's Network System. a network address is a triple consisting of a network number, a host
number, and a socket number [Dalal 1982]. There is no clear correspondence between machines and
the addressable objects known to the clearinghouse. One machine on an internetwork may contain
many named objects; for instance, a machine may support a file service and a printer service (a server
may contain many services). These different objects resident on the same machine may use the same
network address even though they are separate objects logically and have different names. This
introduces no problems since the clearinghouse does not check for uniqueness of addresses associated
with names. Alternatively, different objects physically resident on one machine may have different
network addresses, since a machine may have many different socket numbers. To allow both
possibilities, we map the names of addressable objects into network addresses without worrying about
the configurations of the machines in which they are resident.
However, it may be that one machine has more than one network address, since it may be physically
part of more than one network. Therefore, the name of an addressable object such as printer or file
server may be mapped into a set of network addresses, rather than a single address. However, these
addresses may differ only in their network numbers: objects may be physically resident in one
machine only.
Since the addresses given out by the clearinghouse may be momentatrily incorrect, clients need a way
to check the accuracy of the network addresses given out by the clearinghouse. One way is to insist
that each addressable object have a uniqueid, an absolute name which might, for example, consist of a
unique processor number (hardwired into the processor at the factory) concatenated to the time of
day. The uniqueid is used to check the accuracy of the network addresses supplied by the
clearinghouse. This uniqueid is stored with the network addresses in the clearinghouse. When a
client receives a set of addresses from the clearinghouse which are allegedly the addresses of some
object, it checks with the object to make sure the uniqueid supplied by the clearinghouse agrees with
the uniqueid stored by the object.
In summary, in the Xerox internetwork environment, the address of an object is stored as a tuple
consisting of a set of network addresses and a uniqueid.

89

90

Authentication in Office System Internetworks
by Jay E. Israel and Theodore A. Linden
Abstract. In a distributed office system, authentication data (such as passwords)
must be managed in such a way that users and machines from different organizations
can easily authenticate themselves to each other. The authentication facility must be
secure, but user convenience, decentralized administration, and a capability for smooth,
long-term evolution are also important. In addition, the authentication arrangements
must not permit failures at a single node to cause system-wide downtime. We describe
the design used in the Xerox 8000 Series products. This design anticipates applications
in an open network architecture where there are nodes from diverse sources and one
node does not trust authentication checking done by other nodes. Furthermore, in some
offices encryption will be requireti to authenticate data transmissions despite hostile
intruders on the network. We discuss requirements and design constraints when
applying encryption for authentication in office systems. We suggest that protocol
standards for use in office systems should allow unencrypted authentication as well as
two options for encrypted authentication; and we describe the issues that will arise as an
office system evolves to deal with increasingly sophisticated threats from users of the
system.

1. Introduction
In an office system, anyone who can impersonate someone else successfully will be able to avoid
almost all security and accounting controls. Authentication deals with the verification of claimed
identity. It is the foundation on which access controls, audit measures, and most other security and
accounting controls are built.

Authentication became a challenging problem in the Xerox 8000 Series products because of the
highly distributed nature of the systems for which these products are designed. Users and machines
must be able to authenticate themselves to each other even when they are widely separated both by
physical distance and by organizational and administrative boundaries. To ease the burden of
maintaining and administering the authentication data (typically this data is a list of the users'
passwords), some degree of specialized support is needed. But this support has to respect the
territorial prerogatives of independent organizations and cannot become a performance bottleneck or
a source of system-wide failure.

In this paper we use our experiences during development of the Xerox 8000 Series products to discuss
practical issues concerning authentication in large, distributed office systems. In Sections 2 through
7 we describe the procedures for authentication in a distributed environment that are already largely
implemented in the 8000 Series products. These sections describe when and where authentication is
done and how the appropriate parties obtain the data needed to carry out the identity verification.
We emphasize the tradeoffs between the conflicting goals of reliable authentication, ease of use, ease
of administration, and system performance and availability.

91

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

Sections 8 through 13 discuss the tradeoffs in applying encryption technology to insure secure
authentication even when users on the network deliberately attempt to subvert the authentication
procedures. We recommend the development of protocol standards for use in office systems that
recognize three levels of authentication requirements: 1) basic authentication in a distributed
environment where there is no requirement for encryption techniques, 2) use of encryption to prevent
someone from discovering information which can easily be used to impersonate someone else, and 3)
full authentication of entire data interchanges in the face of hostile and sophisticated intruders.

2. The Problem to be solved.
This paper deals with techniques for maintaining, transmitting, and checking authentication data in
a distributed system. It concerns authenticating both users and machines. It does not discuss specific
identification techniques such as passwords or magnetically encoded cards or wired-in machine
identifiers. The reader may see [11] for a discussion of such interfaces. The specific authentication is
largely independent of the issues discussed here (except some adaptation would be needed for
automatic signature analysis, fingerprint readers, and other techniques that involve checking large
amounts of data with extensive processing). Since passwords are still the most common interface for
authentication, we will use the more familiar term "password" even when the discussion applies
equally well to checking other kinds of authentication data.
The problem of maintaining, transmitting, and checking passwords is challenging because a good
solution needs to take into account the practical constraints and conflicting goals that apply to most
office systems:

Limited advance planning. Office systems grow incrementally from small systems to large
internetworks. It is generally impossible to foresee future needs with any clarity. The
authentication must be compatible with this unplanned growth. The most stringent test of a
design in this regard is to ask how much administrative effort is involved in taking two office
networks that have been developed independently - but are otherwise compatible - and
making them work together. To allow communication between the networks, users from one
network must be able to authenticate themselves to machines of the other network.
Minimal administrative complexity. The administrative effort to support authentication must
be small. Users come and go all the time. It must be simple to enforce desired controls reliably
despite these constant updates to the authentication data base. For example, when a change
occurs an administrator should not have to enter the update at many locations or be
responsible for manually maintaining consistency of multiple copies. In the early internal
Xerox experimental internetwork, each file server contained a list of its authorized users and
their passwords. As the number of servers increased, the maintenance of these partially
overlapping lists across geographical and organizational boundaries rapidly became
unmanageable.
User convenience. Users of office systems will be under pressure to get a job done. They are
likely to resent any complicated actions that are required for authentication. For example,
when the file servers on the Xerox experimental internetwork each maintained their own
passwords, users trying to retrieve a document from a server that they had not used recently
would find they had forgetten which password to use.
Heterogeneity. Devices with varying characteristics in their ability to support security
measures should co-exist without reducing all security to that of the weakest device.
Level of protection. The strength of the protection required and the price one is willing to pay
for it should vary with the situation.

92

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

Availability. Useful work should remain possible in the face of many types of failures,
including failures in the hardware that supports the authentication.
Naming. Entities in an internetwork - users and shared resources - have textual humansensible names. To make it easy to use, the naming scheme must be flexible and should build
on people's everyday experiences. Authentication techniques must mesh with this naming,
since the identity of a communication partner is the issue to be determined.

3. Xerox Distributed Office System Architecture
Our context is that of an integrated, distributed office system designed to support incremental
growth. For communication within a facility or campus we use an Ethernet local area network [DEC
80]. This provides high bandwidth local communications using an underlying broadcast medium.
Other communication media can be used to link geographically dispersed local networks into a large
internetwork.

In our architecture, nodes are divided into two general categories: workstations and servers. A
workstation is the physical device that the user sees. It is at a person's desk, providing direct
interactive functions. Xerox provides different models of workstations with different levels of
functionality. This paper deals primarily with the most powerful of these, the Xerox 8010
Information Processing System, and its interactions with servers. This workstation provides an
integrated user interface to a wide variety of operations on text, business graphics, and records. Some
details of its capabilities are documented in [9, 14, 16, 171.

In contrast with workstations, a server is generally an unattended device that manages resources
that are shared among many users. At a user's instigation, a workstation communicates with a
server to operate on the shared resource. Sometimes, one server calls on another in a sub-contractor
arrangement to do part of the work. Generally, servers are small processors (they use the same
processor as the 8010 workstation) with limited roles. A service is a program that runs on a server to
provide a specific set of capabilities. A server is a device and a service is a program running on it.
Several services may reside in the same server, with limitations dictated by device capacities and
level of usage. Different servers within an internetwork can provide instances of the same generic
service.
The Internet Transport Protocols [19] are designed so that workstations can easily interact with any
instance of a service, local or remote. For example, the same workstation software that sends
information to a local printer can equally well send the information to a printer in another city, as
long as that printer is on a network linked to the internetwork. Courier, a Remote Procedure Call
Protocol [18] allows application-level protocols to be specified by modeling a service interface as a set
of procedure calls. Application-level protocols that complete the definition of interfaces to various
services are being prepared for publication.

Current services include the following:

Print service. Produces paper copy of documents and records transmitted to it.

93

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

File service. Stores and retrieves documents and record files. It has larger storage
capacity than workstations, and provides a mechanism for sharing files among users.
Electronic mail service. Routes information to named users or to lists of users.
Internetwork routing service. Combines multiple dispersed Ethernets into a single
logical internetwork with a uniform address space.
Gateway service and interactive terminal service. Allow network services to be extended
over an external telephone line (rather than by direct connection to an Ethernet cable).
External communication service. A lower-level service that controls external telephone
lines. It supports some of the previously-mentioned services, as well as workstations
that can interact with data processing systems by emulating terminals.
Clearinghouse service. A repository of information about users, services, and other
resources accessible in the internetwork.
Figure 1 depicts a typical, small internetwork.

4. The Clearinghouse Service
The clearinghouse service deserves further discussion here because of its central role in user
authentication. Its philosophy and design are elucidated in [13]. The clearinghouse is a distributed
service, maintaining a distributed data base of information about network resources and users. For
example, it keeps a record of the names, types, and network addresses of all instances of services
available in an internetwork. This information is available to other nodes, whenever they need to
discover something about their environment. A clearinghouse service also keeps a record of the users
who are registered in an internetwork. In what follows, we use the term "clearinghouse" by itself as
an informal way of referring to a clearinghouse service. Keep in mind that it is not a machine, but a
distributed service with instances in (potentially) many servers.
The design of the clearinghouse illustrates several issues in the implementation of distributed office
systems. In particular, there is a trade-off between centralized and distributed operation. A
centralized design would have led to a simpler development task. The arguments for logical and
physical decentralization were decisive, however. With the service residing on several machines,
failure of one is not serious, since another can assume the load of both (perhaps with some
performance degradation). Duplication of the data storage on more than one server means that all
parts of the database remain accessible. It also means that damage to one copy of the data is not
serious, since it can be recovered from another service instance.
Logical decentralization means that administration of different parts of the database is in the hands
of different people. This permits access control of a resource to remain under the control of the
organization owning the resource. It also avoids the administrative bottleneck of a single data
administration entity. Each organization is responsible for registering its own users and services.
A distributed clearinghouse presents certain design challenges. The various service instances must
coordinate with each other for several reasons. For example, a distribution list maintained by one

E3

I-~
-I
•

File
Service

Internetwork
Routing
Service
Print Service

Clearinghouse
Service

External
Communication
Service

..,. . -- .

:.>

",...

Interactive
Terminal
Service
Gateway
Service

S
::r:
tz:J

Various
Communicating
Devices

............. --....

Z

~

( ':)

:.~

o

z

52

o

-

External
Communication
Line

~

(':)

tz:J

CJ)

~tz:J
is:

"

~--~

Data
Processing
System

.......

I

External
Communication
Line

g
tz:J

External
Communication
Service

Internetwork
Routing
Service

VOZZZZ;ZZfZZ?ZZZZd

kZZZlzzzzrZZZZ22d

I
I~

~

Z

tz:J

~...

I
I~

Print Service

Figure 1, Schematic of typical small internetwork.

CD

en

I

L-I

.i

....
.1

E3
File
Service

i" ; L-I

Ethernet

tP zzzzz)ZZ?,
Clearinghouse
Service

~
~

~

rJJ

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

organization may contain users from several organizations. Also, updates directed by the
administrator to one node must propogate automatically to other nodes holding copies of the affected
data.

5. Users, Desktops, and Authentication
This section gives more detail on the naming of entities, mobility of users and their data, and the two
contexts under which authentication is required. The theme is that the distributed system must
provide flexibility of usage, a characteristic that must be supported by the authentication design.

Each person authorized to use workstations and network services is a "user," represented by a record
of information in the internetwork's clearinghouse. Each user has a textual name (as does, in fact,
each instance of a service in the internetwork). Some of the challenges in implementing
authentication arise not from security requirements, but from the flexible way by which entities can
be named.
Fully qualified names are unique throughout the world, so different internetworks can join
without global renaming. (This is analogous to Ethernet's global assignment of physical host
numbers.) If names were not unique, connecting two internetworks that grew independently
would likely result in the same names being used for different entities. The renaming would be
time-consuming for administrators and disruptive to users.
Administration of name assignment can be decentralized in the user community. This is
accomplished by making names hierarchical. Groups in the organizational hierarchy are
delegated the responsibility for administering their part of the name space. This is how name
uniqueness is achieved while ceding to each group autonomous control over its own resources.
Users' network names are predictable from their ordinary names. Part of the hierarchical
name is the user's full legal name. This permits users to refer to one another by the familiar
names they use in daily discourse. People are adverse to learning cryptic account names or
acronyms to identify their colleagues.
Users can be identified with short, informal names when there is no ambiguity. Informal
"aliases" are supported, and levels of the hierarchical name may be omitted when reasonable
default values can be inferred from the context. This again lends an air of familiarity to the
naming scheme for the benefit ofthe ordinary user.
These last two features of the naming system add some subtlety to the authentication algorithms,
since numerous text strings can be alternative names for the same entity.
Any workstation or service desiring to authenticate a user relies on the common clearinghouse
facility, vastly simplifying administrative procedures (compared with a design requiring different
services to keep track of their users separately). For each user, the clearinghouse keeps a record of
interesting information about him or her, including the password employed during authentication. It
also keeps named lists of users, employed (for example) as electronic mail distribution lists.
Assignment of names and aliases is the responsibility of system administrators, users with special
privileges.
Each user of the 8010 system has a desktop. This is his or her private working environment. When
someone is using a desktop, it is kept entirely at the local workstation. It is not shared; no one else

96

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

may gain access to any object stored in the desktop unless the user explicitly moves or copies that
object to some other node that allows shared access. The desktop is portrayed graphically to the user
as a collection of documents, folders, record files, text, graphics, etc. Several desktops are allowed to
reside on a workstation concurrently, though only one may be in use at any given time. Each bears
the name ofits user.
Users often need to take their work environments with them when visiting another location, or when
using any available machine in a pool of workstations. To facilitate this, a desktop is allowed to
migrate from one workstation to another in the internetwork. At the end of a session, the user has
the option of moving the desktop to a file service. At a later time, the act of logging on retrieves the
desktop to a workstation - either the same one as before or a different one. The file service chosen is
the user's "home" file service, the one identified for this purpose in that user's clearinghouse entry.
For the most part, however, it is expected that a desktop remains on a particular workstation. In fact,
the distribution of functionality is designed in such a way that a great deal of a user's work can be
accomplished on the local workstation alone, relying on services only when access is needed to their
shared resources. Contributing to this autonomy is selective caching of information in the desktop
data structure. Caching permits certain redundant accesses to services to be bypassed, enhancing
both reliability and performance.
An object on a user's desktop IS private - others do not have access to it. To support this model, a
workstation does not respond to communication requests from elsewhere. In any communication
interchange, it is the initiator. Consequently, a user who has left his or her desktop on a workstation
(i.e., has not stored it on a file server when ending a session) must return to that workstation to
resume work with that desktop. While this could be inconvenient in some situations, it has an
important security advantage: if a desktop is left permanently on one workstation, the objects on it
are secure from intruders on the network. As long as the physical integrity of the workstation's
hardware and software is maintained, objects on the desktop can be accessed only by somebody who
goes to that workstation and is successfully authenticated as that user.

Authentication is necessary in two places: when a user desires access to a workstation, and when
some requestor wants access to a service. (The requestor may be a workstation acting on behalf of a
user, or it may be another service.) In the next two sections, we describe the initial designs of first the
workstation authentication mechanism, then the services procedures.

6. Workstation Logon
A user begins a session at a workstation by presenting a name and password. Access to a desktop is
granted if they are found to be valid. The design of the initial logon mechanism was intended to meet
certain objectives:

Verify user identity. Check that the name and password are those of a user registered in the
clearinghouse. The name may be abbreviated and may be an alias, as discussed above.
Ascertain user characteristics. Some workstation features require information about the user
that is maintained by the clearinghouse. For example, electronic mail must know where to
look for incoming messages. This information is obtained at logon and cached locally.

97

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

Tolerate equipment failures. If the services normally involved are inaccessible, or if a
workstation fails, users should still be able to carry out much of their work.
Control proliferation of desktops. In general, a policy of one desktop per user is desired, to
simplify the user's model of the environment. To do otherwise would require coping with still
another naming scheme (one for desktops).
As is readily apparent, these objectives are partially in conflict with one another, and some
compromise is necessary. For example, if a user's desktop is temporarily trapped on a broken
workstation or file server, the last two objectives conflict. Our approach is to permit an additional
desktop for a user under such unusual conditions. Here, system availability outweighs naming
simplicity. Having made this decision, though, we must ensure that software can handle the
multiple-desktop situation.

One objective not addressed by the initial design is protection against unauthorized access by an
intruder to the underlying communication media. Later in this paper, we will discuss the
implications of adding encryption to the design of authentication in distributed systems, so that
passwords will not be transmitted in the clear. First, however, we sketch the initial implementation.

The first step is to check the name and password. There are two sources of information on which this
test can be made: the clearinghouse service and data cached locally. The former is tried first, since
the latter may be out of date. In the rare event that the clearinghouse is inaccessible, the logon
program attempts to find a local desktop for the user. To permit this, each desktop contains its user's
complete fully qualified name, most recently used alias, and most recently validated password (the
latter is protected by one-way encryption). Consequently, authentication is possible using local data
alone.

The second step during logon is to locate the user's desktop (unless it has already been found locally).
The clearinghouse provided some additional information about the user. For example, if an alias or
abbreviated name was used, it supplied the corresponding fully qualified name. Using this, we can
look on the workstation and determine whether or not the desktop being sought is there. If it is not,
we employ a second piece of information that was obtained from the clearinghouse: the identity of the
user's "home" file service. If the desktop exists, that is where it must be (unless it is at another
workstation, and thus is inaccessible). The attempt to retrieve the desktop from that service could
fail ifthe desktop is not there, or the server is broken, or communication with it is severed, or there is
inadequate space on the workstation. In these situations, the user is given the option of having a new
desktop created.
As a final step, the logon program caches in the desktop the information about the user obtained from
the clearinghouse, overwriting whatever version of this information was there previously. Note that
in all the logon processing, this cache was never used as a source of information if the clearinghouse
was accessible. Thus, no problem arises if any of the cached information is out of date. At worst, the
clearinghouse contains a new password for the user, changed since the last session. If the
clearinghouse is inaccessible, the user may have to employ the old password temporarily. It is
important to note, however, that validity of the old password is indeed temporary; it becomes invalid
the first time a logon occurs while the clearinghouse is accessible. This design was deemed to be a
proper trade-off between security and availability.

98

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

7. Logon for Services
In the course of providing its services, a server receives requests over the communication network
from workstations (or other services). The service-provider has an option: it can accede to requests
indiscriminately (trusting workstations to have performed the authentication), or it can
(re)authenticate the user. How one approaches this decision depends on one's view of the network and
the trustworthiness of its various nodes. In a closed local network (one in which the nodes and their
software are from a single source and are reasonably immune to tampering), one is tempted to think
of the local area network as an internal bus in a multi-processor system. The image is enhanced by
the speed of a local area network, though not by its physical dispersal. From this point of view, it
seems superfluous for a service to do authentication. An open local network is a different situation.
Here, the architecture supports devices from a variety of manufacturers, and nodes may be widely
dispersed. It is less reasonable for a service to assume that the user's identity is always authenticated
adequately by the workstation.
Of course, there are associated costs if servers re-authenticate. First, there is the performance cost: it
takes time. Second, there is an availability cost. If a node crucial to authentication is inaccessible,
the user may be unable to use a file service, for example, even if the workstation and file service are
both operational. The file service could be designed with a cache to help in this situation, but it is not
clear how the server is to decide what to cache - far less clear, certainly, than in the case of the
workstation. If it caches information on all potential users, that is a large storage burden. One must
also consider the processing burden to keep it all up to date. If it caches less, there will be situations
in which some users can do remote filing but not other users. This may be undesirable from the point
of view ofthe user community as a whole, especially if the discrimination among users appeared to be
arbitrary.

In the initial 8000 Series implementation, some services require no access controls, so they do not
authenticate users. For example, the external communication service is a low-level service, and
assumes that any authentication necessary will be performed by the application software employing
it.
A file service or clearinghouse is much more discriminating. When a workstation contacts a file
service, the user's name and password are presented. (Of course, the user does not have to retype
them; they are already known by the workstation software.) The service checks the name and
password against the clearinghouse data base, and accepts the connection attempt only if it is
satisfied that the user is who he or she claims to be. Note that a three-way interchange results,
involving the workstation, file service, and clearinghouse service. In validating a user, therefore, the
initial design places a server in much the same role as a workstation in its relationship to the
clearinghouse.

8. Requirements for Encryption during Authentication
The authentication procedures discussed thus far have proven to be quite workable for distributed
office systems, and they provide a level of authentication that is adequate in offices with ordinary
security requirements. In the typical office, the communication subsystem is not the weakest link in
the office's security procedures. For example, passwords are transmitted in plaintext between
terminals and most on-line computers, and this is seldom considered the most serious security
concern. On the other hand, when one has an open network where protocols are public and where the
connection of products from different vendors is encouraged, there are offices where it will be

99

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

important to authenticate network communications in the face of hostile activity from other users of
the network.
The workstations and servers in the Xerox 8000 Series products are programmed so that a user of
these machines cannot read or modify information being sent to a different node. However, as an
open network grows and becomes more diverse, it becomes less realistic to trust that administrative
and software controls will prevent a malicious user from looking at information in transit and
exploiting the information in some way. The greatest exposure occurs when there are nodes on the
network where users can bypass the basic software with which the machine was delivered. In
principle, such users can read any data communicated on the local area network, and can inject
arbitrary packets. In this environment, a concerted effort is required to insure that data
transmissions are authentic.
The first step in this direction is to protect passwords to insure that an intruder on the network
cannot watch for some privileged user's password and then later impersonate that user. To protect
the user authenticator, merely encrypting it under some stable key would do little good. An intruder
could simply read the encrypted string, then later deceive the same service by replaying the
encrypted string. Note also that protecting only the passwords may accomplish very little. For
example, the 8000 Series file service requires a password only to establish a "session." Thereafter, a
session identifier is used to associate individual commands with the user. Clearly one must also
prevent an intruder from reading and replaying a session identifier.
Full authentication of network communications involves not only verifying the identity of the source
of the communications but also verifying that the content of the communication has not been
modified. One must also detect an intruder who attempts to replay a previous valid message. Full
authentication also requires authentication of communications in both directions - an intruder
should not be able to imitate a legitimate service and have users believe that their attempts to
interact with that service have been successful.
There is little one can do to safeguard authentication against intruders on the network without a
fairly sophisticated application of encryption. The remainder of this paper discusses the tradeoffs
involved in applying encryption technology to provide secure authentication in an office system.
After describing some of the practical constraints, we identify three separate options for
authentication that seem to make sense in different office environments:
1.

The first option is simple checking of user passwords. In a distributed system, this
checking must be reasonably effective and easily administered, but does not protect against
intruders reading or modifying information during transmission. This level of
authentication was described in the first part ofthis paper.

2.

The second level of authentication is robust in the face of relatively passive efforts to
discover information that can later be used to impersonate someone. It uses encryption
techniques in a minimal way.

3.

The third level fully authenticates the entire data interchange in the face of active and
sophisticated efforts by a hostile party injecting information into the network.

We recommend that future protocol standards should recognize the distinct requirements for these
three levels of authentication. Furthermore, these protocols should handle the difficult problems that

100

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

occur ~hen devices supporting different levels of authentication co-exist and interact on the same
network.

This paper does not discuss uses of encryption to protect data confidentiality only. If one is only
concerned with confidentiality, then a simple facility for encrypting and decrypting documents at the
user's workstation may be adequate. This requires the user to remember the encryption key - with
potentially disasterous results if it is forgotten. Once a document has been encrypted, it can be safely
transmitted over the network. However, ifit is to be read by someone else, the problem of distributing
and managing different encryption keys can easily become a nightmare for the users. If one wants
software to support the key management, then that software must have a very secure way of
authenticating its users. Encryption used for full authentication of data interchanges can easily be
designed so that it also prevents intruders from reading the data during transimission.

9. Constraints on the Use of Encryption in Office Applications
Encryption has long been used for military and diplomatic communications. Recently, it has come
into widespread use by financial institutions to protect electronic funds transfers. There have been
expectations that other applications of encryption would spread rapidly through the business world.
These expectations increased when the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) established a standard
data encryption algorithm [10] and when low-cost hardware implementing the standard became
available. Unfortunately, successful applications of encryption have not spread as rapidly as
expected. One reason is that there are many system design problems that must be solved to make
encryption an effective and practical part of a full security system.

The constraints of an office system mean that few existing applications of encryption serve as a model
for applying encryption in office systems. Few, if any, current applications of encryption have all the
following characteristics:
(1)

The communication system is a complex, frequently changing internetwork.

(2)

Management of the encryption keys is not a serious burden for the system administrator or
the individual user.

(3)

Users do not ha ve to be a ware of details about how the encryption works, and the system is
robust in the face of many user oversights and errors.

(4)

The devices attached to the network are diverse, and not all of them can be modified to
participate in the plan for using encryption.

(5)

There is a low tolerance for increased costs - including added system costs attributable to
the encryption.

There is a substantial body of recent literature about system designs for authenticated
communications that promise to eliminate or reduce at least the first three of the above impediments.
The design that is most relevant to our environment is documented in [12] with related work in [1, 2,
3, 4] and elsewhere. This design is oriented toward distributed communications. It calls for a
network service that automatically manages encryption keys, and it hides most of the encryption
details from the end user. The key features of the design are summarized in the following section.

101

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

10. Design Issues for Secure Authentication
Full authentication of communication between a workstation A and a service B can be achieved if A
and B encrypt their communication using a key that is known only by A and B) The problem is to get
the same key to both A and B without revealing it to anyone else and without creating too much extra
work for the user or the system administrator. This is accomplished by introducing a trusted
authentication service whose role is to generate and distribute encryption keys that can be used for a
limited time by A and B to carryon a "conversation." Like the clearinghouse, the authentication
service should be a distributed service that supports redundant storage of its data and automatically
propagates updates of those data.
When workstation A wants to set up authenticated communications with service B, it first asks the
authentication service for a conversation key that A and B can use to encrypt their communications
with each other. Of course, the conversation key itself has to be encrypted when it is sent to A and to
B, using keys known only by A and B respectively (and known by the the authentication service, of
course). The authentication service need not communicate directly with B but can rely on A to
forward the right information to B (since it is encrypted so only B can decrypt it). We refer to the
information that A forwards to B as A's credentials. These credentials contain at least A's user name,
the conversation key, and a time stamp - all encrypted so only B can decrypt them. 2 When fully
implemented as described in [121, this scheme guarantees to B that subsequent communications
encrypted under the conversation key did originate from A and guarantees to A that only B will
decrypt the communications successfully. Corresponding guarantees apply for B's responses to A.
Automatic key distribution using an authentication service goes a long way toward making fully
authenticated communications practical for office systems. However, further discussion is needed
regarding the last two of the practical design constraints listed in the preceding section.
The constraint that not all devices on the network will be able to participate in encrypted
communications is especially troublesome. It would be much better to have one scheme for
authentication, not two or three. Unfortunately, when one has an open network and wants to
encourage participation by others in the network architecture, one simply cannot require an
encryption capability at every device. Some nodes may have encryption implemented in hardware;
others, in software; still others, not at all. Standardizing on a level low enough so that inexpensive
devices can be used implies a rather weak security system. Choosing a higher level increases the cost
1 This discussion assumes the use of the NBS data encryption standard where the encryption and
decrpytion keys are identical. A scheme fairly similar to this that uses a public key encryption
algorithm is also discussed in [12].

2 For a limited time A can cache the credentials it receives from the authentication service and
reuse them in several sessions with B (e.g., the workstation could use the cache mentioned in
section 5). This would allow workstations to interact with the services they use most frequently
even if the authentication service is unavailable for a time. It also speeds the establishment of
communication.

102

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

of the entire system. Not only the backbone equipment cost is involved; there is also a substantial
user acceptance factor. For example, many of our users value the ability to dial in for their electronic
mail using ordinary teletypewriter terminals or home computers. With voice mail systems, even the
telephone has to be considered. Some day perhaps all such devices will be equipped with encryption
chips, but that is certainly many years away. Our systems and protocols must deal with the mixed
environment of today.
The cost constraints of most office system applications also make it especially difficult to introduce an
encryption capability. It is true that low cost encryption chips are available. On the other hand, one
must consider the costs for software, testing, documentation, user training, and customer support.
The sum of all the costs attributable to security must remain a small fraction of the total system cost.

11. The Need for Three Authentication Options
Changes in the authentication arrangement propagate as changes in the protocols of all services that
authenticate their users. Clearly, once encryption is introduced into the authentication
arrangements, one has yet another source of incompatibility between different office systems.
Incompatible uses of encryption will make it much harder to build devices that support the protocols
of two or more different office systems, and it will greatly complicate the construction of gateways
between systems. It is clearly desirable to work toward industry standard protocols for any use of
encryption in office systems. The NBS Data Encryption Standard provides an industry standard
algorithm; however, many design choices remain about how to use this algorithm in the context of
office systems.

Ideally, one would like to have a single fully secure protocol for authentication that is used by all
devices in the internetwork. This would avoid the system complexities that arise when multiple
authentication options have to co-exist. Unfortunately, a fully secure protocol for authentication
implies that every device that participates in the the office system would have to have hardware for
encryption. Despite the decreasing costs of such hardware, this is just not feasible in the foreseeable
future.

We believe that it is a reasonable goal to develop protocols for authentication that provide three
options:
1.

The lowest level option would not require any use of encryption and would support
authentication in the form that was discussed in the first half of this paper.

2.

An intermediate option would provide a migration path between the first and third options
and would reduce the number of cases where the first and third options must co-exist. This
option is based on the observation that it is much easier for an intruder on the network to
watch for a password (or other data that can be used later to impersonate someone) than it
is to actively and intelligently modify information as it is being transmitted. This
observation is interesting because one can protect against the more likely threats with a
very minimal use of encryption.

3.

The most secure option would support full authentication of entire data transmissions.
This requires an encryption of all the data transmitted and thus is unwieldy without
special hardware for encryption. A secondary option in this case might allow either

103

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

encrypted transmission of the data or plaintext transmission of the data with an added
cryptographic checksum (digital signature).
Under the second option, users still verify their identity during a secure interaction with an
authentication service and they still receive a conversation key and credentials for use in interacting
with a service. However, instead of encrypting the entire communication with the service, only one
small block of data is encrypted to accompany each communication. The block of data to be encrypted
must change for each communication - it could contain a sequence number and/or a date and time.
This authentication option avoids any plaintext transmission of passwords and is safe against threats
other than jamming and real time retransmission after partial modification of the transmission. 3
This option allows devices that do not have hardware for encryption to participate in a reasonably
secure authentication arrangement - the amount of encryption required for this option can be
implemented efficiently in software on most processors.
Technically, a software implementation does not conform with the NBS Data Encryption Standard;
however, for existing devices that do not have encryption hardware, the alternative is plaintext
transmission of passwords.

12. Issues Concerning Co-existence of Authentication Options
While network protocols need to allow several options for authentication, management of a particular
installation may choose to use only one of these options. In many offices, there is little point to going
beyond the first option until other security procedures have been implemented. Another
management option is to maintain strong security by excluding low-capability devices from the
network and forcing all devices to use full encryption. However, many offices, can be characterized as
having a relatively small amount of information that is very sensitive, and that information has to
coexist in the same internetwork with a vast sea of information that does not need as much security.
In this environment, workstations with different capabilities may all need to communicate with a
common set of services. The weakness of one workstation should not compromise the security of other
nodes.
This set of design objectives has several implications:
(1)

Someone who alternates between different workstations may need to have two passwords
for use with different kinds of workstations. It does little good for one workstation to use
the stronger authentication options if the user sometimes exposes the same password by
typing it into a device which transmits it in the clear.

3 This scheme might be further improved if the block of data to be encrypted contained an effective
checksum computed over the remainder of the data transmission; however, we have failed to find
any checksumming function which can be computed a couple orders of magnitude faster than is
required for a cryptographic checksum and still provides some demonstrable increase in security.
Note that the use of "exclusive or" as the checksumming function would provide no increase in
security since it would be easy to make compensating changes in the data with an assurance that
the encrypted checksum would still be valid.

104

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

(2)

Servers should have a notion of the different levels of protection and support the protocol
variations this implies. They must remember which level is in use throughout a user's
session.

(3)

The third implication affects access control. The new goal is for access control to take into
consideration the strength of the authentication arrangement being used in a particular
session, so that sensitive documents can be protected from being accessed by anyone
having only a "weak" password (one that is exposed to potential intruders on the net).

(4)

Finally, the authentication service must support the notion of varying levels of security
strength in the conversations it arranges. Its responsibilities include insuring that each
party knows the security strength of its partner's authentication. It should support
multiple passwords for each user (forcing a user to adopt multiple identities is an
unpleasant alternative). Basing protection on workstation type alone is inadequate: a user
having only a "weak" password should be able to use a "strong" workstation and be granted
only "weak" privileges by servers.

When users have two passwords to use on different machines, one can anticipate that they will
sometimes mistakenly use the wrong one. To make security robust in the face of likely user errors,
one should try to confine the security exposure from this error. The problem occurs when a "strong"
password (intended to be used at workstations that support options 2 or 3) is entered at a "weak"
workstation (one which exposes passwords to intruders on the net). A partial solution is to have
nodes without encryption perform a simple hashing transform on passwords before any transmission.
This transform would not make option 1 any more secure since it would be easy to find one password
or another that transforms into any given hash value, and with option 1 any such password will do.
However, if the password was really intended for use with option 2 or 3, then the hash value does not
provide enough information to determine the user's exact password. For this to be effective, strong
passwords must be selected randomly from a large space of possible values - a characteristic which
would be highly desirable in any case.

Carrying this idea one step further gives the option of returning to a single password per user, while
still having more than one level of authentication. A mechanism along these lines was designed for
the protocol used by the experimental file service described in [6]. The scheme depends on the
password having far more bits of randomness in it than the hash code does; it gives away a few bits of
protection in order to achieve the convenience of a single password.

13. Other Authentication Design Issues
One issue is exactly what entity is to be authenticated. Above, we assumed that the user's password
was to be authenticated. It is equally possible to have a secret key associated with a workstation and
authenticate the workstation. By combining the user's password with a key from the workstation in
some fixed way, it is possible to authenticate both the user and the workstation in use (see [15]). The
benefit in authenticating workstations is that one can physically secure a room containing privileged
machines. For example, an authorized user who could access sensitive information only in an open
room in front of colleagues might be less likely to do something irregular.

105

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

The authentication service design must handle authentication during user logon at a workstation. A
protocol is needed to convince the software running in the workstation that the user is authentic.
Note that if spoofing is to be countered, the protocol must deal with the situation in which the person
presenting the password also controls a node pretending to provide an authentication service. One
way to accomplish this is for a legitimate authentication service to know about certain information
embedded in the workstation, information that users of the workstation cannot uncover. This
information can be the basis of authenticated communication between the authentication service and
software on the workstation.
Another set of design decisions involves one service calling on another in order to do work on behalf of
an end user. The chain of calls can involve several intermediary services between the user and the
final service. The issue is: what privileges does the last service grant to the request? That of the end
user? That of the next-to-Iast service? Do the intermediate services even have their own sets of
privileges ascribed to them? If so, do we want to take their minimum? Does one have to grant the
intermediary services all one's privileges, or can the activities they may do on one's behalf be
circumscribed? Reliable, secure protocols must be devised to implement whatever policy emerges
from answering these questions.

Another issue that we have not dealt with here concerns the extent to which one must trust the
software residing in various nodes on the network. For example, software at a workstation could, in
principal, remember user passwords and make them available to a subsequent user of the same
workstation. Problems like this are more likely to result from deliberate, sophisticated efforts rather
than from accidental bugs. See [7,8] for two surveys of techniques that deal with such problems.

14. Conclusion
There are many possible approaches to authenticating users in a small office system. However, as the
system grows larger and more diverse, many of the possible authentication schemes either will
become a large administrative burden or will sometimes be the cause of the entire system being
unavailable. The approach chosen in the Xerox 8000 Series products was designed to avoid these two
problems, and to have an evolutionary path open to ever increasing levels of security.

Acknowledgement
Many colleagues contributed to the design concepts discussed in this paper and to the initial
implementation. Dorothy Andrews, Bob Ayers, Marney Beard, Andrew Birrell, Yogen Dalal, Bob
Lyon, John Maloney, Dave Redell, and Michael Schroeder deserve special mention.

106

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

References
1.

D. Branstad, "Encryption Protection in Computer Data Communications." Proc. Fourth Data
Communications Symp., ACM, October, 1975.

2.

D. Branstad, "Security Aspects of Computer Networks." Proc.
Conf, April, 1973.

3.

G.D. Cole, "Design Alternatives for Computer Network Security." NBS SP-SOO-21, vol. 1,
January, 1978.

4.

D.E. Denning and G.M. Sacco, "Timestamps in Key Distribution Protocols." Comm. ACM, 24, 8,
August, 1981.

5.

Digital Equipment Corp., Intel Corp, and Xerox Corp., "The Ethernet, a Local Area Network:
Data Link Layer and Physical Layer Specifications." Version 1.0, September, 1980.

6.

J. Israel, J. Mitchell, and H. Sturgis, "Separating Data from Function in a Distributed File
System." Operating Systems (Proceedings ofthe Second International Symposium on Operating
Systems Theory and Practice), D. Lanciaux, ed.; North-Holland, 1979.

7.

T. A. Linden, "Operating System Structures to Support Security and Reliable Software,"
Computing Surveys, 8,4, Dec. 1976.

8.

T. A. Linden, "Protection for Reliable Software," System Reliability and Integrity, Infotech State
of the Art Report, Infotech International Ltd., Maidenhead, UK, 1978.

9.

D. E. Lipkie, Steven R. Evans, John K. Newlin, and Robert L. Weissman, "Star Graphics: An
Object-Oriented Implementation." Computer Graphics. 16,3: pp. 115-124; July, 1982.

10.

National Bureau of Standards, Data Encryption Standard. FIPS Pub. 46, NBS, Washington, D.C.,
January, 1977.

11.

National Bureau of Standards, Guidelines on User Authentication Techniques for Computer
Network Access Control, FlPS Pub. 83, NBS, Washington, D.C. Sept. 1980.

12.

R.M. Needham and M.D. Schroeder, "Using Encryption for Authentication in Large Networks of
Computers." Comm. ACM, 21,12, December, 1978.

13.

D.C. Oppen and Y.K. Dalal, "The Clearinghouse: a Decentralized Agent for Locating Named
Objects in a Distributed Environment." OPD-T8103, Xerox, Palo Alto, Cal., October, 1981.

14.

R. Purvy, J. Farrell, and P. Klose, "The Design of Star's Records Processing," Proc. ACM-SIGOA
Conf on Office Automation Systems, June 1982.

15.

M.E. Smid, "A Key Notarization System for Computer Networks." NBS SP-SOO-S4, vol. 1,
October, 1979.

AIAA

Comptr. Network Syst.

ACM

107

AUTHENTICATION IN OFFICE SYSTEM INTERNETWORKS

108

16.

D.C. Smith, E. Harslem, C. Irby, and R. Kimball, "The Star User Interface, An Overview," AFIPS
Conf Proc. ofNCC, June, 1982.

17.

D.C. Smith, C. Irby, R. Kimball, and W. Verplank, "Designing the Star User Interface," Byte,
April,1982.

18.

Xerox Corp., "Courier: the Remote Procedure Call Protocol." XSIS 038112, Xerox, Stamford,
Conn., December, 1981.

19.

Xerox Corp., "Internet Transport Protocols." XSIS 028112, Xerox, Stamford, Conn., December,
1981.

Grapevine: An Exercise in
Distributed Computing
Andrew D. Birrell, Roy Levin,
Roger M. Needham, and Michael D. Schroeder
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
Grapevine is a multicomputer system on the Xerox
research internet. It provides facilities for the delivery of
digital messages such as computer mail; for naming
people, machines, and services; for authenticating people
and machines; and for locating services on the internet.
This paper has two goals: to describe the system itself
and to serve as a case study of a real application of
distributed computing. Part I describes the set of services
provided by Grapevine and how its data and function are
divided among computers on the internet. Part II presents in more detail selected aspects of Grapevine that
illustrate novel facilities or implementation techniques,
or that provide insight into the structure of a distributed
system. Part III summarizes the current state of the
system and the lessons learned from it so far.
CR Categories and Subject Descriptors: C.2.4 [Computer-Communication Networks]: Distributed Systemsdistributed applications, distributed databases; C.4 [Performance of Systems]-reliability, availability and serviceability; 0.4.7 [Operating Systems]: Organization and
Design-distributed systems; H.2.4 [Database Management]: Systems-distributed systems; H.2.7 [Database
Management]: Database Administration; H.4.3 [Information Systems Applications]: Communications Applications-electronic mail
General Terms: Design, Experimentation, Reliability

Part I. Description of Grapevine

l. Introduction

Grapevine is a system that provides message delivery,
resource location, authentication, and access control serAuthors' Present Addresses: Andrew D. Birrell, Roy Levin, and
Michael D. Schroeder, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Computer
Science Laboratory, 3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304;
Roger M. Needham, University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory,
Corn Exchange Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QG, United Kingdom.
Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is
granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct
commercial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the
publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by
permission of the Association for Computing Machinery. To copy
otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and/or specific permission.
© 1982 ACM OOOI-0782/82/04()()-0260 $00.75.

109

vices in a computer internet. The implementation of
Grapevine is distributed and replicated. By distributed
we mean that some of the services provided by Grape. vine involve the use of multiple computers communicating through an internet; by replicated we mean that some
of the services are provided equally well by any of several
distinct computers. The primary use of Grapevine is
delivering computer mail, but Grapevine is used in many
other ways as well. The Grapevine project was motivated
by our desire to do research into the structure of distributed systems and to provide our community with better
computer mail service.
Plans for the system were presented in an earlier
paper [5]. This paper describes the completed system.
The mechanisms discussed below are in service supporting more than 1500 users. Designing and building
Grapevine took about three years by a team that averaged two to three persons.
1.1 Environment for Grapevine
Figure I illustrates the kind of computing environment in which Grapevine was constructed and operates.
A large internet of this style exists within the Xerox
Corporation research and development community. This
internet extends from coast-to-coast in the U.S.A. to
Canada, and to England. It contains over 1500 computers
on more than 50 local networks.
Most computing is done in personal workstation computers [12]; typically each workstation has a modest
amount of local disk storage. These workstations may be
used at different times for different tasks, although generally each is used only by a single individual. The
internet connecting these workstations is a collection of
Ethernet local networks [6], gateways, and long distance
links (typically telephone lines at data rates of 9.6 to 56
Kbps). Also connected to the internet are server computers that provide shared services to the community,
such as me storage or printing.
Protocols already exist for communicating between
computers attached to the internet [II]. These protocols
provide a uniform means for addressing any computer

attached to any local network in order to send individual
packets or to establish and use byte streams. The individual packets are typically small (up to 532 bytes), and
are sent unreliably (though with high probability of
success) with no acknowledgment. The byte stream protocols provide reliable, acknowledged, transmission of
unlimited amounts of data [I].
1.2 Services and Clients
Our primary consideration when designing and implementing Grapevine was its use as the delivery mechanism for a large, dispersed computer mail system. A
computer mail system allows a group of human users to
exchange messages of digital text. The sender prepares
a message using some sort of text editing facility and
names a set of recipients. He then presents the message
to a delivery mechanism. The delivery mechanism moves
the message from the sender to an internal buffer for
each recipient, where it is stored along with other messages for that recipient until he wants to receive them.
We call the buffer for a recipient's messages an inbox.
When ready, the recipient can read and process the
messages in his inbox with an appropriate text display
program. The recipient names supplied by the sender
may identify distribution lists: named sets of recipients,
each of whom is to receive the message. We feel that
computer mail is both an important application of distributed computing and a good test bed for ideas about
how to structure distributed systems.
Buffered delivery of a digital message from a sender
to one or more recipients is a mechanism that is useful
in many contexts: it may be thought of as a general
communication protocol, with the distinctive property
that the recipient of the data need not be available at the
time the sender wishes to transmit the data. Grapevine
separates this message delivery function from message
creation and interpretation, and makes the delivery function available for a wider range of uses. Grapevine does
not interpret the contents of the messages it transports.
Interpretation is up to the various message manipulation
programs that are software clients of Grapevine. A client

Fig. I. An Example of a Small Internet.

Ethernet
telephone line
Ethernet

110

Ethernet

program lmplementing a computer mail user mterface
will interpret messages as interpersonal, textual memos.
Other clients might interpret messages as print files,
digital audio, software, capabilities, or data base updates.
Grapevine also offers authentication, access control,
and resource location services to clients. For example, a
document preparation system might use Grapevine's
resource location service to find a suitable printing server
attached to the internet (and then the message delivery
service to transfer a document there for printing) or a
file server might use Grapevine's authentication and
access control services to decide if a read request for a
particular file should be honored.
Grapevine's clients run on various workstations and
server computers attached to the internet. Grapevine
itself is implemented as programs running on server
computers dedicated to Grapevine. A client accesses the
services provided by Grapevine through the mediation
of a software package running on the client's computer.
The Grapevine computers cooperate to provide services
that are distributed and replicated.

2. Design Goals
We view distributed implementation of Grapevine
both as a design goal and as the implementation technique that best meets the other design goals. A primary
motivation for the Grapevine project was implementing
a useful distributed system in order to understand some
system structures that met a real set of requirements.
Once we chose message delivery as the functional domain for the project, the following specific design goals
played a significant role in determining system structure.
Grapevine makes its services available to many different clients. Thus, it should make no assumptions
about message content. Also, the integrity of these services should not in any way depend on correctness of
the clients. Though the use of an unsatisfactory client
program will affect the service given to its user, it should
not affect the service given to others. These two goals
help determine the distribution of function between
Grapevine and its clients.
Two goals relate to Grapevine's reliability properties.
First, a user or client implementor should feel confident
that if a message is accepted for delivery then it will
either be made available to its intended recipients or
returned with an indication of what went wrong. The
delivery mechanism should meet this goal in the face of
user errors (such as invalid names), client errors (such as
protocol violations), server problems (such as disk space
congestion or hardware failures), or communication difficulties (such as internet link severance or gateway
crashes). Second, failure of a single Grapevine server
computer should not mean the unavailability of the
Grapevine services to any client.
The typical interval from sending a message to its
arrival in a recipient's inbox should be a few minutes at

most. The typical interactive delay perceived by a client
program when delivering or receiving a message should
be a few seconds at most. Since small additions to
delivery times are not likely to be noticed by users, it is
permissible to improve interactive behavior at the expense of delivery time.
Grapevine should allow decentralized administration. The users of a widespread internet naturally belong
to different organizations. Such activities as admission
of users, control of the names by which they are known,
and their inclusion in distribution lists should not require
an unnatural degree of cooperation and shared conventions among administrations. An administrator should
be able to implement his decisions by interacting directly
with Grapevine rather than by sending requests to a
central agency.
Grapevine should work well in a large size range of
user communities. Administrators should be able to implement decentralized decisions to adjust storage and
computing resources in convenient increments when the
shape, size, or load patterns of the internet change.
Grapevine should provide authentication of senders
and recipients, message delivery secure from eavesdropping or content alteration, and control on use and modification of its data bases.

3. Overview
3.1 Registration Data Base
Grapevine maintains a registration data base that
maps names to information about the users, machines,
services, distribution lists, and access control lists that
those names signify. This data base is used in controlling
the message delivery service; is accessed directly for the
resource location, access control, and authentication services; and is used to configure Grapevine itself. Grapevine also makes the values in the data base available to
clients to apply their own semantics.
There are two types of entries in the registration data
base: individual and group. We call the name of an entry
in the registration data base an RName.
A group entry contains a set of RNames of other
data base entries, as well as additional information that
will be discussed later. Groups are a way of naming
collections of RNames. The groups form a naming network with no structural constraints. Groups are used
primarily as distribution lists: specifying a group RName
as a recipient for a message causes that message to be
sent to all RN ames in that group, and in contained
groups. Groups also are used to represent access control
lists and collections of like resources.
An individual entry contains an authenticator (a password), a list of inbox sites, and a connect site, as well as
additional information that will be discussed later. The
inbox site list indicates, in order of preference, the
Grapevine computers where the individual's messages
may be buffered. The way these multiple inboxes are

111

used is discussed in Sec. 4.2. The connect site is an
internet address for making a connection to the individual. Thus, an individual entry specifies ways of authenticating the identity of and communicating with-by
message delivery or internet connection-the named'
entity. Individuals are used to represent human users
and servers, in particular the servers that implement
Grapevine. Usually the connect site is used only for
individuals that represent servers. Specifying an individual RName (either a human or a server) as a recipient of
a message causes the message to be forwarded to and
buffered in an inbox for that RName.
3.2 Functions
Following is a list of the functions that Grapevine
makes available to its clients. Responses to error conditions are omitted from this description. The first three
functions constitute Grapevine's delivery service.
Accept message:

[sender, password, recipients, message-body] ~ ok
The client presents a message body from the sender
for delivery to the recipients. The sender must be
RName of an individual and the password must authenticate that individual (see below). The recipients
are individual and group RNames. The individuals
correspond directly to message recipients while the
groups name distribution lists. After Grapevine acknowledges acceptance of the message the client can
go about its other business. Grapevine then expands
any groups specified as recipients to produce the complete set of individuals that are to receive the message
and delivers the message to an inbox for each.
Message polling:

[individual] ~ {empty, nonempty}
Message polling is used to determine whether an
individual's inboxes contain messages that can be
retrieved. We chose not to authenticate this function
so it would respond faster and load the Grapevine
computers less.
Retrieve messages:

[name, password] ~ sequence of messages ~ ok
The client presents an individual's name and password. If the password authenticates the individual
then Grapevine returns all messages from the corresponding in boxes. When the client indicates "ok,"
Grapevine erases these messages from those inboxes.
Grapevine's authentication, access control, and resource
location services are implemented by the remaining functions. These are called the registration service, because
they are all based on the registration data base.
Authenticate:

[individual, password] ~ {authentic, bogus}
The authentication function allows any client to
determine the authenticity of an individual. An indi-

112

vidual/password combination is authentic if the password matches the one in the individual's registration
data base entry.1
Membership:

[name, group] ~ {in, out}
Grapevine returns an indication of whether the
name is included in the group. Usually the client is
interpreting the group as an access control list. There
are two forms of the membership function. One indicates direct membership in the named group; the other
indicates membership in its closure.
Resource location:

[group] ~ members
[individual] ~ connect site
[individual] ~ ordered list of inbox sites
The first resource location function returns a
group's membership set. If the group is interpreted as
a distribution list, this function yields the individual
recipients of a message sent to the distribution list; if
the group is interpreted as the name of some service,
this function yields the names of the servers that offer
the service. For a group representing a service, combining the first function with the second enables a
client to discover the internet addresses of machines
offering the service, as described in Sec. 5. The third
function is used for message delivery and retrieval as
described in Sec. 4.
Registration data base update and inquiry:

There are various functions for adding and deleting
names in the registration data base, and for inspecting
and changing the associated values.
3.3 Registries
We use a partitioned naming scheme for RNames.
The partitions serve as the basis for dividing the administrative responsibility, and for distributing the data base
among the Grapevine computers. We structure the name
space of RNames as a two-level hierarchy. An RName
is a character string of the form F.R where R is a registry
name and F is a name within that registry. Registries can
correspond to organizational, geographic, or other arbitrary partitions that exist within the user community. A
two-level hierarchy is appropriate for the size and organizational complexity of our user community, but a
larger community or one with more organizational diversity would cause us to use a three-level scheme. Using
more levels would not be a fundamental change to
Grapevine.

I This password-based authentication scheme is intrinsically weak.
Passwords are transmitted over the internet as clear-text and clients of
the authentication service see individuals' passwords. [t also does not
provide two-way authentication: clients cannot authenticate servers.
The Grapevine design includes proper encryption-based authentication
and security facilities that use Needham and Schroeder's protocols [9]
and the Federal Data Encryption Standard [8]. These better facilities,
however, are not implemented yet.

3.4 Distribution of Function
As indicated earlier, Grapevine is implemented by
code that runs in dedicated Grapevine computers, and
by code that runs in clients' computers. The code running
in a Grapevine computer is partitioned into two parts,
called the registration server and the message server.
Although one registration server and one message server
cohabit each Grapevine computer, they should be
thought of as separate entities. (Message servers and
registration servers communicate with one another
purely by internet protocols.) Several Grapevine computers are scattered around the internet, their placement
being dictated by load and topology. Their registration
servers work together to implement the registration service. Their message servers work together to implement
the delivery service. As we will see in Secs. 4 and 5,
message and registration services are each clients of the
other.
The registration data base is distributed and replicated. Distribution is at the grain of a registry; that is,
each registration server contains either entries for all
RNames in a registry or no entries for that registry.
Typically no registration server contains all registries.
Also, each registry is replicated in several different registration servers. Each registration server supports, by
publicly available internet protocols, the registration
functions described above for names in the registries that
it contains. Any server that contains the data for a
registry can accept a change to that registry. That server
takes the responsibility for propagating the change to the
other relevant servers.
Any message server is willing to accept any message
for delivery, thus providing a replicated mail submission
service. Each message server will accept message polling
and retrieval requests for inboxes on that server. An
individual may have inboxes on several message servers,
thus replicating the delivery path for the individual.
If an increase in Grapevine's capacity is required to
meet expanding load, then another Grapevine computer
can be added easily without disrupting the operation of
existing servers or clients. If usage patterns change, then
the distribution of function among the Grapevine computers can be changed for a particular individual, or for
an entire registry. As we shall see later this redistribution
is facilitated by using the registration data base to describe the configuration of Grapevine itself.
The code that runs in clients' machines is called the
Grapevine User package. There are several versions of the
GrapevineUser package: one for each language or operating environment. Their function and characteristics
are sufficiently similar, however, that they may be
thought of as a single package. This package has two
roles: it implements the internet protocols for communicating with particular Grapevine servers; and it performs the resource location required to choose which
server to contact for a particular function, given the data
distribution and server availability situation of the moment. GrapevineUser thus makes the multiple Grape-

vine servers look like a single service. A client using the
GrapevineUser package never has to mention the name
or internet address of a particular Grapevine server. The
GrapevineUser package is not trusted by the rest of
Grapevine. Although an incorrect package could affect
the services provided to any client that uses it, it cannot
affect the use of Grapevine by other clients. The implementation of Grapevine, however, includes engineering
decisions based on the known behavior of the
GrapevineUser package, on the assumption that most
clients will use it or equivalent packages.

3.5 Examples of How Grapevine Works
With Fig. 2 we consider examples of how Grapevine
works. If a user named P. Q were using workstation I to
send a message to X. Y., then events would proceed as
follows. After the user had prepared the message using
a suitable client program, the client program would call
the delivery function of the GrapevineUser package on
workstation 1. GrapevineUser would contact some registration server such as A and use the Grapevine resource
location functions to locate any message server such as
B; it would then submit the message to B. For each
recipient, B would use the resource location facilities,
and suitable registration servers (such as A) to determine
that recipient's best in box site. For the recipient X. Y, this
might be message server C, in which case B would
forward the message to C. C would buffer this message
locally in the inbox for X. Y. If the message had more
recipients, the message server B might consult other
registration servers and forward the message to multiple
message servers. If some of the recipients were distribution lists, B would use the registration servers to obtain
the members of the appropriate groups.
When X. Y wishes to use workstation 2 to read his
mail, his client program calls the retrieval function of the
GrapevineUser package in workstation 2. GrapevineUser uses some registration server (such as D) that
contains the Y registry to locate inbox sites for X. Y, then
connects to each of these inbox sites to retrieve his
messages. Before allowing this retrieval, C uses a registration server to authenticate X. Y.
If X. Y wanted to access a file on the file server E
through some file transfer program (FTP) the file server
might authenticate his identity and check access control
lists by communicating with some registration server
(such as A).
3.6 Choice of Functions
The particular facilities provided by Grapevine were
chosen because they are required to support computer
mail. The functions were generalized and separated so
other applications also could make use of them. If they
want to, the designers of other systems are invited to use
the Grapevine facilities. Two important benefits occur,
however, if Grapevine becomes the only mechanism for
authentication and for grouping individuals by organization, interest, and function. First, if Grapevine per-

113

,-

Fig. 2. Distribution of Function.

I
I
I
I
I
I
I
L -

/

-I
I

GRAPEVINE
Registration
I. . . .
"'Server "A"
/
I"
locate
authenticate

authenticate. membership
Registration
Server"D"
. / I"
locat{ I"
auth entlcate

"

forward

,1/

I

I

Message
Server "8"
/ I'
send
locate

--

/

I"

I

retrieve

~-

I

I

Message
Server "C"

----- -

-

---

f--

GrapevineUser

I
I
I
I
I

File Server" E"
/

I'

FrP
connection

I

GrapevineUser

GrapevineUser

Workstation 2

Workstation 1
Client program

Client program

user "P.Q"

user "X.Y"

forms all authentications, then users have the same name
and password everywhere, thus simplifying many administrative operations. Second, if Grapevine is used everywhere for grouping, then the same group structure can
be used for many different purposes. For example, a
single group can be an access control list for several
different file 'servers and also be a distribution list for
message delivery. The groups in the registration data
base can capture the structure of the user community in
one place to be used in many ways.
4. Message Delivery

We now consider the message delivery service in
more detail.
4.1 Acceptance
To submit a message for delivery a client must establish an internet connection to a message server; any
operational server will do. This resource location step,
done by the GrapevineUser package, is described in
Sec. 5. Once such a connection is established, the
GrapevineUser package simply translates client procedure calls into the corresponding server protocol actions.
If that particular message server crashes or otherwise
becomes inaccessible during the message submission,
then the GrapevineUser package locates another message server (if possible) and allows the client to restart
the message submission.
The client next presents the RName and password of
the sender, a returnTo RName, and a list of recipient
RNames. The message server authenticates the sender
by using the registration service. If the authentication
fails, the server refuses to accept the message for delivery.
Each recipient RName is then checked to see if it

114

I

matches an RName in the registration data base. All
invalid recipient names are reported back to the client.'
In the infrequent case that no registration server for a
registry is accessible, all RNames in that registry are
presumed for the time being to be valid. The server
constructs a property list for the message containing the
sender name, returnTo name, recipient list, and a postmark. The postmark is a unique identification of the
message, and consists of the server's clock reading at the
time the message was presented for delivery together
with the server's internet address. Next, the client machine presents the message body to the server. The server
puts the property list and message body in reliable
storage, indicates that the message is accepted for delivery, and closes the connection. The client may cancel
delivery anytime prior to sending the fmal packet of the
message body, for example, after being informed of
invalid recipients.
Only the property list is used to direct delivery. A
client might obtain the property values by parsing a text
message body and require that the parsed text be syntactically separated as a "header," but this happens
before Grapevine is involved in the delivery. The property list stays with the message body throughout the
delivery process and is available to the receiving client.
Grapevine guarantees that the recipient names in the
property list were used to control the delivery of the
message, and that the sender RName and postmark are
accurate.
4.2 Transport and Buffering
Once a message is accepted for delivery, the client
may go about its other business. The message server,
however, has more to do. It first determines the complete
list of individuals that should receive the message by

recursively enumerating groups in the property list. It
obtains from the registration service each individual's
inbox site list. It chooses a destination message server for
each on the basis of the inbox site list ordering and its
opinion of the present accessibility of the other message
servers. The individual names are accumulated in steering lists, one for each message server to which the message should be forwarded and one for local recipients.
The message server then forwards the message and appropriate steering list to each of the other servers, and
places the message in the inboxes for local recipients.
Upon receiving a forwarded message from another
server, the same algorithm is performed using the individuals in the incoming steering list as the recipients, all
of which will have local inboxes unless the registration
data base has changed. The message server stores the
property list and body just once on its local disk and
places references to the disk object in the individual's
inboxes. This sharing of messages that appear in more
that one local inbox saves a considerable amount of
storage in the server.2
With this delivery algorithm, messages for an individual tend to accumulate at the server that is first on
the inbox site list. Duplicate elimination, required because distribution lists can overlap, is achieved while
adding the message into the inboxes by being sure never
to add a message if that same message, as identified by
its postmark, was the one previously added to that inbox.
This duplicate elimination mechanism fails under certain
unusual circumstances such as servers crashing or the
data base changing during the delivery process, but
requires less computation than the alternative of sorting
the list of recipient individuals.
In some circumstances delivery must be delayed, for
example, all of an individual's inbox sites or a registry's
registration servers may be inaccessible. In such cases
the message is queued for later delivery.
In some circumstances delivery will be impossible:
for example, a recipient RName may be removed from
the registration data base between validation and delivery, or a valid distribution list may contain invalid
RNames. Occasionally delivery may not occur within a
reasonable time, for example, a network link may be
down for several days. In such cases the message server
mails a copy of the message to an appropriate RName
with a text explanation of what the problem was and
who did not get the message. The appropriate RName
for this error notification may be the returnTo name
recorded in the message's property list or the owner of
the distribution list that contained the invalid name, as
recorded in a group entry in the registration data base.
Even this error notification can fail, however, and ulti2 As another measure to conserve disk storage, messages from an
inbox not emptied within seven days are copied to a file server and the
references in the inbox are changed to point at these archived copies.
Archiving is transparent to clients: archived messages are transferred
back through the message server when messages from the inbox are
retrieved.

mately such messages end up in a dead letter inbox for
consideration by a human administrator.
4.3 Retrieval
To retrieve new messages for an individual, a client
invokes the GrapevineUser package to determine the
internet addresses of all inbox sites for the individual,
and to poll each site for new messages by sending it a
single inbox check packet containing the individual's
RName. For each positive response, GrapevineUserconnects to the message server and presents the individual's
name and password. If these are authentic, then the
message server permits the client to inspect waiting
messages one at a time, obtaining first the property list
and then the body. When a client has safely stored the
messages, it may send an acknowledgment to the message server. On receipt of this acknowledgment, the
server discards all record of the retrieved messages.
Closing the retrieval connection without acknowledgment causes the message server to retain these messages.
For the benefit of users who want to inspect new messages when away from their personal workstation, the
message server also allows the client to specify that some
messages from the inbox be retained and some be discarded.
There is no guarantee that messages will be retrieved
in the order they were presented for delivery. Since the
inbox is read first-in, first-out and messages tend to
accumulate in the first inbox of an individual's inbox site
list, however, this order is highly likely to be preserved.
The postmark allows clients who care to sort their messages into approximate chronological order. The order is
approximate because the postmarks are based on the
time as perceived by individual message servers, not on
any universal time.
4.4 Use of Replication in Message Delivery
Replication is used to achieve a highly available
message delivery service. Any message server can accept
any message for delivery. Complete replication of this
acceptance function is important because the human
user of a computer mail client may be severely inconvenienced if he cannot present a message for delivery
when he wants to. He would have to put the message
somewhere and remember to present it later. Fortunately, complete replication of the acceptance function
is cheap and simple to provide. Message transport and
buffering, however, are not completely replicated. Once
accepted for delivery, the crash of a single message server
can delay delivery of a particular message until the server
is operational again, by temporarily trapping the message
in a forwarding queue or an inbox. 3 Allowing multiple
inboxes for an individual replicates the delivery path.
Unless all servers containing an individual's inbox sites
3 The servers are programmed so any crash short of a physical disk
catastrophe will not lose information. Writing a single page to the disk
is used as the primitive atomic action.

115

are inaccessible at once, new messages for that individual
can get through. We could have replicated messages in
several of an individual's inboxes, but the expense and
complexity of doing so does not seem to be justified by
the extra availability it would provide. If the immediate
delivery of a message is important then its failure to
arrive is likely to be noticed outside the system; it can be
sent again because a delivery path for new messages still
exists.

5. The Registration Data Base
The registration data base is used by Grapevine to
name registration servers, message servers, and indeed,
registries themselves. This recursive use of the registration data base to represent itself results in an implementation that is quite compact.
5.1 Implementing Registries
One registry in the data base is of particular importance, the registry named GV (for Qrapeyine). The GV
registry is replicated in every registration server; all
names of the form •. gv exist in every registration server.
The GV registry controls the distribution and replication
of the registration data base, and allows clients to locate
appropriate registration servers for particular RNames.
Each registration server is represented as an individual in the GV registry. The connect site for this individual is the internet address where clients of this registration server can connect to it. (The authenticator and
inbox site list in the entry are used also, as we will see
later.)
The groups ofthe GV registry are the registries themselves; reg is a registry if and only if there exists a group
reg.gv. The members of this group are the RNames of
the registration servers that contain the registry. The GV
registry is represented this way too. Since the GV registry
is in every registration server, the membership set for
gv.gv includes the RNames of all registration servers.
5.2 Message Se"er Names
Each message server is represented as an individual
in the MS registry (for message ~rvers). The connect
site in this entry is the internet address where clients of
this message server can connect to it. (The authenticator
and inbox site list in the entry are used also, as we will
see later.) It is message server RNames that appear in
individuals' inbox site lists.
A group in the MS registry, Maildrop.ms, contains as
members some subset (usually, but not necessarily, all)
of the message server RNames. This group is used to
fmd a message server that will accept a message for·
delivery.
5.3 Resource Location
The registration data base is used to locate resources.
In general, a service is represented as a group in the data

116

base; servers are individuals. The members of the group
are the RNames of the servers offering the service; the
connect sites of the individuals are the internet addresses
for the servers. To contact an instance of the service, a
client uses the GrapevineUser package to obtain the
membership of the group and then to obtain the connect
site of each member. The client then may choose among
these addresses, for example, on the basis of closeness
and availability.
The GrapevineUser package employs such a resource
location strategy to find things in the distributed registration data base. Assume for a moment that there is a
way of getting the internet address of some operational
registration server, say Cabernet.gv. GrapevineUser can
find the internet addresses of those registration servers
that contain the entry for RName fr by connecting to
Cabernet.gv and asking it to produce the membership of
r.gv. GrapevineUser can pick a particular registration
server to use by asking Cabernet.gv to produce the connect site for each server in r.gv and attempting to make
a connection until one responds. If fr is a valid name,
then any registration server in r.gv has the entry for it.
At this point GrapevineUser can extract any needed
information from the entry of fr, for example, the inbox
site list.
Similarly, GrapevineUser can obtain the internet
addresses of message servers that are willing to accept
messages for delivery by using this resource location
mechanism to locate the servers in the group
MailDrop.ms. Any available server on this list will do.
In practice, these resource location algorithms are
streamlined so that although the general algorithms are
very flexible, the commonly occurring cases are handled
with acceptable efficiency. For example, a client may
assume initially that any registration server contains the
data base entry for a particular name; the registration
server will return the requested information or a name
not found error if this registration server knows the
registry, and otherwise will return a wrong server error.
To obtain a value from the registration data base a client
can try any registration server; only in the case of a
wrong server response does the client need to perform the
full resource location algorithm.
We are left with the problem of determining the
internet address of some registration server in order to
get started. Here it is necessary to depend on some more
primitive resource location protocol. The appropriate
mechanism depends on what primitive facilities are
available in the internet. We use two mechanisms. First,
on each local network is a primitive name lookup server,
which can be contacted by a broadcast protocol. The
name lookup server contains an infrequently updated
data base that maps character strings to internet addresses. We arrange for the fixed character string
GrapevineRServer to be entered in this data base and
mapped to the internet addresses of some subset of the
registration servers in the internet. The GrapevineUser
package can get a set of addresses of registration servers

using the broadcast name lookup protocol, and send a
distinctive packet to each of these addresses. Any accessible registration server will respond to such pack~ts, and
the client may then attempt to connect to whlchever
server responds. Second, we broadcast a distincti.ve
packet on the directly connected local network. ~gam,
any accessible registration server will respond. Thls second mechanism is used in addition to the first because,
when there is a registration server on the local network,
the second method gives response faster and allows a
client to find a local registration server when the name
lookup server is down.

Part II. Grapevine as a Distributed System
6. Updating the Registration Data Base
The choice of methods for managing the distributed
registration data base was largely determined by the
requirement that Grapevine provide highly available,
decentralized administrative functions. Administrative
functions are performed by changing the registration
data base. Replication of this data base makes high
availability of administrative functions possible. An inappropriate choice of the method for ensuring the consistency of copies of the data, however, might limit this
potential high availability. In particular, if we demanded
that data base updates be atomic across all servers, then
most servers would have to be accessible before any
update could be started. For Gra~vine, the nature of
the services dependent on the registration data allows a
looser defmition of consistency that results in higher
availability ofthe update function. Grapevine guarantees
only that the copies of a registration data base entry
eventually will have the same new value following an
update to one of them. If all servers containing copies
are up and can communicate with one another, convergence will occur within a few minutes at most. While an
update is converging, clients may detect inconsistency by
reading the value of an entry from several servers.
6.1 Representation
The value for each entry in the registration data base
is represented mainly as a collection of lists. The membership set of a group is one such list. Each list is
represented as two sublists of items, called the ac~ive
sublist and the deleted sublist. An item consists of a strmg
and a timestamp. A particular string can appear only
once in a list, either in the active or the deleted sublist.
A timestamp is a unique identifier whose most significant
bits are a time and least significant bits an internet
address. The time is that perceived by the server that
placed the item in the list; the address is that server's.
Because a particular server never includes the same time
in two different timestamps, all timestamps from all
servers are totally ordered. 4

Fig. 3. A Group from the Registration Data Base.
Prefix: [1·Apr-81 12:46:45,3#14), type = group, LaurelImpj.pa
Remark: (stamp=[22-Aug-80 23:42:14, 3#22)) Laurel Team
Members: Birrell.pa Brotz.pa, Horning.pa, Levin.pa, Schroeder.pa
,Stamp-list: [23-Aug·SO 17:27:45,3#22), [23-Aug-80 17:42:35,3#22),
[23·Aug-80 19:04:54,3#22), [23-Aug-80 19:31:01,3#22), [23-Aug80 20:50:23, 3#22)
DelMembers: Butterfie1d.pa
Stamp-list: [25-Mar-S1 14:15:12,3#14)
Owners: Brotz.pa
Stamp-list: [22-Aug-SO 23:43:09,3#14)
DelOwners: none
Stamp-list: null
Friends: LaurelImpj.pa
Stamp·list: [l-Apr-S1 12:46:45,3#14)
DelFriends: none
Stamp-list: null

For example, Fig. 3 presents the complete entry for
a group named "LaurelImpt.pa" from the registration
data base as it appeared in early April 1981. There are
three such lists in this entry: the membership set labeled
members and two access control lists labeled owners and
friends (see Sec. 6.5 for the semantics of these). Th~re
are five current members followed by the correspondmg
five timestamps, and one deleted member follow~d by
the corresponding timestamp. The owners and fnends
lists each contain one name and no deletions are recorded
from either.
A registration data base entry also contains a version
timestamp. This timestamp, which has the same form as
an item timestamp, functions as an entry's version n~m­
ber. Whenever anything in an entry changes the verSlOn
timestamp increases in value, usually to t~e maxim~m
of the other timestamps in the entry. When mterrogatmg
the data base, a client can compare the version timestamp
on which it based some cached information with that in
the data base. If the cached timestamp matches then the
client is saved the expense of obtaining the data base
value again and recomputing the cached in~o~ati~n.
The version timestamp appears in the prefix line m Flg.
3.
6.2 Primitive Operations
Grapevine uses two primitive operations on the ~sts
in a registration data base entry. An update oper~tlon
can add or delete a list item. To add/delete the strmg s
to/from a list, any item with the matching string in either
of the sublists first is removed. Then a timestamp t is
produced from the server's internet address. and clock.
Finally the item (s, t) is added to the actlve/deleted
sublist. A merge operation combines two versions of a
complete list to produce a new list with the mo~t r~cent
information from both. Each string that appears m elther
4 The item timestamps in the active sublist are used to imply the
preference order for the inbox site list in ~ indi~idual's entry; o~der
items are preferred. Thus, deleting then addmg a sIte name moves It to
the end of the preference ordering.

117

version will appear precisely once in the result. Each
string will be in the active or deleted sublist of the result
according to the largest timestamp value associated with
that string in either version. That largest timestamp value
also provides the timestamp for the string in the result.
Keeping the sublists sorted by string value greatly increases the speed with which the merge can be performed. The update and merge operations are atomic in
each particular server.
6.3 Propagation
The administrative interface to Grapevine is provided by client software running in an administrator's
computer. To make a change to the data of any registry,
a client machine uses the resource location facilities of
the GrapevineUser package to fmd and connect to some
registration server that knows about that registry. That
registration server performs an update operation on the
local copy of an entry. Once this update has been completed the client can go about its other business. The
server propagates the change to the replicas of the entry
in other servers. The means used to propagate the change
is Grapevine's delivery service itself, since it gives a
guarantee of delivery and provides buffering when other
servers are temporarily inaccessible. As described in Sec.
5.1, the members of the group that represent a registry
are the registration servers that contain a copy of the
data for that registry. Thus, if the change is to an entry
in the reg registry, the accepting server sends a change
message to the members, other than itself, of the distribution list reg.gv. A change message contains the name
of the affected entry and the entire new value for the
entry. Registration servers poll their inboxes for new
messages every 30 seconds. When a change message is
received by a server it uses merge operations to combine
the entry from the change message with its own copy.
With this propagation algorithm, the same fmal state
eventually prevails everywhere. When a client makes
multiple updates to an entry at the same server, a compatible sequence of entry values will occur everywhere,
even if the resulting change messages are processed in
'different orders by different servers. If two administrators perform conflicting updates to the data base such as
adding and removing the same member of a group,
initiating the updates at different servers at nearly the
same time, it is hard to predict which one of them will
prevail; this appears to be acceptable, since the administrators presumably are not communicating with each
other outside the system. Also, since copies will be out of
step until the change messages are received and acted
upon, clients must be prepared to cope with transient
inconsistencies. The algorithms used by clients have to
be convergent in the sense that an acceptable result will
eventually ensue even if different and inconsistent versions of the registration data appear at various stages in
a computation. The message delivery algorithms have
this property. Similar update propagation techniques
have been proposed by others who have encountered

118

situations that do not demand instantaneous consistency
[10, 13].
If deleted items were never removed from an entry,

continued updates would cause the data base to grow.
Deleted items are kept in an entry so that out-of-order
arrival of change messages involving addition followed
by deletion of the same string will not cause the wrong
fmal state. Deleted items also provide a record of recent
events for use by human administrators. We declare an
upper bound of 14 days upon the clock asynchrony
among the registration servers, on message delivery delay, and on administrative hindsight. The Grapevine
servers each scan their local data base once a day during
inactive periods and purge all deleted items older than
the bound.
If a change message gets destroyed because of a
software bug or equipment failure, there is a danger that
a permanent inconsistency will result. Since a few destroyed messages over the life of the system are inevitable, we must provide some way to resynchronize the data
base. At one point we dealt with this problem by detecting during the merge operation whether the local copy
of the entry contained information that was missing from
the incoming copy. Missing information caused the
server to send the result of the merge in a change message
to all servers for the registry. While this "anti-entropy"
mechanism tended to push the data base back into a
consistent state, the effect was too haphazard to be useful;
errors were not corrected until the next change to an
entry. Our present plan for handling long-term inconsistencies is for each registration server periodically, say
once a night, to compare its copy of the data base for a
registry with another and to use merges to resolve any
inconsistencies that are discovered. The version timestamp in each entry makes this comparison efficient: if
two version timestamps are equal then the entries match.
Care must be taken that the comparisons span all registration servers for a registry, or else disconnected regions
of inconsistency can survive.
6.4 Creating and Deleting Names
The rule that the latest timestamp wins does not deal
adequately with the creation of new names. If two administrators connect to two different registration servers
at about the same time and try to create a new data base
entry with the same name, it is likely that both will
succeed. When this data base change propagates, the
entry with the latest time timestamp will prevail. The
losing administrator may be very surprised, if he ever
fmds out. Because the later creation could be trapped in
a crashed registration server for some time, an administrator could never be sure that his creation had won. For
name creation we want the earlier creation to prevail. To
achieve this effect, we faced the possibility of having to
implement one of the known and substantial algorithms
for atomic updates to replicated databases [3], which
seemed excessive, or of working out a way to make all
names unique by appending a hidden timestamp, which

seemed complex. We instead fell back on observations
about the way in which systems of this nature are used.
For each registry there is usually some human-level
centralization of name creation, if only to deal with
questions of suitability of RNames (not having a junior
clerk preempt the RName which everyone would associate with the company president). We consider this
centralization enough to solve the problem. Note that
there is no requirement that a particular server be used
for name creation: there is no centralization at the machine level.
Deleting names is straightforward. A deleted entry is
marked as such and retained in the data base with a
version timestamp. Further updates to a deleted entry
are not allowed. Recreation of a deleted entry is not
allowed. Sufficiently old deleted entries are removed
from the data base by the purging process described in
Sec. 6.3.

entry emit the message; we achieve this effect by having
each registration server emit such a message as the
change is made. A message server receiving an inbox
removal message simply redelivers all messages in the
affected inbox. Redelivery is sufficient to rebuffer the
messages in the proper server. In the system as implemented a simplification is made; inbox removal messages
are sent to all inbox sites for the affected individual, not
just to removed sites. While this may appear to be
wasteful, it is most unusual for any site other than the
primary one to have anything to redeliver.
Other registration service clients that use the registration data base to control resource bindings may also
desire notification of changes to certain entries. A general
notification facility would require allowing a notification
list to be associated with any data base entry. Any change
to an entry would result in a message being sent to the
RNames on its notification list. We have not provided
this general facility in the present implementation, but
would do so if the system were reimplemented.

6.S Access Controls

An important aspect of system administration is control of who can make which administrative changes. To
address this need we associate two access control lists
with each group: the owners list and the friends list. These
lists appear in the example entry in Fig. 3. The interpretation of these access lists is the responsibility of the
registration server. For ordinary groups the conventions
are as follows: membership in the owners list confers
permission to add or remove any group member, owner,
or friend; membership in the friends list confers permission to add or remove oneself. The names in the owners
and friends lists may themselves be the names of groups.
Quite separately, clients of the registration server have
freedom to use membership in groups for access control
purposes about which the registration server itself knows
nothing at all. The owners and friends lists on the groups
that represent registries are used to control name creation
and deletion within registries; these lists also provide the
default access controls on groups whose owners list is
empty. While we have spent some time adjusting the
specific semantics of the Grapevine access controls, we
do not present further details here.
6.6 Other Consequences of Changes
The registration servers and message servers are normal clients of one another's services, with no special
relationship. Registration servers use message server delivery functions and message servers use the registration
service to authenticate clients, locate inboxes, etc. This
view, however, is not quite complete. If a change is made
to the inbox locations of any individual, notice has to be
given to all message servers that are removed, so they
can redeliver any messages for that individual buffered
in local inboxes. Notice is given by the registration server
delivering a message to the message servers in question
informing them of the change. Correctness requires that
the last registration server that changes its copy of the

7. Finding an Inbox Site

The structure and distribution of the Grapevine registration data base are quite complex, with many indirections. Algorithms for performing actions based on this
data base should execute reliably in the face of administrative changes to the registration data base (including
those which cause dynamic reconfiguration of the system) and multiple servers that can crash independently.
In their full generality such algorithms are expensive to
execute. To counter this, we have adopted a technique
of using caches and hints to optimize these algorithms.
By cache we mean a record of the parameters and results
of previous calculations. A cache is useful if accessing it
is much faster than repeating the calculation and frequently produces the required value. By hint we mean a
value that is highly likely to be correct and that is faster
to check than to recalculate. To illustrate how caches
and hints can work, we describe here in some detail how
the message server caches hints about individuals' inbox
sites.
The key step in the delivery process is mapping the
name of an individual receiving a message to the preferred inbox site. The mapping depends upon the current
state of the registration data base and the availability of
particular message servers. To make this mapping process as efficient as possible, each message server maintains an inbox site cache that maps RNames of individuals to a hint for the currently preferred inbox site. Each
message server also maintains a down server list containing the names of message servers that it believes to be
inaccessible at present. A message server is placed on
this list when it does not accept connections or fails
during a connection. The rules for using the inbox site
cache to determine the preferred message server for a
recipient I are:

119

1. If an entry for I is in the cache and the site indicated
for I in the cache is not on the down server list, then
use that site;
2. Otherwise get the inbox site list for I from the
registration service; cache and return for use the first
site not on the down server list; if the selected site is
not fust on the list, mark the entry as "secondary."
There has to be a rule for removing message servers
from the down server list; this happens when the server
shows signs of life by responding to a periodic single
packet poll.
When a message server is removed from the down
server list, the inbox site cache must be brought up to
date. Any entry that is marked as "secondary" and that
is not the revived site could be there as a substitute for
the revived site; all such entries are removed from the
cache. This heuristic removes from the cache a superset
of the entries whose preferred inbox site has changed
(but not all entries in the cache) and will cause recalculation of the preferred inbox site for those entries the
next time they are needed.
We noted earlier that changing an individual's inbox
site list may require a message server to redeliver all
messages in that individual's inbox, and that this redelivery is triggered by messages from registration servers to
the affected message servers. The same changes also can
cause site caches to become out-of-date. Part of this
problem is solved by having the inbox redelivery messages also trigger appropriate site cache flushing in the
servers that had an affected inbox. Unfortunately any
message server potentially has a site cache entry made
out-of-date by the change. Instead of sending a message
to all message servers, we correct the remaining obsolete
caches by providing feedback from one message server
to another when incorrect forwarding occurs as a result
of an out-of-date cache. Thus, the site cache really does
contain hints.
To summarize the cache flushing and redelivery arrangements, then, registration servers remove servers
from an inbox site list and send messages to all servers
originally on the list. Each responds by removing any
entry for the subject individual from its site cache and
redelivering any messages found in that individual's
inbox. During this redelivery process, the cache entry
will naturally be refreshed. Other message servers with
out-of-date caches may continue to forward messages
here for the subject individual. Upon receiving any
message forwarded from another server, then, the target
message server repeats the inbox site mapping for each
name in the steering list. If the preferred site is indeed
this target message server, then the message is added to
the corresponding inbox. If not, then the target site does
the following:
1. Forwards the message according to the new mapping
result;
2. Sends a cache flush notification for the subject individual back to the server that incorrectly forwarded
the message here.

120

The cache flush notification is a single packet sent unreliably: if it fails to arrive, another one will be provoked
in due course. This strategy results in the minimum of
cache flush notifications being sent-one to each message server whose cache actually needs attention, sent
when the need for attention has become obvious. This
mechanism is more economical than the alternative of
sending cache flush notifications to all message servers,
and even if that were done it would still be necessary to
cope with the arrival of messages at old inbox sites.
8. System Configuration
As described in Sec. 5, the configuration of the
Grapevine system is controlled by its registration data
base. Various entries in the data base defme the servers
available to Grapevine and the ways in which the data
and functions of Grapevine are distributed among them.
We now consider procedures for reconfiguring Grapevine.
8.1 Adding and Deleting Registry Replicas
The set of registration servers that contain some
registry is defined by the membership set for the corresponding group in the GV registry. When a change
occurs to this membership set, the affected server(s) need
to acquire or discard a copy of the registry data. To
discover such changes, each registration server simply
monitors all change messages for groups in the GV
registry, watching for additions or deletions of its own
name. A registration server responds to being deleted by
discarding the local replica of the registry. With the
present implementation, a registration server ignores
being added to a registry site list. Responding to a
registry addition in the obvious way-by connecting to
another registration server for the registry and retrieving
the registry data-is not sufficient. Synchronization
problems arise that can lead to the failure to send change
messages to the added server. Solving these problems
may require the use of global locks, but we would prefer
a solution more compatible with the looser synchronization philosophy of Grapevine. For the present obtaining a registry replica is triggered manually, after waiting
for the updates to the GV registry to propagate and after
ensuring that other such reconfigurations are not in
progress.
8.2 Creating Servers
Installing a new Grapevine computer requires creating a new registration server and a new message server.
To create the new registration server named, say, Zinfandel.gv, a system administrator fust creates that individual
(with password) in the registration data base, and gives
it a connect site that is the internet address of the new
computer. Next, Zinfandel.gv is added to the membership
set of all registries that are to be recorded in this new
registration server. To create the new message server

named, say, Zinfandel.ms, the administrator creates that
individual with the same connect site, then adds Zinfandel.ms to MaiIDrop.ms. Both servers are assigned inbox
sites.
Once the data base changes have been made, the
registration and message servers are started on the new
computer. The first task for each is to determine its own
name and password so that it may authenticate itself to
the other Grapevine servers. A server obtains its name
by noting its own internet address, which is always
available to a machine, then consulting the data base in
a different registration server to determine which server
is specifIed to be at that address: the registration server
looks for a name in the group gv.gv, the message server
looks for a name in the group MaiIDrop.ms. Having
found its name, the server asks a human operator to type
its password; the operator being able to do this correctly
is the fundamental source of the server's authority. The
server verifies its password by the authentication protocol, again using a registration server that is already in
operation, and then records its name and password on
its own disk. The new registration server then consults
some other registration server to obtain the contents of
the GV registry in order to determine which groups in
the GV registry contain its name: these specify which
registries the new server should contain. It then contacts
appropriate other servers to obtain copies of the data
base for these registries. Because the new server can
authenticate itself as an individual in the GV registry,
other registration servers are willing to give it entire data
base entries, including individuals' passwords.
Obtaining the registry replicas for the new registration server suffers from the same synchronization problems as adding a registry replica to an existing server.
We solve them the same way, by waiting for the administrative updates to the GV registry to propagate before
starting the new computer and avoiding other simultaneous reconfIgurations.
8.3 Stopping and Restarting Servers
Stopping a server is very easy. Grapevine computers
can be stopped without disturbing any disk write in
progress. The message and registration servers are programmed so that, when interrupted between disk page
writes, they can be restarted without losing any permanent information. While a message or registration server
is not running, messages for it accumulate in its inboxes
in message servers elsewhere, to be read after it restarts.
Whenever a message and registration server restart,
each verifies its name and password by consulting other
servers, and verifies that its internet address corresponds
to the connect site recorded for it in the data base; if
necessarry it changes the connect site recorded in the
data base. Updating the connect site allows a server to
be moved to a new machine just by moving the contents
of the disk. Mter restarting, a registration server acts on
all accumulated data base change messages before declaring itself open for business.

Using the internet, it is possible, subject to suitable
access controls, to load a new software version into a
remote running Grapevine computer, stop it, and restart
it with the new version.
8.4 Other Reconfigurations
One form of reconfIguration of the system requires
great care: changing the location of inbox sites for a
registration server. Unless special precautions are taken,
the registration server may never encounter the change
message telling it about a new inbox site, because that
message is waiting for it at the new site. A similar
problem arises when we change the internet address of
a message server that contains a registration server's
inbox. Restrictions on where such data base changes can
be initiated appear to be sufficient to solve these problems, but we have not automated them. Although this
resolution of this problem is somewhat inelegant, the
problem is not common enough to justify special mechanisms.

Part III. Conclusions

9. Present State
The Grapevine system was first made available to a
limited number of clients during 1980. At present (Fall
1981) it is responsible for most of the mail traffic and
distribution lists on the Xerox research internet. There
are five dedicated Grapevine computers, each containing
a registration server and a message server. The computers
are physically distributed among northern and southern
California and New York. The registration data base
contains about 1500 individuals and 500 groups, divided
mainly into four major registries; there are two other
registries used by nonmail clients of the registration
service, plus the GV and MS registries. The total message
traffic amounts to some 2500 messages each working
day, with an average of 4 recipients each; the messages
average about 500 characters, and are almost exclusively
text.
The registration data base also is used for authentication and configuration of various fIle servers, for authentication and access control in connection with maintenance of the basic software and data bases that support
our internet gateways, and for resource location associated with remote procedure call binding. The registration
data base is administered almost exclusively by nontechnical staff. There are at least three separate computer
mail interface programs in use for human-readable mail.
Most mail system users add and delete themselves from
various distribution lists, removing this tiresome job from
administrative staff.
The Grapevine registration and message servers are
programmed in Mesa [7]. They contain some 33,000 lines

121

of custom written code, together with standard packages
for runtime support and PUP-level communications. The
Grapevine computers are Altos [12] with 128K bytes
of main memory and 5M bytes of disk storage. A running
Grapevine computer has between 40 and 70 Mesa processes [4], and can handle 12 simultaneous connections.
The peak load of messages handled by a single message
server so far exceeds 150 per hour and 1000 messages
per day. One server handled 30,000 messages while
running for 1000 hours. The maximum number of primary inboxes that have been assigned to a server is 380.

10. Discussion

The fundamental design decision to use a distributed
data base as the basis for Grapevine's message delivery
services has worked out well. The distributed data base
allowed us to meet the design goals specified in Sec. 2,
and has not generated operational difficulties. The distributed update algorithms that trade atomic update for
increased availability have had the desired effect. The
temporary inconsistencies do not bother the users or
administrators and the ability to continue data base
changes while the internet is partitioned by failed longdistance links is exercised enough to be appreciated.
In retrospect, our particular implementation of the
data base for Grapevine was too inflexible. As the use of
the system grew, the need for various extensions to the
values recorded in individual and group entries has
become apparent. Reformatting the existing distributed
data base to include space for the new values is difficult
operationally. In a new implementation we would consider providing facilities for dynamic extension of the
value set in each entry. With value set extension, however, we would keep the present update algorithm and
its loose consistency guarantees. These guarantees are
sufficient for Grapevine's functional domain, and their
simplicity and efficiency are compelling. There is a requirement in a message system for some data base which
allows more flexible descriptions of recipients or distribution lists to be mapped onto message system RNames
(such as the white or yellow page services of the telephone system), but in our view that service falls outside
of Grapevine's domain. A system which provides more
flexibility in this direction is described in [2].
Providing all naming semantics by indirection
through the registration data base has been very powerful. It has allowed us to separate the concept of naming
a recipient from that of addressing the recipient. For
example, the fact that a recipient is named BirreU.pa says
nothing about where his messages should be sent. This
is in contrast to many previous message systems. Indirections also provide us with flexibility in configuring
the system.
One feature which recurs in descriptions of Grapevine is the concept of a "group" as a generalization of a

122

distribution list. Our experience with use of the system
confirms the utility of use of the single "group" mechanism for distribution lists, access control lists, services,
and administrative purposes.
Clients other than computer mail interfaces are beginning to use Grapevine's naming, authentication, and
resource location facilities. Their experience suggests that
these are an important set of primitives to provide in an
internet for constructing other distributed applications.
Message transport as a communication protocol for data
other than textual messages is a useful addition to our
set of communication protocols. The firm separation
between Grapevine and its clients was a good C:tecision;
it allows us to serve a wide variety of clients and to give
useful guarantees to our clients, even if the clients operate
in different languages and in different computing environments.
At several points in Grapevine, we have defined and
implemented mechanisms of substantial versatility. As a
consequence, the algorithms to implement these mechanisms in their full generality are expensive. The techniques of caches and hints are powerful tools that allow
us to regain acceptable efficiency without sacrificing
"correct" structure. The technique of adding caches and
hints to a general mechanism is preferable to the alternative style of using special case short cut mechanisms
whose existence complicates algorithmic invariants.
Grapevine was built partly to demonstrate the assertion that a properly designed replicated system can provide a very robust service. The chance of all replicas
being unavailable at the same time seems low. Our
experience suggests that unavailability due to hardware
failure follows this pattern. No more than one Grapevine
computer at a time has ever been down because of a
hardware problem. On the other hand, some software
bugs do not exhibit this independence. Generally all
servers are running the same software version. If a client's
action provokes a bug that causes a particular server to
fail, then in taking advantage of the service replication
that client may cause many servers to fail. A client once
provoked a protocol bug when attempting to present a
message for delivery. By systematically trying again at
each server in MailDrop.ms, that client soon crashed all
the Grapevine computers. Another widespread failure
occurred as a result of a malformed registration data
base update propagating to all servers for a particular
registry. We conclude that it is hard to design a replicated
system that is immune from such coordinated software
unreliability.
Our experience with Grapevine has reinforced our
belief in the value of producing "real" implementations
of systems to test ideas. At several points in the implementation, reality forced us to rethink initial design
proposals: for example, the arrangements to ensure longterm consistency of the data base in the presence of lost
messages. There is no alternative fO a substantial user
community when investigating how the design performs
under heavy load and incremental expansion.

Acknowledgments. Many people have contributed to
the success of the Grapevine project. Bob Taylor and
Bob Metcalfe recognized early the need for work on
computer mail systems and encouraged us to develop
Grapevine. Ben Wegbreit participated in the initial system design effort. Many colleagues have helped the
project in various ways: Dave Boggs, Doug Brotz, Jeremy
Dion, Jim Homing, Robert Kierr, and Ed Taft deserve
special mention. Jerry Saltzer and several anonymous
referees have made valuable commentaries on earlier
drafts of the paper.

References
1. Boggs, D.R., Shoch, J.F., Taft, E.A., and Metcalfe, R.M. PUP:
An internetwork architecture. IEEE Trans. on Communications 28, 4
(April 1980),612-634.
2. Dawes, N., Harris, S., Magoon, M., Maveety, S., and Petty, D.
The design and service impact of COCOS-An electronic office
system. In Computer Message Systems. R.P. Uhlig (Ed.) NorthHolland, New York, 1981, pp 373-384.
3. Gifford, O.K. Weighted voting for replicated data. In Proc. 7th
Symposium on Operating Systems Principles. (Dec. 1979), ACM Order
No. 534790, pp 150-162.
4. Lampson, B.W., and Redell, D.O. Experience with processes and
monitors in Mesa. Comm. ACM 23, 2 (Feb. 1980), \05-117.
5. Levin, R., and Schroeder, M.D. Transport of electronic messages
through a network. Telelnformatics 79, North Holland, 1979, pp. 2933; also available as Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Technical
Report CSL-79-4.
6. Metcalfe, R.M., and Boggs, D.R. Ethernet: Distributed packet
switching for local computer networks. Comm. ACM 19, 7 (July
1976),395-404.
7. Mitchell, J.G., Maybury, W., and Sweet, R. Mesa language
manual (Version 5.0) Technical Report CSL-79-3, Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center, 1979.
8. National Bureau of Standards, Data encryption standard. Federal
Information Processing Standards 46, Jan. 1977.
9. Needham, R.M., and Schroeder, M.D. Using encryption for
authentication in large networks of computers. Comm. ACM 21,12
(Dec. 1978),993-999.
10. Rothnie, J.B., Goodman, N., and Bernstein, P.A. The redundant
update methodology of SOD-I: A system for distributed databases
(The fully redundant case). Computer Corporation of America, June
1977.
11. Shoch, J.F. Internetwork naming, addressing and routing. In
Proc. 17th IEEE Computer Society International Conference, Sept.
1978, IEEE Cat. No. 78 CH 1388-8C, pp 72-79.
12. Thacker, C.P., McCreight, E.M., Lampson, B.W., Sproull, R.F.,
and Boggs, D.R. Alto: A personal computer. In D.P. Siewiorek, C.G.
Bell, and A. Newell, Computer Structures: Principles and Examples.
(2nd Ed.) McGraw-Hill, New York 1981.
13. Thomas, R.H. A solution to the update problem for multiple
copy data base which used distributed control. Bolt, Beranek and
Newman Technical Report #3340, July 1976.

123

The Information Outlet: A new tool
for office organization
by Yogen K. Dalal

OPD·T8104

October 1981

~c.strac.t: Todcy's .:Jffice can be bEttE,r orgc.nizad b~ uJing ~I,)ols that he~p in ma,1c.!;ing
information. Distributed office information systems permit an organization to control their
conversion to "the office of the future" by reducing the initial purchase cost, and by
permitting the system to evolve according to the needs and structure of the organization.
Within an organization one finds a natural partitioning of activity and interaction, which can
be preserved and exploited by local computer networks such as the Ethernet system.
Although local computer networks are the foundation of office information systems, they
should still be viewed as one component of an internetwork communication system.

The architecture of the system must permit growth both in size .and types of office services.
It must also permit interconnection with systems from other vendors through protocol
translation gateways that capture the incompatibilities, rather than forcing each application
to handle the incompatibilities
CR Categories: 3.81, 4.32.
Key words and phr'ases: office information systems, local networks, internetworks,
distributed systems.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Online Conference on Local Networks
& Distributed Office Systems, London, 11·13 May, 1981.

©

Copyright 1981

by Xerox Corporation

XEROX

, OFFICE PRODUCTS DIVISION
SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT
3333 Coyote Hill Road / Palo Alto / California 94304

124

THE I~FOR.\fATIO~ OCTLET: A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA~lZATIO~

Introduction
Managing information is an integral pan oftoday's office.
Organizations and businesses are becoming more complex, both in the way they function and
evolve. and in the services and products they offer. Information exists in many fonns, such as on
paper, as moving video images and as voice, and is constantly being generated, used and exchanged.
Executives and managers constantly process information that determines the future of their
organization, profeSSionals examine vast amounts of information that help them provide new
services and products, marketeers distribute information describing these services and products. and
the administrative staff records information on the daily progress of their organization.
Advances in technology, panicularly in the communications and computer industry, are making it
possible to build new tools that help manage information in ways that are natural to the operation
)f an ::>ffice. These rods make :J r0s~!l'1l~ To create. no~e, re~;eve, di'i)la~', modlfv reproduce anti
share information in ways that encourage creativity and increase the productivity of the office
worker. Inexpensive, yet powerful workstations simplify creating, modifying and displaying
information. Electronic filing. printing, and database systems will simplify storing, retrieving,
reproducing. and selectively extracting information.
Communication networks will permit
exchanging and sharing information.
The /njol1nation OUllet. which Xerox Corporation describes as a "plug in the wall" to an Ethernet
local computer network, is the conduit to tools that manage this' information. A sophisticated
communication and distributed systems architecture is necessary to provide meaning to the
electronic signals as they go in and out of this "plug."
This paper describes how local computer networks like the Ethernet system [Metcalfe76. Ethernet80.
Shoch80a. Shoch81a, Shoch81b] form the backbone of a distributed communication system on
which many automated office services can be built.

Distributed Architectures
With the continuing improvement in the price/perfonnance ratio of computing and
communications. the structure of computerized office information systems is beginning to change.
It is no longer necessary to have large centralized systems in order to realize economies of scale. By
pushing intelligence back into the terminal or workstation. and decentralizing resources by function
into dedicated servers, an office information system becomes a collection of loosely-coupled system
elements tied together by a communication network. System elements communicate (1) for the
economic sharing of expensive resources like electronic printing and filing systems. and (2) for the
exchange of inforrpation among users, as in the case of electronic mail.

125

THE I:-;-FOR.'1:ATIO:-;- OLiLET: A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA1'.lZATIO!'

The inherent flexibility of disqibuted systems permits an office information system to be closely tied
to the needs of the surrounding user community. The overall system may be reconfigured to satisfy
immediate and future requirements. This flexibility will prove invaluable in the business
environment, since a system will be able to evolve and adapt to changes necessitated by alterations
in an organization's requirements.
In general terms, a distributed system requires (1) a set of standards or protocols that define the
structure of data. and the rules by which it is exchanged, and (2) a binding mechanism that brings
together the relatively autonomous system elements.
It is a fortunate propeny of communication systems that functions can be layered one on top of
another. Standards for the following levels are necessary:
1) Data formats that describe files, records, documents, forms, images, voice, etc.
describe objects that an end-user is familiar with.

They

2) Control protocols that define mechanisms by which files are exchanged, documents sent
to printers, and electronic mail· delivered to recipients.

3) Transport protocols that provide media-, processor- and application-independent delivery
of data .
. 4) Digital transmission systems that specify conventions for signalling and line control.
These levels may be refined into a number of layers using the ISO Open Systems Interconnection
Reference· Model [Zimmermann80, OSI81].
Binding mechanisms are necessary for providing resource directories analogous to the telephone
system's "white" and "yellow" pages [Oppen81]. By decoupling the many objects in a system
correctly it is possible to reconfigure it easily.
Local computer networks like the Ethernet system provide digital transmission of data. They form
the very foundation upon which office information systems are built but in terms of the functions
and standards necessary to build such an integrated system they represent only about 1 to 2% of the
complexity [Metcalfe81].
We now describe various features of an architecture which make it possible to build the remaining
98% of the system in stages, as and when they are required.

Communication Systems
Within an organization one finds natural localities of activity and interaction. This usually decreases
as one moves geographically further away. While the nature and characteristics of interaction
between geographically close and geographically distant stations are different, they are both essential
to the functioning of an organization.

126

THE I:-;FOR.'dATIO~ OLTIET: A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA~IZATIO~

Communication technologies have evolved

to

provide both local and long-haul networks.

We

postulate that for a given cost the bandwidth-distance product is constant. That is, for a given cost
a local network will cover a small area and provide high bandwidth, while a long-haul network will
cover a wider area and provide lower bandwidth. Such price/performance structures are exactly
what is needed for office information systems where we expect that on the average most of the bits
transmitted will be within the natural locality of activity.
To meet the communication needs of a large organization, the design of any local network must be
considered in the context of an overall network architecture. A local network is one component of
an internetwork system that provides communications services to many diverse devices connected to
many different kinds networks (see for example [BoggsSO, Cert7S]).
There are many different kinds of local computer networks, like Ethernet, Mitrenet, Primenet.,
LocalNet. Cambridge Ring, SOLC loop, etc. [ShochSOb].

They differ along the following axes:

technology, media, topology, speed, moaulation, control, and applications.

The Ethernet system

satisfies most of the requirements for local office communications.
An internetwork is simply an interconnection of networks.

An additional protocol layer must be

interposed between the application-specific layer and the layer that transmits information across a
network. This layer, is called the internet layer, and permits the addressing of system elements on
any network and the delivery of data to them.

Internetwork transpon protocols are network-

independent and define a communication system one level higher up from local networks.
Networks are interconnected by internetwork routers. as illustrated in the figure. There are many
ways to view and build internetwork systems.

Internetworks should provide store-and-forward

deli\'ery of datagram packets.

Virtual circuit-like connections may then be easily built on top
wherever necessary. Such a strategy is adopted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency's
(ARPA) Internet and Transmission Control Protocols [IPSO, TCPSO), and Xerox's internal, research
Pup Protocols [BoggsSO]. Other schemes like X,75 assume that each of the constituent networks
provides X.25 vinual circuits that may be concatenated to provide an endow-end vinual circuit
[X25. X7S, Grossman79).
A well-designed network architecture must permit interconnection to systems from other vendors.
obeying different protocols. This is achieved by providing protocol translation gateways at different
levels. as required in the system, rather than having each application aware of all possible protocols.
Incompatibilities between different vendors (and the different products of a single vendor) is a fact
of life that must be accounted for from the very start w permit customers w integrate their existing
tools into a new system.
The Ethernet system underlies Xerox' distributed systems architecture much the same way that
SOLe underlies IBM's SNA.

It is important to note. however. that the Ethernet and the

127

THE I~rOR.\1ATIOX OCTIET: A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA~1ZATIOX

Infonnation Outlet are not alternatives to IBM's SNA. It is possible for our internetworks to use
SDLC links or broadband communication satellites or X.2S networks internally, and conversely
SNA systems may use the Ethernet local network as a communications link. Both systems will
surely interconnect through appropriate protocol translation gateways, thereby providing users access
to resources on both sides.

Network Management
Distributed systems pennit users to tailor the system to meet their needs, rather than change their
operating procedures to meet the system's structure. The Ethernet local network uses distributed
algorithms to control access to the communications channel, thereby doing away with any
centralized component. This should encourage office infonnation systems designers to use similar
mechanisms at higher levels whenever possible.
In general, it snould be possible to:
1) Incrementally add or remove new system elements, services, and resources as necessary.
2) Migrate services and resources to other system elements should the one on which they
reside need repair or maintenance.
3) Move workstations easily when, for example, users change offices.
4) Modify the topology of the communication system to better meet the traffic flow
patterns of a particular set of users.
5) Isolate malfunctions, thereby pennitting the rest of the system to continue functioning.
In order to achieve these goals, certain functions in a distributed system should be decoupled. In
particular. it is necessary to differentiate between aliases. names, addresses, and routes [Shoch7S,
AbrahamSO). At run time an alias must be resolved into a name, an address located for a name,
and a route detennined for an address.
An online directory or registry service, that we call the c1earingho'1.se, resolves aliases into names,
and maps names into addresses [OppenS1). This is similar to the telephone system's "white" and
"yellow" pages, and pennits services and system elements to be moved, added or removed. An
internetwork communication system that uses adaptive routing algorithms pennits the topology to
be easily modified to meet changing traffic patterns, and pennits graceful degradation of service in
the event of line failures by using alternate and possibly less efficient routes.
One of the major advantages of decentralized network management techniques is that the system
structure can be made to complement organizational structures, thus reducing the burden on the
customer. Such systems can nevertheless be managed in a centralized fashion should customers so
desire: they have the choice.

128
---

-------

THE I:\FOR.\fATIO:\ OCTLET: A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA:'\1ZATIO:\

Office Services
So far. all we have done is describe the architecture of a distributed computer and communication
system, and said very little about the design of specific office services and tools. That is precisely
the point-a well-designed system permits all kinds of office services to be added as and when their
need arise. This permits an organization to grow their office information system in a controlled
manner. while minimizing the initial purchase cost.
We expect that higher-level protocols and data formats will be designed for many kinds of office
services. and distributed office management procedures [Ellis80]. In particular, those that permit
arbitrarily complex text, graphics and images to be printed. documents stored in and retrieved from
electronic files, database queries, delivery of electronic mail [Levin79, Birre1l81], terminal emulation
to timesharing systems, voice communication, teleconferencing, etc. The list is endless. The figure
shows Xerox' Network System.
8011 STAR
Information System

o

8044 Print Server

I~~::~~:~
/

o

\-G

o
8011

0

I·::::~:::~ I

IE ~::~:~~ E

In

II

\-G

Ethernet

8071 Communications Server
(internetw.ork router,
Clea ringhouse,
Protocol Gateway)
8012

Leased line

E

860

o o
8011

\-G

IE ~::~:~~ E

860

820

I~::~:~~I

II

1111
Ethernet

8044
8032

872

8071
Server

Terminal

The Xerox Network System

129

THE I:\FOR.\fA110:\ OLTIET:

A NEW TOOL FOR OFFICE ORGA1\1ZA110:\

Mutual Suspicion
While an office information system should provide the right tools for manipulating information, .it
must also provide mechanisms for protecting information.

The system should be designed with

hooks to provide access control, authentication and security, should the need arise [Needham7S].
Organizations are usually suspicious of one another, and would like to control the manner in which
they interact. Building ultra-secure, yet very general systems is not always cost-effective for many
commercial organizations. We believe that in many cases mutually suspicious organizations will
resort to secure electronic document distribution as the vehicle for interaction. This is very similar
to the way the postal system currently carries mail among organizations.

Conclusions
Local computer ne.wOlics pruvi

1.25

Carrier
The presence of data transitions indicates thai carrier is present. If a Iransition is not seen between 0.75 and 1.25 bit times since the center of the last
bit cell, then carrier has been lost, indicating the end of a packet. For purposes of deferring, carrier means any activity on the cable. Independent of
Specifically, It is any activity on either receive or collision detect signals in the last 160 nsee.
being properly formed.

137

_ - - - - - - - - - - - Coax Cable Segment (1 electrical segment)
Coax Cable Section

Terminator

Coax Cable Section

w.......~-

Tap
Transceiver

...,-t.___..f

Female.female
Adapte r (Ba rrel)

-"~~,...r Connectorized

Male coax
Connector

Terminator

Transceiver

Female cable
connector

Transcelve.:.r_ _
Cable

Male cable
Connector

Coax Cable

±

Impedance: 50 ohms
2 ohms (Mil Std. C17·E). This impedance variation includes batch·to·batch variations.
to
3 ohms are permitted along a single pi!j!(:e of cable.

±

Periodic variations in impedance of up

Cable Loss: The maximum loss' from one end of a cable segment to the other end is 8.5 db at 10 MHz {equivalent to -500 meters of low loss cable}.
Shielding: The physical channel hardware must operate in an ambient field of 2 volts per meter from 10 KHz to 30 MHz and 5 Vlmeter from 30 MHz to
1 GHz. The shield has a transfer impedance of less than 1 milliohm per meter over the frequency range of 0.1 MHz to 20 MHz (exact value iE; a function
of frequency).
Ground Connections: The coax cable shield shall not be connected to any building or AC ground along its length. If for safety reasons a ground
connection of the shield is. necessary, it must' be in only one place.
Physical Dimensions: This specifies the dimensions of a cable which can be used with the standard tap. Other cables may also be used. if they are
not to be used with a tap·type transceiver (such as use with connectorized transceivers, or as a section between sections to which standard taps are
connected).
.
Center Conductor:
Core Material:
·CoreO.D.:
Shield:
Jacket:
Jacket 0.0.:

0.0855" diameter solid tinned copper
Foam polyethylene or foam teflon FEP

0.242 " minimum
0.328" maximum shield 0.0. (>90% coverage for outer braid shield)
PVC or teflon FEP

0.405"

Coax Connectors and Terminators
Coax cables must be terminated with male N·series connectors.
insulated such that the coax shield is protected from contact to
with a female N·series connector (can be made up of a barrel
dissipate 1 watt.
The outside surface of the terminator

and cable sections will be joined with female·female adapters. Connector shells shall be
building grounds. A sleeve or boot is acceptable. Cable segments should be terminated
connector and a male terminator) having an impedance of 50 ohms
1%. and. able to
should also be insulated.

±

Transceiver
OONNECTION

RULES

Up to 100 transceivers may be placed on a cable segment no closer together than 2.5 meters.
not zero) probability the chance that objectionable standing waves will result.

Following this placement rule reduces to a very low (but

OOAX CABLE INTERFACE

Input Impedance: The reSistive component of the impedance must be greater then 50 Kohms. The total capaCitance must be less than 4 picofarads.
Nominal Transmit Level: The important parameter is average DC level with 50% duty cycle waveform input. It must be ·1.025 V (41 rnA) nominal with
a range of ·0.9 V to ·1.2 V (38 to 48 rnA). The peak·to·peak AC waveform must be centered on the average DC level and its value can range from 1.4
V p.p to twice the average DC level. The voltage must never go positive on the coax. The quiescent state of the coax is logic high (0 V). Voltage
measurements are made on the coax near the transceiver with the shield as reference. Positive current is current flowing out of the center conductor of
the coax.
Rise and Fa" Time: 25 nSec ± 5 nSec with a maximum of 1 nSec difference between rise time and fall time in a given unit. The intent is that dVldt
should not significantly exceed that present in a 10 MHz Sine wave of same peak·to·peak amplitude.
Signal Symmetry: Asymmetry on output should not exceed 2 nSec for a 50·50 square wave input to either transmit or receive section of transceiver.
TRANSCEIVER

CABLE INTERFACE
Signal Pairs: Both transceiver and station shall drive and present at the receiving end a 78 ohm balanced load. The differential signal voltage shall be
0.7 volts nominal peak with a common mode voltage between 0 and +5 volts using power return as reference. (This amounts to shifted ECl levels
operating between Gnd and +5 volts. A 10116 with suitable pulldown resistor may be used). The quiescent state of a line corresponds to logic high.
which occurs when the + line is more positive than the . line of a pair.
Collision Signal: The active state of this line is a 10 MHz waveform and its quiescent state is logic high. It is active if the transceiver is transmitting
and another transmission is detected, or if two or more other stations are transmitting, independent of the state of the local transmit signal.
Power: + 11.4 volts to + 16 volts DC at controller. Maximum current available to transceiver is 0.5 ampere. Actual voltage at transceiver is determined
by the interface cable resistance (max 4 ohms loop resistance) and current drain.
ISOLATION
The impedance between the coax connection and the transceiver cable connection must exceed 250 Kohms at 60 Hz and withstand 250 VRMS at 60 Hz.

Transceiver Cable and Connectors
Maximum signal loss • 3 db @ 10 MHz. (equivalent to -50 meters of either 20 or 22 AWG twisted pair).
Transceiver Cable Connector Pin Assignment
1.
Shield"
9.
2.
Collision +
Collision·
3.
Transmit +
10. Transmit·
4.
Reserved
11. Reserved
12. Receive .
5.
Receive +
6.
Power Return 13. + Power
7.
Reserved
14. Reserved
8.
Reserved
15. Reserved
"Shield must be terminated to connector shell.

138

Male 15 pin
D-Serles connector
w.ith lock posts.

4 pair # 20 AWG or 22 AWG
78 ohm differential Impedance
1 overall shield Insulating Jacket
4 ohms max loop resistance for power pair

Female 15 pin D·Serles
connector with slide lock
assembly.

cable can support communication among many different
Segment length and the use of repeaters. The Exstations. The mechanical aspects of coaxial cable make it perimental Ethernet was designed to accommodate a
feasible to tap in at any point without severing the cable or maximum end-to-end length of 1 km, implemented as a
producing excessive RF leakage; such considerations re- single electrically continuous segment. Active repeaters
lating to installation, maintenance, and reconfigurability could be used with that system to create complex topoloare important aspects in any local network design.
gies that would cover a wider area in abuilding (or comThere are reflections and attenuation in a cable, how- plex of buildings) within the end-to-end length limit. With
ever, and these combine to impose some limits on the sys- the use ofthose repeaters, however, the maximum end-totem design. Engineering the shared channel entails trade- end length between any two stations was still meant to be
offs involving the data rate on the cable, the length of the approximately 1 km. Thus, the segment length and the
cable, electrical characteristics of the transceiver, and the maximum end-to-end length were the same, and repeaters
number of stations. For example, it is possible to operate were used to provide additional flexibility.
at very high data rates over short distances, but the rate
In developing the Ethernet Specification, the strong
must be reduced to support a greater maximum length. desire to support a 10M-bps data rate-with reasonable
Also, if each transceiver introduces significant reflec- transceiver cost-led to a maximum segment length of
tions, it may be necessary to limit the placement and 500 meters. We expect that this length will be sufficient to
support many installations and applications with a single
possibly the number of transceivers.
The characteristics of the coaxial cable fix the maximum Ethernet segment. In some cases, however, we recognized
data rate, but the actual clock is generated in the controller. a requirement for greater maximum end-to-end length in
Thus, the station interface and controller must be designed one network. In these cases, repeaters may now be used
to match the data rates used over the cable. Selection of not just for additional flexibility but also to extend the
coaxial cable as the transmission medium has no other overall length of an Ethernet. The Ethernet Specification
direct impact on either the station or the controller.
permits the concatenation of up to three segments; the
maximum end-to-end delay between two stations meaCable. The Experimental Ethernet used 75-ohm, RO- sured as a distance is 2.5 km, including the delay through
ll-type foam cable. The Ethernet Specification uses a repeaters containing a point-to-point link. 5
50-ohm, solid-center-conductor, double-shield, foam dielectric cable in order to provide some reduction in the
Taps. Transceivers can connect to a coax cable with the
magnitude of reflections from insertion capacitance (in- use of a pressure tap, borrowed from CATV technology.
troduced by tapping into the cable) and to provide better Such a tap allows connection to the cable without cutting
immunity against environmental electromagnetic noise. it to insert a connector and avoids the need to interrupt
Belden Number 9880 Ethernet Coax meets the Ethernet network service while installing a new station. One design
Specification.
uses a tap-block that is clamped on the cable and uses a
special tool to penetrate the outer jacket and shield. The
Terminators and connectors. A small terminator is at- tool is removed and the separate tap is screwed into the
tached to the cable at each end to provide a termination block. Another design has the tap and tap-block inteimpedance for the cable equal to its characteristic im- grated into one unit, with the tap puncturing the cable to
pedance, thereby eliminating reflection from the ends of make contact with the center conductor as the tap-block is
the cable. For convenience, the cable can be divided into a being clamped on.
Alternatively, the cable can be cut and connectors fasnumber of sections using simple connectors between sectened
to each piece of cable. This unfortunately disrupts
tions to produce one electrically continuous segment.
the network during the installation process. After the
connectors are installed at the break in the cable, a
T -connector can be inserted in between and then connected to a transceiver. Another option, a connectorized
transceiver, has two connectors built into it for direct attachment to the cable ends without aT-connector.
Experimental Ethernet installations have used pressure
taps where the tap and tap-block are separate, as illustrated in Figure 2. Installations conforming to the
Ethernet Specification have used all the options. Figure 3
illustrates a connectorized transceiver and a pressure tap
with separate tap and tap-block.

Figure 2. Experimental Ethernet components: (a) transceiver and tap,
(b) tap-block, (c) transceiver cable, and (d) Alto controller board.

Transceiver. The transceiver couples the station to the
cable and is the most important part of the transmission
system.
The controller-to-transmission-system interface is very
simple, and functionally it has not changed between the
two Ethernet designs. It performs four functions: (1)
transferring transmit data from the controller to the
transmission system, (2) transferring receive data from

139

the transmission system to the controller, (3) indicating to
the controller that a collision is taking place, and (4) providing power to the transmission system.
It is important that the two ground references in the
system-the common coaxial cable shield and the local
ground associated with each station-not be tied together, since one local ground typically may differ from
another local ground by several volts. Connection of several local grounds to the common cable could cause a
large current to flow through the cable's shield, introducing noise and creating a potential safety hazard. For this
reason, the cable shield should be grounded in only one
place.
It is the transceiver that provides this ground isolation
between signals from the controller and signals on the
cable. Several isolation techniques are possible: transformer isolation, optical isolation, and capacitive isolation. Transformer isolation provides both power and signal isolation; it has low differential impedance for signals
and power, and a high common-mode impedance for isolation. It is also relatively inexpensive to implement. Optical isolators that preserve tight signal symmetry at a competitive price are not readily available. Capacitive coupling is inexpensive and preserves signal symmetry but has
poor common-mode rejection. For these reasons transformer isolation is used in Ethernet Specification transceivers. In addition, the mechanical design and installation of the transceiver must preserve this isolation. For example, cable shield connections should not come in contact with a building ground (e.g., a cable tray, conduit, or
ceiling hanger).
The transceiver provides a high-impedance connection
to the cable in both the power-on and power-off states. In
addition, it should protect the network from possible internal circuit failures that could cause it to disrupt the network as a whole. It is also important for the transceiver to
withstand transient voltages on the coax between the
center conductor and shield. While such voltages should
not occur if the coax shield is grounded in only one place,
such isolation may not exist during installation.!
Negative transmit levels were selected for the Ethernet
Specification to permit use of fast and more easily integrated NPN transistors for the output current source. A
current source output was chosen over the voltage source
used in the Experimental Ethernet to facilitate collision
detection.
The key factor affecting the maximum number of transceivers on a segment in the Ethernet Specification is the input bias current for the transceivers. With easily achievable
bias currents and collision threshold tolerances, the maximum number was conservatively set at lOOper segment. If
the only factors taken into consideration were signal attenuation and reflections, then the number would have
been larger.

and packetization. Postponing for now a discussion of
buffering and packetization, we will first deal with the
various functions that the controller needs to perform
and then show how they are coordinated into an effective
CSMA/CD channel management policy.

Controller design
The transmitter and receiver sections of the controller
perform signal conversion, encoding and decoding,
serial-to-parallel conversion, address recognition, error
detection, CSMA/CD channel management, buffering,

Figure 3. Ethernet Specification components: (a) transceiver, tap, and
tap-block, (b) connectorlzed transceiver, (c) transceiver cable, (d)
Dolphin controller board, and (e) Xerox 8000 controller board.

140
-----

~-~--

-~

-~---

Signaling, data rate, and framing. The transmitter
generates the serial bit stream inserted into the transmission system. Clock and data are combined into one signal
using a suitable encoding scheme. Because of its simplicity, Manchester encoding was used in the Experimental
Ethernet. In Manchester encoding, each bit cell has two
parts: the first half of the cell is the complement of the bit
value and the second half is the bit value. Thus, there is
always a transition in the middle of every bit cell, and this
is used by the receiver to extract the data.
For the Ethernet Specification, MFM encoding (used in
double-density disk recording) was considered, but it was
rejected because decoding was more sensitive to phase distortions from the transmission system and required more
components to implement. Compensation is not as easy as
in the disk situation because a station must receive signals
from both nearby and distant stations. Thus, Manchester
encoding is retained in the Ethernet Specification.
In the Experimental Ethernet, any data rate in the range
of 1M to 5M bps might have been chosen. The particular
rate of 2.94M bps was convenient for working with the
first Altos. For the Ethernet Specification, we wanted a
data rate as high as possible; very high data rates,
however, limit the effective length of the system and require more precise electronics. The data rate of 10M bps
represents a trade-off among these considerations.
Packet framing on the Ethernet is simple. The presence
of a packet is indicated by the presence of carrier, or transitions. In addition, all packets begin with a known pattern of bits called the preamble. This is used by the
receiver to establish bit synchronization and then to
locate the first bit of the packet. The preamble is inserted
by the controller at the sending station and stripped off
by the controller at the receiving station. Packets may be
of variable length, and absence of carrier marks the end of
a packet. Hence, there is no need to have framing flags
and "bit stuffing" in the packet as in other data-link protocols such as SDLC or HDLC.
The Experimental Ethernet used a one-bit preamble.
While this worked very well, we have, on rare occasions,
seen some receivers that could not synchronize with this
very short preamble. IS The Ethernet Specification uses a
64-bit preamble to ensure synchronization of phase-lock
loop receivers often used at the higher data rate. It is
necessary to specify 64 bits to allow for (1) worst-case
tolerances on phase-lock loop components, (2) maximum
times to reach steady-state conditions through transceivers,
and (3) loss of preamble bits owing to squelch on input and
output within the transceivers. Note that the presence of
repeaters can add up to four extra transceivers between a
source and destination.
Additional conventions can be imposed upon the frame
structure. Requiring that all packets be a multiple of some
particular byte or word size simplifies controller design
and provides an additional consistency check. All packets
on the Experimental Ethernet are viewed as a sequence of
I6-bit words with the most significant bit of each word
transmitted first. The Ethernet Specification requires all
packets to be an integral number of eight-bit bytes (exclusive of the preamble, of course) with the least significant bit of each byte transmitted first. The order in which
the bytes of an Ethernet packet are stored in the memory

of a particular station is part of the controller-to-station
interface.
Encoding and decoding. The transmitter is responsible
for taking a serial bit stream from the station and encoding it into the Manchester format. The receiver is responsible for decoding an incoming signal and converting
it into a serial bit stream for the station. The process of encoding is fairly straightforward, but decoding is more dif-

During transmission a controller
must recognize that another station is also
transmitting.

ficult and is realized in a phase decoder. The known
preamble pattern can be used to help initialize the phase
decoder, which can employ any of several techniques including an analog timing circuit, a phase-locked loop, or a
digital phase decoder (which rapidly samples the input
and performs a pattern match). The particular decoding
technique selected can be a function of the data rate,
since some decoder designs may not run as fast as others.
Some phase decoding techniques-particularly the digital
one-have the added advantage of being able to recognize
certain phase violations as colliSions on the transmission
medium. This is one way to implement collision detection, although it does not work with all transmission
systems.
The phase decoders used by stations on the Experimental Ethernet included an analog timing circuit in the form
of a delay line on the PDP-II, an analog timing circuit in
the form ofa simple one-shot-based timer on the Alto, and
a digital decoder on the Dorado. All stations built by Xerox
for the Ethernet Specification use phase-locked loops.
Carrier sense. Recognizing packets passing by is one of
the important requirements of the Ethernet access procedure. Although transmission is baseband, we have borrowed the term' 'sensing carrier" from radio terminology
to describe the detection of signals on the channel. Carrier
sense is used for two purposes: (l) in the receiver to delimit
the beginning and end of the packet, and (2) in the transmitter to tell when itis permissible to send. With the use of
Manchester phase encoding, carrier is conveniently indicated by the presence of transitions on the channel.
Thus, the basic phase decoding mechanism can produce a
signal indicating the presence of carrier independent of
the data being extracted. The Ethernet Specification requires a slightly subtle carrier sense technique owing to
the possibility of a saturated collision.
CoUision detection. The ability to detect collisions and
shut down the transmitter promptly is an important feature in minimizing the channel time lost to collisions. The
general requirement is that during transmission a controller must recognize that another station is also transmitting. There are two approaches:

141

(1) Collision detection in the transmission system. It is
usually possible for the transmission. system. itself to
recognize a collision. This allows any medium-dependent
technique to be used and is usually implemented by comparing the injected signal with the received signal. Comparing the transmitted and received signals is best done in
the transceiver where there is a known relationship between the two signals. It is the controller, however, which
needs to know that a collision is taking place.' .
.(2) Collision detection in the controller. Alternatively,
the controller itself can recognize a collision by comparing the transmitted signal with the received signal, or the
receiver section can attempt to unilaterally recognize collisions, since they often appear as phase violations.
Both generations of Ethernet detect collisions within
the transceiver and generate the collision signal in the
controller-to-transmission-system interface. Where feasible, this can be supplemented with a collision detection
facility in the controller. Collision. detection may not be
absolutely foolproof. Some transmission schemes can
recognize all collisions, but other combinations of transmission scheme and collision detection may not provide
100-percent recognition. For example, the Experimental
Ethernet system functions, in principle, as a wired OR. It
is remotely possible for one station to transmit while
another station sends a packet whose waveform, at the
fIrst station, exactly matches the signal sent by the
fIrst station; thus, no collision is recognized there. Unfortunately, the intended recipient might be located between the two stations, and the two signals would indeed
interfere.
There is another possible scenario in which collision
detection breaks down. One station begins transmitting
and its signal propagates down the channel. Another station still senses the channel idle, begins to transmit, gets
out a bit or two, and then detects a collision. If the colliding station shuts down immediately, it leaves a very
small collision moving through the channel. In some approaches (e.g., DC threshold collision detection) this may
be attenuated and simply not make it back to the transmitting station to trigger its collision detection circuitry.
The probability of such occurrences is small. Actual
measurements in the Experimental Ethernet system indicate that the collision detection mechanism works very
well. Yet it is important to remember that an Ethernet
system delivers packets only with high probability-not
certainty.
To help ensure proper detection of collisions, each
transmitter adopts a collision consensus enforcement
procedure. This makes sure that all other parties to the
collision will recognize that a collision has taken place. In
spite of its lengthy name, this is a simple procedure. After
detecting a collision, a controller transmits a jam that
every operating transmitter should detect as a collision. In
the Experimental Ethernet the jam is a phase violation,
while in the Ethernet Specification it is the transmission of
four to six bytes of random data.
Another possible collision scenario arises in the context
of the Ethernet Specification. It is possible for a collision
to involve so many participants that a transceiver is incapable of injecting any more current into the cable. Dur-

142

ing such a collision, one cannot guarantee that the waveform on the cable will exhibit any transitions. (In the extreme case, it simply sits at a constant DC level equal to
the saturation voltage.) This is called a saturated collision. In this situation, the simple notion of sensing carrier
by detecting transitions would not work anymore. In particular, a station that deferred only when seeing transitions would think the Ether was idle and jump right in,
becoming another participant in the collision. Of course,
it would immediately detect the collision and back off,
but in the extreme case (everyone wanting to transmit),
such jumping-in could theoretically cause the saturated
collision to snowball and go on for a very long time. While
we recognized that this form of instability was highly
unlikely to occur in practice, we included a simple
enhancement to the carrier sense mechanism in the
Ethernet SpecifIcation to prevent the problem.
We have focused on collision detection by the transmitter of a packet and have seen that the transmitter may depend on a collision detect signal generated unilaterally by
its receiving phase decoder. Can this receiver-based collision detection be used just by a receiver (that is, a station
that is not trying to transmit)? A receiver with this capability could immediately abort an input operation and
could even generate a jam signal to help ensure that the
collision came to a prompt termination. With a reasonable transmitter-based collision detection scheme, however, the collision is recognized by the transmitters and
the damaged packet would come to an end very shortly.
Receiver-based collision detection could provide an early
warning of a collision for use by the receiver, but this is
not a necessary function and we have not used it in either
generation of Ethernet design.

eRe generation and checking. The transmitter generates a cyclic redundancy check, or CRC, of each transmitted packet and appends it to a packet before transmission.
The receiver checks the CRC on packets it receives and
strips it off before giving the packet to the station. If the
CRC is incorrect, there are two options: either discard the
packet or deliver the damaged packet with an appropriate
status indicating a CRC error.
While most CRC algorithms are quite good, they are
not infallible. There is a small probability that undetected
errors may slip through. More importantly, the CRC only
protects a packet from the point at which the CRC is
generated to the point at which it is checked. Thus, the
CRC cannot protect a packet from damage that occurs in
parts of the controller, as, for example, in a FIFO in the
parallel path to the memory of a station (the DMA), or in
the memory itself. If error detection at a higher level is required, then an end-to-end software checksum can be
added to the protocol architecture.
In measuring the Experimental Ethernet system, we
have seen packets whose CRC was reported as correct but
whose software checksum was incorrect. 18 These did not
necessarily represent an undetected Ethernet error; they
usually resulted from an external malfunction such as a
broken interface, a bad CRC checker, or even an incorrect software checksum algorithm.
Selection of the CRC algorithm is guided by several
concerns. It should have sufficient strength to properly

detect virtually all packet errors. Unfortunately, only a
limited set of CRC algorithms are currently implemented
in LSI chips. The Experimental Ethernet used a 16-bit
CRC, taking advantage of a single-chip CRC generator I
checker. The Ethernet Specification provides better error
detection by using a 32-bit CRC.19,20This function will be
easily implemented in an Ethernet chip.
Addressing. The packet format includes both a source
and destination address. A local· network design can
adopt either of two basic addressing structures: networkspecific station addresses or unique station addresses. 21
In the first case, stations are assigned network addresses
that must be unique on their network but may be the same
as the address held by a station on another network. Such
addresses are sometimes called network relative addresses, since they depend upon the particular network to
which the station is attached. In the second case, each station is assigned an address that is unique over all space and
time. Such addresses are also known as absolute or universal addresses, drawn from a flat address space.
To permit internetwork communication, the networkspecific address of a station must usually be combined
with a unique network number in order to produce an unambiguous address at the next level of protocol. On the
other hand, there is no need to combine an absolute station address with a unique network number to produce an
unambiguous address. However, it is possible that internetwork systems based on flat (internetwork and local
network) absolute addresses will include a unique network number at the internetwork layer as a "very strong
hint" for the routing machinery.
If network-specific addressing is adopted, Ethernet address fields need only be large enough to accommodate
the maximum number of stations that will be connected to
one local network. In addition, there must be a suitable
administrative procedure for assigning addresses to stations. Some installations will have more than one Ethernet, and if a station is moved from one network to another
it may be necessary to change its network-specific address, since its former address may be in use on the new
network. This was the approach used on the Experimental Ethernet, with an eight-bit field for the source and the
destination addresses.
We anticipate that there will be a large number of stations and many local networks in an internetwork. Thus,
the management of network-specific station addresses
can represent a severe problem. The use of a flat address
space provides for reliable and manageable operation as a
system grows, as machines move, and as the overall topology changes. A flat internet address space requires that
the address space be large enough to ensure uniqueness
while providing adequate room for growth. It is most convenient if the local network can directly support these
fairly large address fields.
For these reasons the Ethernet Specification uses 48-bit
addresses. 22 Note that these are station addresses and are
not associated with a particular network interface or controller. In particular, we believe that higher level routing
and addressing procedures are simplified if a station connected to multiple networks has only one identity which is
unique over all networks. The address should not be hard-

wired into a particular interface or controller but should
be able to be set from the station. It may be very useful,
however, to allow a station to read a unique station identifier from the controller. The station can then choose
whether to return this identifier to the controller as its address.
In addition to single-station addressing, several enhanced addressing modes are also desirable. Multicast addressing is a mechanism by which packets may be targeted
to more than one destination. This kind of service is particularly valuable in certain kinds of distributed applications, for instance the access and update of distributed
data bases, teleconferencing, and the distributed algorithms that are used to manage the network and the internetwork. We believe that multicast should be supported
by allowing the destination address to specify either a
physical or logical address. A logical address is known as a
multicast ID. Broadcast is a special case of multicast in
which a packet is intended for all active stations. Both
generations of Ethernet support broadcast, while only the
Ethernet Specification directly supports multicast.
Stations supporting multicast must recognize multicast
IDs of interest. Because of the anticipated growth in the
use of multicast service, serious consideration should be
given to aspects of the station and controller design that
reduce the system load required to filter unwanted
multicast packets. Broadcast should be used with discretion, since all nodes incur the overhead of processing
every broadcast packet.
Controllers capable of accepting packets regardless of
destination address provide promiscuous address
recognition. On such stations one can develop software to
observe all of the channel's traffic, construct traffic
matrices, perform load analysis, e recursively
defined in terms of other layers.
The internet delivers packets from any host connected
to it to any other connected host, and access control is
performed by higher levels of protocol. The internet architecture permits complex topologies and the use of different communication media and public data networks.
The network-specific sublayer supporting Xerox's internet protocol must, in addition, perform certain functions such as intranetwork fragmentation, if necessary.
The internet sublayer defines one protocol and supports
the use of many different protocols at the transport and
network layers. The protocol hierarchy has an hourglass
shape, with the internet protocol at the narrow point.
The protocol conversion gateway architecture permits
the design of any number of gateway functions. The
gateway transport function communicates with foreign
devices, which may be connected to the Network System
throllgh various communication systems using their protocols. Gateway application functions deal with the hard
problem of converting one service into another .•

Acknowledgments
The design and development of the Network System
involved many people from Xerox's Office Products
Division and Palo Alto Research Centers. The internetwork architecture embodies principles that evolved from
experience with the Pup internetwork and ARPA Internet
Protocol. Members ofthe Systems Development Department designed and implemented this cQmmunication
system.

References
1. D. C. Smith et aI., "The Star User Interface: An Overview,"

Proc. NCC, May 1982, pp. 515-528.
2. R. M. Metcalfe and D. R. Boggs, "Ethernet: Distributed
Packet Switching for Local Computer Networks," Comm.
ACM, Vol. 19, No.7, July 1976, pp. 395-404.
3. The Ethernet, a Local Area Network: Data Link Layer and
Physical Layer Specifications, Digital Equipment, Intel,

and Xerox Corporations, Version 1.0, Sept., 1980.
4. J. F. Shoch et aI., "Evolution of the Ethernet Local Computer Network," Xerox Office Products Division, Palo
Alto, OPD-T8102, Sept. 1981, and Computer, Vol. 15,
No.8, Aug. 1982, pp. 10-26.
5. C. A. Sunshine, "Interconnection of Computer Networks,"
Computer Network, Vol. 1, No.3, Jan. 1977, pp. 175-195.
6. V. G. Cerf and P. K. Kirstein, "Issues in Packet-Network
Interconnection," Proe. IEEE, Vol. 66, No. II, Nov. 1978,
pp. 1386-1408.
7. D. R. Boggs et aI., "Pup: An Internetwork Architecture,"
IEEE Trans. Comm. Vol. COM-28, No.4, Apr. 1980, pp.
612-624.

Figure S.IBM 3270 emulatioll.

159

8. J. B. Postel, "Internetwork Protocol Approaches," IEEE
Trans. Comm., Vol. COM-28, No.4, Apr. 1980, pp.
604-611.

27. Y. K. Dalal and R. M. Metcalfe, "Reverse Path Forwarding of Broadcast Packets," Comm. ACM, Vol. 21, No. 12,
Dec. 1978, pp. 1040-1048.

9. DoD Standard Internet Protocol, J. Postel, ed., NTIS
ADA079730, Jan. 1980, also in ACM Computer Comm.
Review, Vol. 10, No.4, Oct. 1980, pp. 2-51, revised; as
"Internet Protocol-DARPA Internet Program Protocol
Specification," RFC 791, USC/lnformation Sciences
Institute, Sept. 1981.

28. J. M. McQuillan, "Enhanced Message Addressing
Capabilities for Computer Networks," Proc. IEEE, Vol.
66, No. 11, 1978, pp. 1517-1527.

10. J. B. Postel, C. A. Sunshine, and D. Cohen, "The ARPA
Internet Protocol," Computer Networks, Vol. 5, No.4,
July 1981, pp. 261-271.
II. Recommendation X. 25 / Interface Between Data Terminal
Equipment (DTE) and Data Circuit-terminating Equipment (DCE) jor Terminals Operating in the Packet Mode
on Public Data Networks, CCITT Orange Book, Vol. 7,
International Telephone and Telegraph Consultative
Committee, Geneva.
12. Proposaljor Provisional Recommendation X. 75 on Inter-

29. D. R. Boggs, "Internet Broadcasting," PhD dissertation,
Stanford University, Jan. 1982 (also available from Xerox
Palo Alto Research Center).
30. C. A. Sunshine, "Addressing Problems in Multi-Network
Systems," Proc. IEEE Infocom, Mar. 1982, pp. 12-18.
31. J. M. McQuillan, G. Falk, and I. Richer, "A Review ofthe
Development and Performance of the ARPANET Routing
Algorithm," IEEE Trans. Comm., Vol. COM-26, No. 12,
Dec. 1978, pp. 1802-1811.
32. J. F. Shoch, "Packet Fragmentation in Internetwork
Protocols," Computer Networks, Vol. 3, No. I,Feb. 1979,
pp.3-8.

13. G. R. Grossman, A. Hinchley, and C. A. Sunshine,
"Issues in International Public Data Networking," Computer Networks, Vol. 3, No.4, Sept. 1979, pp. 259-266.

33. J. F. Shoch and L. Stewart, "Interconnecting Local Networks via the Packet Radio Network," Proc. Sixth Data
Comm. Symp., Nov. 1979, pp. 153-158.
34. J. F. Shoch, D. Cohen, and E. A. Taft, "Mutual Encapsulation of Il).ternetwork Protocols," Proc.· Trends and
Applications: 1980-Computer Network Protocols, May
1980, pp. 1-11; revised version in Computer Networks,
Vol. 5, No.4, July 1981, pp. 287-301.

14. M. H. Unsoy and T. A. Shanahan, "X.75 Internetworking
of Datapac and Telenet," Proc. Seventh Data Comm.
Symp., Oct. 1981, pp. 232-239.

35. S. M. Abraham and Y. K. Dalal, "Techniques for Decentralized Management of Distributed Systems," Proc.
Compeon Winter 80, Feb. 1980, pp. 430-436.

national Interworking Between Packet Switched Data
Networks, CCITT Study Group VII Contribution No. 207,
International Telephone and Telegraph Consultative
Committee, Geneva, May 1978.

15. H. Zimmermann, "OSI Reference Model-The ISO
Model of Architecture for Open Systems Interconnection," IEEE Trans. Comm., Vol. COM-28, No.4, Apr.
1980, pp. 425-432.
16. ISO Open Systems Interconnection-Basic Reference
Model, DP 7498, ISO/TC97/SC 16 N 719, Aug. 1981.
17. Network Layer Principles, ECMA/TC23/811169 pre-

pared by TC24 TG NS, Nov. 1981, p. 4.
18. Internet Transport Protocols, Xerox System Integration

Standard, XSIS-028112, Stamford, Connecticut, Dec.
1981.
19. R. M. Needham and M. D. Schroeder, "Using Encryption
for Authentication in Large Networks of Computers,"
Comm. ACM, Vol. 21, No. 12, Dec. 1978, pp. 993-999.
20. D. C. Oppen and Y. K. Dalal, "The Clearinghouse: A
Decentralized Agent for Locating Named Objects in a
Distributed Environment," Xerox Office Products Division, Palo Alto, OPD-T8103, Oct. 1981.

21. Courier: The Remote Procedure Call Protocol, Xerox
System Integration Standard, XSIS-038112, Stamford,
Connecticut, Dec. 1981.
22. L. G. Roberts, "Telenet: Principles and Practice," Proc.
European Computing Con! Comm. Networks, London,
England, 1975, pp. 315-329.
23. J. F. Shoch, "Internetwork Naming, Addressing, and
Routing," Proc. Compcon Fall 78, Sept. 1978, pp.
430-437.
24. Y. K. Dalal and R. S. Printis, "48-bit Internet and Ethernet
Host Numbers," Proc. Seventh Data Comm. Symp., Oct.
1981,pp.24O-245.
25. D. D. Redell et aI., "Pilot: An Operating System for a Personal Computer," Comm. ACM, COM-Vol. 23, No.2,
Feb. 1980, pp. 81-92.
26. Y. K. Dalal, "Broadcast Protocols in Packet Switched
Computer Networks," PhD dissertation, Stanford University, DSL Tech. Report 128, Apr. 1977.

160

Yogen K. Dalal is manager of services and
architecture for office systems in the Office Products Division of Xerox Corporation. He has been with the company in Palo
Alto since 1977. His research interests include local computer networks, internetwork protocols, distributed systems architecture, broadcast protocols, and operating systems. He is a member of the ACM
and the IEEE. He received the B. Tech.
degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of
Technology, Bombay, in 1972, and the MS and PhD degrees in
electrical engineering ·and computer science from Stanford
University in 1973 and 1977, respectively.

Reprinted from PROCEEDINGS OF THE SEVENTH DATA COMMUNICATIONS SYMPOSIUM, October 1981

48·bit Absolute Internet and Ethernet Host Numbers

Yogen K. Dalal and Robert S. Printis

Xerox Office Products Division
Palo Alto, California
\bstract

2. Addressing Alternatiles

Xerox internets and Ethernet local computer networks use 48-bit
absolute ~ost numbers. This is a radical departure from practices
currently In use In Internetwork systems and local networks. This
paper describes how the host numbering scheme was designed in
the context of an overall internetwork and distributed systems
architecture.

The address of a host specifies its location. A network design may
adopt either of two baSIC addressing structures: network-specific
host addresses. or unique host addresses [Shoch78]. In the first
case. a host is assigned an address which must be unique on its
network. but which may be the same as an address held by a host
Such addresses are sometimes called
on another network.
network-relative addresses. since they depend upon the particular
network to which the host is attached. In the second case, each
host is assigned an address which is unique over all space and
time. Such addresses are known as absolute or unil'ersal addresses.
drawn from a flat address space.
Both network-specific and
absolute host addresses can have anv internal structure. For the
purposes of this paper, we will treat" them as "numbers" and will
use host addresses and host numbers interchangeably.

1. Introduction

Th.e Ethernet local c.omputer network is a multi-access, packetSWItched co~umcauons system for carrying digital data among
locally dIstributed computing systems [Metcalfe76, Crane80,
Shoch80, Ethernet80, Shoch81j.
The shared communications
channel in the Ethernet system is a coaxial cable--a passive
broadcast medium with no central control. Access to the channel
by stations or hosts wishing to transmit is coordinated in a
dist,ribu.ted fashion by the hosts themselves, using a statistical
arbitration scheme called carrier sense mUltiple access with collision
detection (CSMA/CD). Packet address recormition in each host is
used to take packets from the channel. ~
Ethernet pack~ts include both a source and a destination host
nU'!lber, that IS, the "address" of the transmitter and intended
reclplent(s), respecuvely. Ethernet host numbers are 48 bits lono
[~thernet80]. 48 bits can uniquely identify 281,474,977 mil1io~
dIfferent hosts! Since the Ethernet specification permits only 1024
~osts per Ethernet system, the question that is often asked is:
why use 48 bIts when 10, or 11, or at mo~t 16 will suffice?" rnis
paper answers this question, and describes '.he benefits of using
large absolute host numbers.
We view the Ethernet local network as one component in a storeand-forw.ard. datagnun internetwork system that provides
commUnicatIons servIces to many diverse devices connected to
Our
different networks (see. for example, [Boggs80, Cerf78)).
host numbering scheme was designed in the context of an overall
network and distributed system architecture to take into account:
o the use of host numbers by higher-level software,
o the identification of a host or a logical group of hosts
within the internetwork,
o the addressing of a host or a logical group of hosts on
the Ethernet channel, and
o the management of distributed systems as they grow,
evolve and are reconfigured.
Sections 2, 3, and 4 of this paper describe the pros and cons of
various host numbering schemes in inter- and intra-network
systems, and describe the properties and advantages of our host
numbering scheme. Section 5 discusses our host numbers in the
context of "names" and "a.ddresses" in network systems. Sections
6 and 7 describe the reasons for choosing 48 bits, and the
mechanisms for managing this space.

To pernlit internetwork communication, the network-specific
address of a host usually must bl! combined with a unique network
number in order to produce an unambiguous internet address at
the next level of protocol. Such internet addresses are often called
hierarchical internet addresses. On the other hand, there is no
need to combine an absolute host number with a unique network
number to produce an unambiguous internet address.
Such
internet addresses are often called flat illlernet addresses.
However, internetwork systems using Oat internet addresses,
containing only the absolute host number. will require very large
routing tables indexed oy the host numbeJ. To soht Jlis IJwblem.
a unique network number. or other routing information is often
included in the internet address as a '''cry strong hint" to the
internetwork routing machinery; the routing information has been
separated from host identification.
We anticipate that there will be a large number of hosts and many
(local) networks in an internetwork, thus requiring a large internet
address space. For example, the Pup-based internetwork system
[Boggs80j currently in use within Xerox. as a research network,
includes 5 different types of networks, has oyer 1200 hosts. 35
Experimental Ethernet local networks. and 30 internet routers
(often called internetwork gateways). Figure 1 illustrates the
topology of the internet in the San Francisco Bay Area.
If network-specific addressing is used, then the host number need
only be large enough to accommodate the maximum number of
hosts that might be connected to the network.
Suitable
installation-specific administrative procedures are also needed for
assigning numbers to hosts on a network. If a host is moved from
one network to another it may be necessary to change its host
number if its former number is in use on the new network. This
is easier said than done, as each network must have an
administrator who must record the continuously changing state of
the system (often on a piece of paper tacked to the wall!). It is
anticipated that in future office environments, host locations will
be changed as often as telephones are changed in present-day
offices.
In addition, a local network may be shared by
uncooperative organizations, often leading to inconsistent
management of the network. Duplication of addresses may lead to
misdeJivered or undeliverable data. Thus, the overall management
of network-specific host numbers can represent a severe problem.

161

workstations may generate tiles 'that are identified by unique
numbers and then exchange them by copying them onto
removable storage media such as floppy disks.
Xerox internetwork systems will use flat internet addresses
containing 48-bit host numbers. and a unique network number as
a very strong, routin~ hint. The internet address( es) for an object
or resource 111 the mternetwork is obtained from a distributed
agent called the clearinghouse: it serves a function similar to the
telephone system's "white" and "yellow" pages [Oppen81j. The
user of the resource does not compute or determine the network
number after discovering the host number of the resource-the
network number is included in the binding information returned
from the clearinghouse. We believe that our host number space is
large enough for the foreseeable future (see Section 6). We expect
that these internetworks will be built primarily from Ethernet local
networks and thus directly support 4S-bit absolute host numbers
~m the Ethernet channel. An internet packet is still encapsulated
m an Ethernet packet when it is transmitted on the Ethernet
channel.
48-bit host numbers lead to large Ethernet and internet packets.
We believe that this v,'ill not pose a problem as both local and
public data networks continue to offer higher bandwidths at
reasonable costs. and the memory and logic costs associated with
storing and processing these numbers continue to become lower
with the advances in LSI technology.
3MBS

..""

We further justify our choice of absolute host numbers in the next
section by comparing internetwork routing techniques that use
hierarchical and flat internet addresses. We show that routing
based on flat internet addresses is very general. and especially
efficient if the constituent (local) networks directly support the
absolute host number.

10MIIS
21105110 .... ,. ......

3. Internetwork Delivery

INA.lnt.rn.I",OrllAo .. t.r
GTY • ProtOCOIG.t..... ,.

Figure 1. The Xerox Pup· based Expenmentallnternetwork in the Bay Area

Th~

use of absolute host numbers, in an internetwork pro\'ides for
relIable and manageable operation as the system grows. as
mach Illes mo\'c. and as the overall topology changes. if the (local)
network can directly support these large host numbers, This is
true. because the host is gi\'en one number or identill' when it is
first built. and this number is never modified when 'the network
configuration chang,es, A distributed system can be effectively
managed If the specIal purpose parameterizing of the hardware can
be reduced to a minimum, The absolute host number space
should be large enough to ensure uniqueness and provide
adequate room for growth,
Since an ab~olute host number is a property of a host rather than
Its,locatlon 111 the network to which it is connected, the number
should not be associated with. nor based on a particular network
interface or controller, A host connected to ~ero or more networks
has only one identity. which should not be "hard wired" into a
particular ,wterface or controller. but should be setable from the
statlon (sec Section 5). The address of this host on all connected
networks that directly support absolute host numbers will. in
general. be the same as the host's identity (see Sections 3 and 5),
A host connected to a network that does not directly support
absolute host numbers will. in addition. have an address relative to
that netw0[jC
Such host n~mbers can be used by operating systems software .to
generate umque numbers for use by the file system. resource
manager. etc. [RedeIl80. AbrahamSOj. By decoupling the host's
number from the network to which it is connected. a uniform
mechanism can be applied to networked and stand-alone
workstations so that they may interact at higher le\'els. For
example, both stand-alone and networked Pilot'based [Rede1l80j

162

In this section. we illustrate the pros and cons of using hierarchical
and flat internet addresses for internetwork delivery by comparing
the techniques prescribed by the Arpa Internet Protocols [IP80]
and the Pup Protocols [BoggsSOj. with those prescribed by the new
Xerox internetwork protocols.
A host is identified in an internetwork by its internet address. In
general. a host may ha\'e many internet addresses. but an internet
address can identify only one host.
Hierarchical internet addresses ha\'e a routing decision implicitly
encoded in them because they specify the network through which
a packet must be delivered to the host. This is not necessarily true
for flat internet addresses, Flat internet addresses may contain
routing information hints in them. and in such cases a
sophisticated routing mechanism is free to use or ignore these
hints.
The delivery of internet packets involves 'routing the packet from
source host to destination host, through zero or more internet
routers based on the internet address of the destination host. The
internet packet usually must be encapsulated for transmission
through the various communication networks. on its way from
source host to destination host.
The encapsulation spe<;ifies
addressing and
delivery
mechanisms specific
to
that
communication network. Each communication network may have
a different form of internal addressing. When an internetwork
packet is to be transported over a communication medium, the
immediate destination of the packet must be determined and
specified in the encapsulation. The immediate destination is
determined directly from the internet address if it is the jiMi
destination. or through a routing table if it is an illlennediate
destination. We do not discuss mechanisms and metrics for
managing routing tables in this paper.
The structure of the internet address influences the algorithms
used for determining immediate destinations during encapsulation.

Consider flat internet addresses first: the absolute host number in
a flat internet address may have no relation to any of the internal
addressing schemes used by the communication networks. Hence,
during encapsulation, as far as each of the communication
networks is concerned, the absolute host number is a !lame that
must be translated to an address on the network. This involves
consulting some form of a translation table, possibly in conjun,tion
with the routing table (we assume that the routing table supplies
the absolute host number of the next internet router rather than its
network-specific address, so that internet routers know one
anothers' internet addresses should they wish to directly
communicate, for the purpose of exchanging routing information
or statistics, etc.). In a very general internetwork, the overhead of
performing an absolute host number to internal address translation
can be large both in space and time, and also requires the
maintenance of translation tables in all hosts. Xerox internetworks
will consist primarily of Ethernets. Since absolute host numbers
have many other advantages. we chose the internal addressing on
an· Ethernet system to be identical to the absolute host number to
avoid translation. Therefore, as far as Ethernet systems are
concerned, the absolute host number is indeed an address and not
a name.
When Xerox internet packets traverse other
communication networks that do not support our absolute host
numbers. like the Bell Telephone DOD network. Telenet. or other
public or private data networks, translation tables will have to exist
in the necessary hosts and internet routers to perform translation
from absolute host numbers to internal addresses. We feel that
this will not cause many operational problems. other than setting
up and maiflta,ning Jlese trans),ltion tables a. appropriate \a,ld
limited) hosts and internet routers. Flat internet addresses are not
in widespread use because the designers of internetworks have hfld
little or no control over the design of the constituent
communication networks. and thus, have been forced to use
hierarchical internet addresses. rather than flat internet address
containing routing information or hints.
Flat internet addresses provide a vehicle for sol\'ing many of the
hard internetwork routing problems in situations like network
partitioning. multihoming. mobile hosts. etc. But they create
others!
These situations are described in greater detail in
[SunshineSl].
A host in an internetwork that has hierarchical internet addresses
has as many internet addresses as the number of networks to
which it is connected. It is the encoding of the network-specific
host number itself that distinguishes various schemes in this
category. There are two cases, one represented by the Arpa
Internet Protocols and the other by the Pup Protocols.
The Arpa Internet Protocols specify that the internet address is an
8-bit network number followed by a 24-bit host number. The host
number is encoded such that it is synonymous with the internal
addressing scheme of the communication network to which the
host is connected. For example, a host connected to the Bay Area
Packet Radio Network has a network-relative internal address of
16 bits. and therefore the host number in its internet address will
contain these 16 bits in the "least significant" positions. During
encapsulation, if the immediate destination is the final destination
then it is equal to the host number in the destination internet
address, and if the immediate destination is an intermediate
destination then it is determined from the routing tables and has
the right format. For such a scheme to work, the space reserved
for the host number must be as large as the largest internal
addressing scheme expected in any communica.tion network. In
the case of the Arpa Internet Protocols, this is already too small
since it cannot encode new Ethernet host numbers!
The PUp protocols encode the host number in the internet address
with onlv 8 bits, and so cannot be used to encode the various
network-specific host numbers. The Pup Protocols were designed
to be used in an internetwork environment consisting mainly of
interconnected Experimental Ethernet systems which have 8-bit
internal addresses, and that is why the host number in the internet
address is 8 bits long. Hence, even though the Pup Protocols use
network-specific host numbers, when packets are transmitted

through non-Experimental Ethernets a translation table is needed
just as for absolute host numbers.
For example, when Pup
mternet packets traverse the Bay Area Packet Radio Network, the
8-bit host number of the internet routers must be translated into
tlle 16-bit ID used within the radio network [Shoch79].
Here is another way to look at internet addresses: whether the
host number is absolute or network-specific. if it does not encode
the communication network's internal addresses. then it may be
necessary to translate from the internet ho,t number to the
communication network's internal address whenever the packet is
to be transmitted over the network.

4. Multicast
In addition to identifying a single host, our absolute host
numbering scheme pro\'ides several enhanced addressing modes.
Multicast addressing is a mechanism by which packets may be
targeted for more than one destination. This kind of service is
particularly valuable in certain kinds of distributed applications,
such as the access and update of distributed data bases,
teleconferencing, and the distributed algorithms which are used to
manage the network (and the internetwork).
Multicast is
supported by allowing the destination host numbers to specify
either a physical or "logical" host number. A logical host number
is called a multicast I D and identifies a group of hosts. Since the
space of multicast IDs is large. hosts must filter out mulitcast lOs
that are not of interest. We anticipate wide growth in the use of
multicast and all implementations should. therefore, minimize the
system load required to filter unwanted multicast IDs.

Broadcast is a special case of multicast: a packet is intended for all
hosts. The distinguished host number consisting of all ones is
defined to be the broadcast address. This specialized form of
multicast should be used with discretion, however. since all nodes
incur the overhead of processing such packets.
By generalizing the host number to encompass both physical and
logical host numbers. and by supporting this absolute host number
within the Ethernet system (which is inherently broadcast in
nature) we have made it possible to implement multicast
efficiently.
For example. perfect multicast filtering can be
performed in hardware and/or microcode associated witl1 the
Ethernet controller. Since logical host numbers are permitted in
flat internet addresses we also have the capability for internetwork
multicast. This is, however, easier said than done as the multicast
10 may span many networks. Internetwork multicast and reliable
multicast are subjects we are currently researching; an appreciation
of the problems can be found in [Dalal78 and Boggs81].
5. Names and Addresses

The words "name" and "address" are used in many different ways
when describing components of a computer system. The question
that we often get asked is: "is a 48-bit number the name or the
address of a host computer?"
In the area of computercommunications we have tried to develop a usage that is consistent
with that found elsewhere. and an excellent expose of the issues
may be found in [Shoch79]. An important result of this paper is
that a mode of identification (whether it be a number or a string
of characters) is treated as a name or address depending on the
context in which it is viewed.
From an internetworking point of view. the 48-bit number asigned
to a host is its identity, and never changes. Thus, the identity
could be thought of as the "name" (in the very broadest sense). of
the host in the internetwork. According to Shoch's taxonomy, this
identity could also be thought of as a flat address. as it is
recognizable by all elements of the internetwork.
The Ethernet local network is a component of an internet, and was
designed to support 48-bit host numbers. One could view this
design decision as "supporting host name recognition directly on

163

the Ethernet channel" (since broadcast routing is used to deliver a
packet). This would be true if a host was connected to an
Ethernet at only one point-a policy decision we made for the
Xerox internetwork architecture.
However, this is not a
requirement of the Ethernet design, and it is possible for a host to
be connected to many points on a single Ethernet channel, each
one potentially responding to a different 48-bit number. In this
situation the 48-bit number does in fact become an address in the
classical sense as it indicates "where" the host is located on the
channel. One of these 48-bit numbers could also be the host's
internet identity; the mapping from internet address to local
network address is now more cumbersome.
S. Market Projections
We have described our reasons for choosing absolute host
numbers in internet addresses, and for using them as station
addresses on the Ethernet channel. The host number space should
be large enough to allow the Xerox internet architecture to have a
life span well into the twenty-first century. 48 bits allow for
140,737.488 million physical hosts and mulitcast IDs each. VIe
chose this size based on marketing projections for computers and
computer-based products, and to permit easy management of the
host number space.
An estimate of the number of computer systems that will be built
in the 1980s varies, but it is quite clear that this number will be
very large and will continue to increase in the decades that follow.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census estimates
that in 1979 there were 165 manufacturers of general-purpose
computers, producing about 635,000 units valued at $6,439,000,000
[USCensus79]. There were also about 992,000 terminals and about
1,925,000 standard typewriters built!
International Data
Corporation estimates that during 1980-1984 there will be about
3.5 million general purpose mini, small business, and desktop
computers built in the United States [IDC80]. Gnostics Concepts
Inc. estimates that during 1980-1988 about 63 million central
processing units (cpus) of different sizes with minimum memory
will be built in the United States alone [Gnostics80].

2) Formulate an appropriate algorithm for generating host
numbers in a decentralized manner. For exampl~, use
a random number generator that reduces the
probability of address collisions to a very small
acceptable value.
Both options require the existence of an administrative procedure,
and perhaps an agency supported by the user community which
will have the overall reponsibility of ensuring the uniqueness of
host number assignments.
The second option has a great deal of academic appeal, but
nevertheless requires an administrative agency that must control
the way the random number generator is used to ensure that users
do not initialize it with the same seed. One way to accomplish
this is to assign unique seeds. This is not very different from
assigning unique blocks of numbers! Another way is to provide a
thermal noise device on the host to generate a seed or the random
host number itself. From a technical standpoint this solution is
superior to using software-implemented random number
generators, but administrative procedures are still necessary. An
agency must certify the "correctness" of the component.· i.e;, it
must guarantee that the component is drawing its numbers from a
uniform distribution.
In addition to these technkal issues, the
problem of controlling the assignment of multicast IDs does not
lend itself to a random number assignment procedure.
The first option was selected because of its simplicity and ease of'
administration and control. Xerox Corporataion will manage the
assignment of blocks to manufacturers. An in-house database
system is being used to assign numbers and, produce summaries
and reports. This is very similar to the way unifonn product codes
are assigned [UPC78]. The 48-bit host number space is partitioned
into 8.388.608 (223) blocks, each containing 16,777,216 (224)
physical and 16,777.216 (224) logical host numbers.
The
panitioning is strictly syntatctic, that is. the "block number" has
no semantics, and does not identify a manufacturer.

We expect that the production of microcomputer chips will
increase in the decades that follow, and there will be
microprocessors in typewriters. cars, telephones. kitchen appliances,
games, etc. While all these processors will not be in constant
communication with one another it is likely that every now and
then they will communicate in a networK of proc.tssors.
For
example, when a car containing a microprocessor chip needs
repairs, it might be plugged into a diagnostics system thereby
putting the car on a communications system. During the time it is
hooked into the communication network it would be very
convenient if it behaved like all other computers hooked into the
system.

The owner of a block of host numbers should use all of them
before requesting another block. That is. the host numbers within
a block should be used "densely", and should not encode the part
number. batch number. etc. Mechanisms by which physical host
numbers within a block are assigned to machines is manufacturer
dependent. Typically, a large-volume manufacturer would make
PROMs containing the host number, and then perform quality
control tests to ensure that there weren't any duplicates.

We believe that 32 bits, providing over 2,147.483,648,000 physical
host numbers and multicast IDs, is probably enough. However,
when this large space is carved up among the many computer
manufacturers panicipating in this network architecture, there are
bound to be many thousands of unused numbers. It is for this
reason that we increased the size to 48 bits. The next section
discusses the problems of managing this space.

With either assignment option it is possible that two machines
inadvertantly received the same host number. Suitable techniques
for discovering such anomalies will have to be developed by
installations, as part of their network management strategy.

7. Management and Assignment Procedures
In order that an absolute host numbering scheme work,
management policies are needed for the distribution and
assignment of both physical and logical host numbers. The major
requirement is to generate host numbers in such a way that the
probability of the same number being assigned elsewhere is less
than the probability that the hardware used to store the number
will fail in an undetected manner. There are two ways to manage
the Qost number space:

164

1) Partition the host number space into blocks and assign
blocks to manufacturers or users on demand. The
assignment of numbers within a block to machines is
the responsibility of each manufacturer or user.

Multicast ID assignment is a higher-level, system-wide function,
and is a subject we are investigating.

The continued advances in LSI development will make it possible
to manufacture an inexpensive "Ethernet chip." Even though host
numbers are associated with the host and not a particular network
interface. it might be useful to have a unique host number built
into each chip and allow the host to read it. The host can then
choose whether or not to return this number to the chip as its host
nU!l1ber; a host connected to many Ethernet systems can read a
umque number from one of the chips and set the physical host
number filter to this value in all of them.
The 48-bit host number is represented as a sequence of six 8-bit
bytes A, B, C, D, E, F. The bytes are transmitted on the Ethernet
channel in the order A, B, C, D, E, F with the least significant bit

of each byte transmitted first. The least significant bit of byte A is
the multicast bit, identifying whether the 4S-bit number is a
physical or logical host number. Figure 2 illustrates how the bytes
of a 48-bit host number are laid out in an Ethernet packet.

1--- '"'' - - I
".

MSB

In summary. absolute host numbers have the following properties:

-

~

-

PREAMBLE

-

o they pennit hosts to be added to. or removed from
networks in the internetwork with minimum
adminstrative overhead.

-

o they pennit mapping internet addresses to network
addresses during encapsulation without translation.

-

A

I

MUL TiCA5T BiT

B
BLOCK NUMBER

C

DESTINATION

o they pennit the separation of roUling from addressing,
which is especially useful in inrernetworks with
multihomed or mobile hosts.

D
E

F

SOURCE

The architecture of the Xerox internetwork communication system
has been designed to have a life span well into the twenty-first
century. We expect that it will receh'e wide acceptance as a style
of"internetworking, and therefore chose the host number to be 48
bits long. As a policy decision our internetwork architecture
legislates that a host (mulitiply) connected to one or more Ethernet
local networks has the same physical host number on each one.

o they provide the basis for unique identification of files.
programs and other objects on stand-alone and
networked hosts.

t-t--

L2.

-

-

o they support multicast, or the delivery of data to a
group of recepients rather than only to a single
physical host.

-

Although a host has the same number for use by operating system
software. both within the internetwork and on an Ethernet system.
none of the prfnciples of layered protocol design have' been
violated. Things have simply been conveniently arranged to be
optimal in the most common configurations.

--

-

TYPE

-

-

-

DATA
ft'tplc.II)'."lnt.'ut~lKlI.tl

We encourage designers of other local computer networks and
distributed systems to use absolute host numbers from our 4S-bit
address space.
Acknowledgements

Figure 2. Ethernet Packet and Host Number Format

Although the destination address in an internet or intranet packet
may specify either a physical host number or a multicast !D, the
source address in a packet is generally the physical host number of
the host which sent the packet. Knowing the source address is
important for error control, diagnostic tests, and maintenance. A
host which receives a multicast packet is also free to use ,hat same
multicast !D (the destination) in order to transmit an answer
"back" to the multicast group.

Our decision to support an absolute host numbering scheme in
internetwork and Ethernet systems was based on many years of
experience with the Pup internetwork and the Experimental
Ethernet system: David Boggs. John Shoch. Ed Taft. Bob Metcalfe
and Hal Murray have helped refine our ideas to their current state.
Alan Kotok. Bill Strecker and others at' Digital Equipment
Corporation provided many recommendations on managing the
host number space while we were developing the Ethernet
specification.
References
[AbrahamSOj
Abraham, S. M.. and Dalal, Y. K., "Techniques for
Decentralized Management of Distributed Systems," 20th
IEEE Computer Society International Conference (Compcon),
February 19S0, pp. 430-436.

8. Summary and Conclusions
We believe that all hosts should have a unique physical host
number independent of the type or number of networks to which
they are physically connected. With the continuing decline in the
cost of computing and communications. we expect that
internetworks will be very large.
Many of the problems in
managing the internetwork can be simplified by directly
supponing the large absolute host number in the constituent
networks, such as the Ethernet. Thus. addresses in the Ethernet
system seem to be very generous, well beyond the number of hosts
that might be connected to one local network.

[BoggsSOj
Boggs, D. R., Shoch, 1. F., Taft. E. A.. and Metcalfe, R. M.,
"PUP: An internetwork architecture," IEEE Transactions 011
Commullications, com-2S:4, April 1980, pp. 612-624.
[BoggsS1j
Boggs, D. R., "Internet Broadcasting," Ph.D. Thesis, Stanford
University, 19S1. in preparation, (will be available from Xerox
Palo Alto Research Center).

165

[Cerf78]
Cerf. V. G., and Kirstein, P. K.. "Issues in Packet-Network
Interconnection," Proceedings of the IEEE. vol 66, no 11.
No\ember 1978. pp. 1386-1408.

[Shoch80j
Shoch, 1. F., and Hupp, 1. A. , "Measured performance of an
Ethernet local network," Communications of the ACM 23'12
December 1980, pp. 711-721.
'
.,

[Crane80]
Crane. R.
and Taft, E. A.. "Practical considerations in
Ethernet local network design." Proc. of the 13th Hawaii
Intemational Conference on Systems Sciences. January 1980,
pp. 166-174.

[Shoch81]
Shoch, J. F., Local Computer Networks, McGraw-Hill, in
preparation.

c..

[DalaI78]
Dalal. Y. K.. and Metcalfe. R. M.. "Reverse Path Forwarding
of Broadcast Packets." Communications of the ACA!, 21:12.
December 1978. pp. 1040-1048.
[Ethernet80]
Intel. Digital Equipment and Xerox Corporations. The
Eihemet. A- Local Area Network: Data Link Layer and Physical
Layer Spec[ficGlions. Version 1.0. September 30. 1980.
[GnosticsSO]
Gnostic Concepts. Inc .. Computer InduSIl)' Economelric Sen-ice.
/01:10. J 'olume /.

Problems

in

Multi-Network

[UPC78j
UP~ Guidelines Manual. January 1978.
Available from
Umform Product Code Council, Inc., 7061 Corporate Way,
SUIte 106, Dayton Ohio.

[USCensus79j
U.S. Deoarrment of Commerce. Bureau of Census. "Computers
and Office Accounting Machines." Current Industrial Reports
1979.
.
.

[lDC80]
lnternational Daw Corporation. Corporate Planning Sen ice.
Processor Dala Book /980.

[RedeI180]
Redell, D. D.. Dalal. Y. K., Horsely, T. R., Lauer. H. C..
Lynch. W. C. McJones. P. J.. Murray. H. G .. and Purcell, S.
C .. "Pilot: An Operating System for a Personal Computer,"
Communications of the ACi\{, 23:2, February 1980. pp. 81-92.

[IPSO]
Postel. 1.. cd .. DoD SlGndard Illlernet Proloeol. January 1980.
"'TIS ]\;0. ADA079730. also in ACM Computer Communication
Reriel\'. 101 10. no 4. October 80. pp. 2-51.

[Shoch78]
Shoch. 1. F .. "Internetwork Naming, Addressing. and Routing."
17th IEEE Computer Society III/emational Conference
(Compeon). September 1978. pp. 430-437.

[\1ctcalfc76]
\Ietcalfe. R. \1.. and Boggs. D. R .. "Ethernet: Distributed
sv. itching
for
local
computer
networks."
packet
Communications of the A C\!. 19:7. July 1976. pp. 395-404.

[Shoch79]
Shoch, 1. F .. and Stewart. L, "Interconnecting Local Networks
yia the Packet Radio Network." Sixth Data Communications
Symposium. NOI·cmber 1979, pp. 153-158.

[OppenSl]
Oppen. D. C .. and Dalal. Y. K .. "The Clearinghouse: A
Decentralized Agent for Locating Named Objects in a
Distributed Environment." in preparation.

166

[Sunshine81]
Sunshine. C.. "AddreSSing
Systems," in preparation.

Higher-level protocols
enhance Ethernet
Internet Transport Protocols enable
system elemenl$ on multiple Ethernets to
.communicate with one another. Courier
specifies the manner in which a work station
invokes operations provided by a server.
The Ethernet specification announced by Digital
Equipment Corp., Intel Corp., and Xerox Corp. in 1980
only covers the lowest level hardware and software
building blocks necessary for an expandable distributed
computer network that can serve large office environments. Additional levels of protocol are needed to allow
communication between networks and communication
between processes within different pieces of equipment
from different manufacturers.
Xerox' recently announced Network Systems Internet Transport Protocols and Courier: The Remote Procedure Call Protocol, define protocols that address these
issues.
Th serve large office environments, Ethernet's basic
communication capability must be augmented in various
ways. Intercormecting multiple Ethernets will circumvent the maximum end to end cable length restriction of
2.5 km, but requires mechanisms for internetwork communication. The Internet Transport Protocols offer a
richer addressing scheme and a more sophisticated routing algorithm, and will enable Ethernets to be interconnected by telephone lines, public data networks, or
other long-distance transmission media but will allow
transmission of data larger than the 1526-byte packets~ restriction imposed by the Ethernet.
Network system protocols

As illustrated by Xerox' five-level Network Systems
protocol architecture (Fig. 1), the new protocols go well
beyond the original Ethernet specifica~on, which covers
level O-physically transmitting data from one point to
another. This corresponds to the physical, data link, and
network (network-specific sublayer) layers in the Inter-

James White, Manager, Electronic Mail
Vogan Dalal, Manager, Advanced Network Services
Xerox Corp. Office Products Division
3450 Hillview Ave., Palo Alto, Calif. 94304

national Standards Organization's Open Systems Intercormect (OSI) reference model. The Internet Transport
protocols cover levels 1 and 2; the first level decides
where the data should go, and the second for structured
sequences of related packets. Levels 1 and 2 correspond
to the network (internet-specific sublayer), transport,.
and session layers of the OSI model.
At level 3, the protocols have less to do with communication and more to do with the content of data and the
control of manipulation of resources. Level 3 corresponds to the OSI model's presentation layer and is
covered by Courier. Level 4 defines specific applications
and corresponds to the OSI model's application layer;
Xerox plans to disclose some of them later this year.
There are several protocols in this family:
• The internet datagram protocol, which defines the
fundamental unit of information flow within the
internetwork-the internet datagram packet.

Level 4 and .bow
Application protocols

Control protocols:
conventions lor
data structuring and
process interaction

Lavel2
Transport protocols:
interprocess
communication
primitiWlS

Lavell
Transport protocols:
internetwork packet lormat,
internetwork addressing and
routing

'-----r----,------...-------'

LaveI 0
Transmission media
protocols:
packet transport
mechanism

1. Network system protocols are arranged In five levels. The
Internet transport protocols are at levels 1 and 2; the Courier
remote procedure call protocol Is at level 3. Xerox plans to
announce the application protocols at level 4 later this year.

167

Systems &Software: Ethernet protocols
• The sequenced packet protocol, which provides for
reliable, sequenced, and duplicate-suppressed transmission of a stream of packets.
• The packet exchange protocol, which supports simple, transaction-oriented communication involving the
exchange of a request and its response.
.
• The routing information protocol, which provides
for the exchange and dissemination of internetwork toPological information necessary for the proper routing of
datagrams.
• The error protocol, which is intended to standardize
the manner in which low-level communication or transport errors are reported.
• The echo protocol, which is used to verify the existence and correct operation of a host, and the path to it.
The internet packet transport protocols embody the
fundamental principles of store-and-forward internetwork packet communications. The fundamental unit of
information flow is the internet packet, which is media-,
proceSSOl'-, and applic8.tion-independent (Fig. 2~
.Internetwork packets are routed from one network to
another via store-and-forward system elements called
internetwork routers that connect transmission systems. Each datagram is treated independently by the
routing- machinery; it gives its best effort, but will not
guarantee that packets will be delivered once and orily
oilce, or that they will be delivered in the same order in
which they were transmitted.
When an internet packet is received over a transmission medium, it is first decapsulated by stripping away
the immediate source and destination addresses. If the
packet is destined for this host, it will be delivered to a

local socket (a uniquely i!ientified portwithin the operating system in a host~ If the packet is to be routed to
another network, it will be reencapsulated and subsequently transmitted according to the conventions of the
second transmission medium.
Internet, packet fields fall into three categories: addressing fields, which specify the addreSs of.the destination and source of the internet packet and consist of
source and destination network addresses; control
fields, which are related. to controlling data transmission
and consist of checksum, length, transport control, and
packet type fields; and data fields, which carry the data
and consist of information that is interpreted orily at
level 2.
The network address fields proVide a more general
addresaingmechanism than the 48-bit host number used
on the Ethernet by a 32-bit network number and a IS-bit
socket. number. The network number reaches out to
encompass multiple interconnected Ethernets or other
transmission media. The socket number reaches in to
distinguish among multiple post-office-box-like objects
within the operating system in a machine.
The checksum is an end-to-end checksum (Ul1like the
Ethernet's cyclic redundancy check) that is cOmputed
once by the original source of the packet and checked
once by the ultimate recipient to verify the integrity of
all the data it encompasses. It is an optional one'scomplement add-and-left cycle (l'Qtate) of all the I6-bit
words of the internet packet, excluding the checksum
word itsel£ Internet packets are always transmitted as
an integral number of IS-bit words. A garbage byte is
added at the end if the numbers of bytes is odd; this byte

-

~

-

--

~

--

-

-,...
-

Immediate
destination

rr-

-

--

6
0

r-

Checksum

-

Length

-

-

Source network

-

-

Levell

-

-

Source host
Source socket

I

Potential garbage byte

Internetwork pecket

~CYCIiC redundan~y=
Ethernet packet

-

Level 2

check

Destination host

(0 to 546 bytes 01 transperent data)

--

~

-

-

Transport control
Packet type

....

Destination network

-

Destination socket

-

r-

15

1
Checksum
Length
Transport control I
Packet type

;

-

Immediate
source

0

r-

0 1

Date

-

7

-I I I I IHOp count I

Packet type

1

2. An Internet packet (16 bits wide) Is encapsulated In an Ethernet pscket.

168

3. A connection Is a transient association between two processes that allows messages to flow
baQk and forth. The sequenced packet protocol allows packets to be assembled Into messages
and removes the IIInltatlon on packet size at lower architectural levels.

is included in the checksum, but not in the length.
The length field carries the complete length of the
internet packet measured in bytes, beginning with the
checksum and continuing to the end of the data field.
However, the p<)ssible garbage byte at the end is not
included.
The transport control field contains a hop-count subfield, which is incremented by 1 each time the packet is
handled by an internetwork router. An internetwork
packet reaching its sixteenth internetwork router is
discarded.
The packet type field describes how the data field is to
be interpreted, providing a bridge to level 2.
A client p:rwess typically interfaces to the internetwork datagram protocol package in an operating system
by acquiring a socket and then transmitting and receiving internet packets on that socket.
Two modes of communication are particrilarly important in building a distributed system: connections and
simple transactions. Connection-oriented communications, which is supported by the sequenced packet protocol, involves an extended conversation by two
machines in which much more information is conveyed
than can be sent in one packet going in one direction.
Thus, the need arises for a series of related packets that
could number in the thousands.
Simple transaction-oriented communication, which is
supported by the packet exchange protocol, involves one
machine (the consumer) simply sending a request to
perform an operation; the other machine (the server)
perfoi'mS the operation and provides information about
its outcome.
Sequenced packet protocol

The sequenced-packet protocol provides reliable, sequenced, and duplicate suppressed transmission of successive internetwork packets· by implementing the
virtual-circuit connection abstraction, which is common
to many communications systems (Fig. 3~ The connection links two processes in different machines and carries a sequence of messages, each consisting of a sequence of packets, in each direction.

Arranging packets into messages and message sequences is one way to circumvent the packet~size limitation at lower levels of the protocol architecture. The
sequenced packet protocol provides a mechanism to
punctuate the stream of packets with end-of-message
boundaries.
Each client packet gets a sequence number when it is
transmitted by the source; sequence numbers are used
to order the packets, to. detect and ~uppress duplicates
and, when returned to the source, to acknowledge reception of the packets. The flow of data from sender to
receiver is controlled on a packet basis. The protocol
specifies the format of the packets (Fig. 4) and the
meaning of packet sequences.
Throughput vs buffering

One of the major design goals when implementing
connections is to maximize throughput-controlling the
packet flow so that the receiver accepts packets at the
speed the source is sending them. But another goal is to
minimize the amount of buffer resources allocated to the
connection, since a typical machine, particularly a
server, might have to:rn8.intain many connections (to
different work stations) at the same time. Since these
two goals could conflict, the system designer will have to
make tradeoffs according to individual requirements.
The connection control field contains four bits that
control the protocols actions: system packet, send acknowledgment, attention, and end-of-message. The system packet bit enables the recipient to determine
whether the data field contains client data or is empty
and the packet has been sent only to communicate control information required for the connection to function
properly. If the send acknowledgment bit is set, the
source wants the receiver to acknowledge previously
received packets.
In a distributed environment, special procedures
must be provided to bypass the normal flow control and
interrupt a process~ If the attention bit is set, the source
client process wants the destination client proce~s to be
notified that this has arrived. Ifthe end-of-message bit is
set, then the packet and its contents will terminate a

169

Systems &Software: Ethernet protocols
message and the next packet will begiri the following
message.
The primary. bridge between this level 2 prototype
and any level 3 protocols is the data stream type field,
which provides information that may be useful to higherlevel software in interpreting data transmitted over the
. connection.
Should one of the partners in a connection fail, it must
be noticed by the other partner. Accordingly, each
packet includes two 16-bit connection identifiers, one
specified by each end of the connection. Each end tries
to ensure that if it fails and is restarted, it will not reuse
the same identifier. Thus, the restarted program will be
easy to distinguish from the old instance of the same
program.
The sequence number is a unique number'assigned to
each packet sent on the connection. Each direction of
data flow is independently sequenced. One purpose of
the sequence number is to provide a means for the
receiver to reorder the incoming packets (as necessary)
before presenting them to the application software. The
sequence number also provides a basis for the acknowledgment and flow-control mechanisms.
The acknowledgment number field specifies the sequence number of the first packet, which has not yet
Checksum
Length
I Sequenced packet type
Transport control

r-

Destination network

f-

Destination host

-

-

----,

Destination socket

-

Source network
Source host

-

Source socket
Data-s ream type
Connection control
Source connection identification
Destination connection identification
Sequence number
Acknowledge number
Allocation number

,.r

Levell
Addressing and delivery

Level 2
.Sequenced packet
protocol

Level 3
Data

4

0

c.t I I I I

11.

Control

15

7

Reserved

I

Data-stream type

1

End of message
Attention
Send acknowledgment

System packet

4. A sequenced packet protocol packet allows successive
transmission of Internet packets.

170

been seen traveling in the reverse direction, thus identifying the next expected packet. The allocation number
field specifies the sequence number of the last packet
that will be accepted from the other end. However, if the
attention bit is set, the allocation mechanism described
will be ignored and the packet will be sent, even though
the destination may have no room.
Flow control by windowing

The sequenced-packet protocol has been designed to
support both high- and low-bandwidth communication.
The receiving end controls the rate at which data may be
sent to it; the sending end controls the frequency with
which the receiving end must return acknowledgments.
The protocol controls data flow with windowing (Fig.
5). A window is a contiguous set of sequence numbers
that form the current focus of the transmission. The
window is a range ofpackets such that all packets to the
left of the window-the lower-numbered packets-are
understood to have been received by the destination
, machine. All packets to the right of the window-the
higher sequence numbers-are not to be sent at that
moment. All packets in the window are packets that the
receiver has allowed to be sent, not all that may have
been received. As the window is filled from the left, it is
advanced to the right.
There are several compatible strategies for implementing this window mechanism. A conservative implementation could have windows one packet wide; an
ambitious implementation might have very wide windows. The amount of buffer space allocated to the connection is traded off against performance because a very
small window forces a complete two-way interaction
between source and destination on every packet. But
with wide windows, an entire sequence of packets can be'
sent in bulk by the source.
In a certain sense, these strategies conflict, two machines employing different strategies can still communicate, but at the lowest common denominator.
Establishing and terminating connections

A connection, of course, must be ,created before it can
be used and discarded when no longer required. One end
of a connection is said to be established' when it knows
the address (host and socket number) and connection
identification ofboth ends of the connection. Ifboth ends
are established symmetrically, the connection is said to
be open. Data can only flow reliably on an open connection; that is, a packet will be delivered to the client
process only if its source-and-destination host number,
socket number, and connection identification match
those associated with the connection.
The first packet on a new connection will address
some particular socket in the machine, and the implementation of the sequenced packet protocol will know
whether any application in that machine has expressed
interest in that network address. If no process has ex-

pressed an interest in the socket, the sequenced packet
protocol implementation will inform the sender via the
error protocol.
In order to open a connection between a consumer
process and a server process that advertises service on a
well-known socket, the server first establishes a servicelistener process at a well-known or well-advertised
socket. This process accesses the Internet Transport
Protocol package at the level of the internet datagram
protocol and indicates a willingness to accept packets
from any source. The consumer process then creates an
unestablished end of a connection. Once the consumer's
packet is received, the service listener creates a new
service process and creates one end of the unestablished
connection. An empty packet returned by the new service process causes the consumer's end of the connection
to be established.
'Thrmination of a connection is not handled by the
sequence packet protocol, but by the communicating
clients. There are three separate but interlocking messages they transmit-one signifying that all data has
been sent; one signifying that all the data has been
received and processed; and one signifying that the
sender understands and is turning to other things.

Packets received
and acknowledged

EJ G

Transmitting a request in a packet and receiving a
response via the packet exchange protocol (Fig. 6) will
be more reliable than transmitting internet packets directly as datagrams, but less reliable than the sequenced packet protocol.
There are only three fields in the packet. An identification field, which contains a transaction identifier, is
the means by which a request and its response are
associated. A client type field indicates how the data
field should be interpreted at higher levels. A data field
contains whatever the higher-level protocols specify.
Such a protocol might be used in locating a file server
through a resource-location service, such as the Xerox
Clearinghouse.
Otherprotocols

As dominant as the sequenced packet and packet
exchange protocols are at level 2, they do not handle
everything. The routing-information protocol, for one,
provides for the exchange of topological information
among internetwork routers and work stations.
Two packets are defined by the protocol: one of them
requests routing information, and the other supplies it.
The information supplied is a set of network numbers
and an indication of how far away those networks are.
This information is either sent on specific request or
periodically distributed by all internetwork routers,
which use the data to maintain routing tables that describe all or part of the internetwork topology.
An error protocol is intended to standardize the manner in which low-level communication or transport er-

Packets not sent
and disallowed

EJB8B G
Window three packets wide

5. A flow-control window Is set up by the sequenced packet
protocol, using Its sequence, acknowledgment, and
allocation numbers. The wider the window, the fewer the
number of Interactions between source and destination
during message transmission.

Checksum
Length
Packet-exchange type
Transpcrt control

-

-

Destination network

Destination host

-

Levell
Addressing
and delivery

Destination socket

"'--

Packet exchange protocol

Packets allowed
but unreceived or
unacknowledged

Source network
Source host

-

Source socket
Identification
Client type

Level 2
Packetexchange
protocol

Data

8. A packet exchange protocol packet simply
transmits a request and receives a response.

rors are reported. Moreover, it can be used as a
debugging tool.
for example, a machine receives a
packet that it detects as invalid, it may return a portion
of that packet by means of the error. protocol, along with
an indication of what is wrong. It: say, the packet is too
large to be forwarded through some intermediate network, the error protocol can be used to report that fact
and to indicate the length of the longest packet that can
be accommodated. If too many of these return, the
system designer may conclude that something is wrong
with his implementation.
Another useful diagnostic and debugging tool is a
protocol called the echo protocol, which is used to verify
the existence and correct operation of a host and the
path to it. It specifies that all echo-protocol packets
received shall be returned to the source. The echo protocol also can be used to verify the correct operation of

If:

171

Systems &Software: Ethernet protocols
an implementation of the internet datagram protocol.
Protocols above the Internet Transport Protocols are
required when, for example, a work station requests a
particular file from a remotely located file server. Agreements are needed on how a work station
ask for the
service and indicate the file name and how the file server
will indicate that it can or cannot find the file (among
other things).
Courier is a level 3 protocol that facilitates the
construction of distributed systems by defining a single request-reply discipline for an open-ended set of
higher-level application protocols such as filing. Courier specifies the manner in which a work station or
other active system element invokes operations
provided by a server or other passive system element
(Fig. 7).
'.
Courier uses the subroutine or procedure call as a
metaphor for the exchange of a request and its positive reply. An operation code is modeled as the name
of a remote procedure, the parameters of the request
as the arguments of that procedure, and the parameters of the positive reply as tIle procedure's results.
Courier uses the raising of an exception condition or
error as a metaphor for the return of a negative reply.
An error code is modeled as the name of a remote
error and the parameters of the negative reply as the
arguments of that error. Courier uses the module or
program as a collection of related operations and their
associated exception conditions. A family of remote
procedures and the remote errors those procedures
can raise are said to constitute a remote program.
Courier does for distributed-system builders some
of what a high-level programming language does for
implementers of more conventional systems. Pascal,
for example, allows the system builder to think in
terms of procedure calls, not in terms of base. registers, save areas, and branch-and-link instructions.
Courier allows the distributed-system builder ~o
think in terms of remote procedure calls, not in terms
of socket numbers, network connections, and message transmission. Pascal allows the system builder
to think in terms of integers and strings, rather than
in terms of sign bits, length fields, and character
codes. Courier allows the distributed-system builder
to do the same.

wru

Request, reply parameter types

Courier defines a family of data types from which
request and reply parameters can be constructed (see
"Courier data types"). Many high-level languages
define data types that are semantically equivalent (or
similar) to those defined by Courier. In such environ.:.
ments, it is often useful to define mappings between
Courier data types and those of the host language. A
Courier implementation can then provide software
that converts a Courier data object (in its standard

172

representation) to or from a form in which it can be
manipulated using normal language or run-time
facilities.
Courier also defines four standard message formats
for requests and replies: a call message calls a remote
procedure, i.e., invokes a remote operation; a reject
message rejects such a call, i.e., reports an inability
to even attempt a remote operation; a return message
reports a procedure's return, i.e., acknowledges the
operation's successful completion; and an abort message raises a remote error, i.e., reports the operation's failure. The message formats are defined using
the same standard notation described for request and
reply parameters.
Every remote program is assigned a program number, which identifies it at run time. Every remote
program is further characterized by a version number, which distinguishes successive versions of the
program and helps to 'ensure at run time that caller

Active
system
element

Passive
system
element
Call procedure, arguments

Return results
or
Abort error, arguments

7. The Courier remote procedure call protocol covers the
manner In which a client Invokes operations from a remote
program. It simply calls for a procedure and expects the
results to be returned or the operation to be aborted.

SimpleFile Transfer: PROGRAM 13 VERSION 1 =
BEGIN

-types
Credentials: TYPE = RECORD [user, password: STRING);
Handle: TYPE = UNSPECIFIED;

- procedures
OpenDirectory: PROCEDURE [name: STRING, credentials:
Credentials)
RETURNS [directory: Handle) REPORTS [NoSuchUser,
IncorrectPassword, NoSuchDirectory, AccessDenied) = 1;
Store File: PROCEDURE [name: STRING, directory: Handle)
REPORTS [NoSuchFile, InvalidHandle) = 2;
RetrieveFile: PROCEDURE [name: STRING, directory: Handle)
REPORTS [NoSuchFile, InvalidHandle) = 3;
CloseDirectory: PROCEDURE [directory: Handle) REPORTS
[Invalid Handle) = 4;

-errors
NoSuchUser:
NoSuchDirectory:
NoSuchFile:
InconectPassword:
AccessDenied:
InvalidHandle:
END,

ERROR
ERROR
ERROR
ERROR
ERROR
ERROR

= 1;
= 2;

=
=
=
=

3;
4;
5;
6;

8. As part of Courier's operation, a simple file-transfer
protocol requests access to a directory to store or retrieve a
file; gains the access and then closes the directory. Note the
use of the high-level-like programming language In Courier's
standard notation.

and callee have agreed upon the calling sequences of
the program's remote procedures.
Each remote program has its own version-number
space. Whenever a program's declaration is changed
in any way, its version number is incremented by 1. A
remote program consists of zero or more remote procedures and the errors they can raise. The specification of a remote program defines a numeric value of
each procedure and error.
A call message invokes the remote procedure
whose program number, program version number,
and procedure value are specified.
A reject message rejects a call to a remote procedure, specifying the nature of the problem encountered. A return message reports a procedure's return
and supplies its results. An abort message raises,
with the arguments supplied, the remote error whose
error value is specified.
In addition, a standard notation is defined for formally specifying the remote procedures and errors of
a remote program, which means higher-level protocol
specifications are written in what resembles a highlevel programming language.
To see how Courier is used, consider a user named
Stevens (password etyyq), who wishes to retrieve a
file named Drawings from a directory named Projects
on a file server named Development. The work station
in Stevens' office and the file server at a branch office
in another part of the state are attached to different
Ethernet local networks, which are interconnected by
means of a leased phone line. The file server is supplied by Xerox; the work station is not.
A simple file-transfer protocol is assumed to
provide access to a two-level hierarchical file system
maintained by the file server. The file system contains
one or more named directories, each of which comprises one or more named files. The hypothetical filetransfer protocol is formally specified using Courier's
standard notation (Fig. 8). Remote procedures are
provided for gaining and relinquishing access to directories and for storing and retrieving files.
To retrieve the file, Stevens' work station locates
and then establishes a connection to the file server.
The work station opens the directory, retrieves the
file, and closes the directory. The work station then
terminates the connection. The work station opens
and closes the directory by calling the remote procedures named OpenDirectory and Close Directory,
respectively, in the file server. It requests retrieval of
the file by calling the remote procedure named RetrieveFile, which tells the file server of the intention
to retrieve. As soon as that procedure returns, the file
server transmits the contents of the file on the connection using a protocol not described here.
Before anything can happen, however, the work
station must discover the network address of the file

Courier data types
The data types defined by Courier fall into two
classes: predefined and constructed. Predefined data
types are fully specified by Courier, whereas constructed data types are defined by an applicationprotocol designer, in most cases using predefined or
other constructed data types. Courier covers seven
predefined data types:
• Boolean: a logical quantity that can assume either
of two values, true and false.
• Cardinal: an integer in the interval 0 to 65535 (that
is, an unsigned integer representable in 16 bits).
• Long-cardinal: an integer in the interval 0 to
4,294,967,295 (32 bits).
• Integer: a signed integer in the interval - 32768 to
32767 (that is, a signed integer representable in 16 bits).
• Long-Integer: a signed integer in the interval
-2,147,483,648 to 2,147,483,647 (32 bits).
• String: an ordered collection of text characters
whose number need not be specified until run time.
• Unspecified: a 16-bit quantity whose interpretation is unspecified.
Courier also defines seven constructed data types:
• Enumeration: a quantity that can assume any of a
relatively few named integer values in the interval 0 to
65535.
• Array: an ordered, one-dimensional, homogeneous collection of data objects whose type and number
are specified at documentation time.
• Sequence: an ordered, one-dimensional homogeneous collection of data objects whose type and maximum number are specified at documentation time but
whose actual number can be specified at run time.
• Record: an ordered, possibly heterogeneous collection of data objects whose types and number are
specified at documentation time.
• Choice: a data object whose type is chosen at run
time from a set of candidates specified at documentation time.
• Procedure: the identifier or code for an operation
that one system element will perfonn at the request of
another. The operation may require parameters when
it is invoked, return parameters if it succeeds, and
report exception conditions if it fails. The arguments
and results of a procedure are data objects whose types
and number are specified at documentation time.
• Error: the identifier or code for an exception condition that one system element may report to another
in response to a request to perfonn an operation. Parameters may accompany the report. The arguments of
an error are data objects whose types and number are
specified at documentation time.

173

Systems &Software: Ethernet protocols
server named Development by contacting a resource
location service (the Clearinghouse). It does this by
broadcasting an internet packet with a specially
structured network address. The network number
field contains a code that means ''the local network";
the processor field contains a code that means
"broadcast"; the socket number field is the Clearinghouse's well-known socket number.
Clearinghouse operations

The Clearinghouse consults its (distributed) data
base and returns the file server's network address.
The work station then initiates a connection by sending the first packet to the file server.
1. Open the directory named Projects, on behalf of the user named
Stevens (password etyyq):
1a. call the remote procedure named OpenDirectory, with:
Arguments: name: "Projects,· credentials: [user: "Stevens,·
password: "etyyq1.
Results: directory: 10A4H ("H" signifies hexadecimal).
1a1. Send a call message, with parameters:
transactionID:O, programNumber: 13, version Number: 1,
procedureValue: 1, procedureArguments: [name:
"Projects", credentials: [user: "Stevens", password:

"etyyq1)
1a1a. Send the following 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) on the connection:
message type (call):
0000
transactionlD:
0000
program Number:
0000
versionNumber;
0001
procedurevalue:·
0001
name:
0008 5072 6F6A 6543
7473
user:
000753746576 656E

7300
password:

0005657479797100

182. Recaive a return me,sage, with parameters:
transactionlD: 0, proj:edureResults: [directory: 10A4H)
182a. Receive the follOWing 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) po the connection:
message type (retum): 0002
transactionlD:
0000
directory:
10A4
2. Retrieve the file named Drawings:
2a. Call the remote procedure named RetrieveFile, with:
Arguments: name: "Drawings", directory: 10A4H.
Results: none.
281. Send a call m~ge, with parameters:
transactionlD: 0, programNumber: 13, version Number: 1,
procedurevalue: 3, procedureArguments: [name:
"Drawings·, directory: 10A4H)

Once a connection has been established, the work
station makes three remote procedure calls on the file
server and then terminates the connection. The steps
.carried out to make these calls are shown in Fig. 9.
Each step is hierarchically divided into substeps,
which show the Courier messages exchanged· by the
work station and server (taking the work station's
point of view), as well as how those messages appear
on the connection as a sequence of16-bit words (shown
in hexadecimal).
But the document transfer may not work out as
described; various problems may crop up. The most
common mistakes are made by the human user, such
as specifying a nonexistent file server, directory, or
2a1 a. Send the following 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) on the connection:
message type (call):
0000
transactionlD:
0000
programNumber:
0000
versionNumber:
0001
procadurevalue:
0003
name:
000844726177 696E
6773
directory:
10A4
282. Receive a return message, with parameters:
transactionlD: 0, procedureResults: 0
282a. Receive the following 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) on the connection:
message type (return): 0002
tr.ansactionID:
0000
2b. Receive the contents of the file trensmitted via the connection
(details unspecified here).
3. Close the directory:
38. Call the remote procedure named CloseDirectory, with:
Arguments: ~irectory: 10A4H.
Results: none.
3a1. Send a call message, with parameters:
transactionlD: 0, programNumber: 13, versionNumber: 1,
procedurevalue: 4, procedureArguments: [directory:
10A4H)
.
3a1a; Send the following 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) on the connection:
0000
message type (call):
transactionlD:
0000
program Number:
0000,
versionNumber:
0001
procedureValue:
0004
directory:
10A4
382. Receive a return message, with parameters:
transactionlD: 0, procedureResults: 0

3a2a. Receive the following 16-bit words (shown in
hexadecimal) on the connection:
message type (return): 0002
transactionlD:
0000

9. With Courier, a user named Stevens (passwordetyyq) retrieves a file from a directory. Each step is hierarchically
divided into substeps. Thfl messages appear as a sequence of 16·blt words, shown in hexadecimal.

174

file. Such mistakes are reported to the work station
by the file server or the Clearinghouse, using the
Courier remote error reporting mechanism.
In addition, a connection may not go through for a
number of reasons~the file server has crashed, an
internetwork router has crashed, there is an undetected break in the network, or the telephone. line
has failed in some way not directly detectable by the
software.
Testing and debugging may be needed

When no response is returned, the first task is to
isolate the failure. A call to the system administrator
may help ascertain which part of the communication
path is at fault. If there is a print server on the same
Ethernet as the file server, and something can be sent
to the print server, the file server is probably at fault.
The internetwork router can be checked in the same
way. If none of these attempts isolates the problem,
the system implementer can turn to one of several
software tools.
Many of these tools depend on the broadcasting
nature of the Ethernet medium, and the resulting

ability of one machine to observe packets sent by
another. For example, a peek-type tool makes visible
on the screen (in a convenient format) the contents of
packets. An internet peek-type tool can also do selective filtering of packets based on sequenced-packet
protocol connections or Cburier calls, and display
them symbolically, which proves useful in debugging.
Another useful tool tests the network hardware, microcode, and software within a single machine. Yet
another program permits the user to examine routing
tables and network device driver statistics in any
internetwork router and to echo packets from any
machine. 0
Bibliography
Digital Equipment Corp., Intel Corp., and Xerox Corp., Ethernet, A Local Area Network: Data Link Layer and Physical Layer
Specifications, Sept. 30, 1980.
Internet Transport Protocols: Xerox Systeqt Integration Standard. Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn., December, 1981.
Xerox Corp., Courier: The Remote Procedure Call Protocol. Xerox System Integration Standard. Stamford, Conn.; Dec., 1981;
XSIS-038112.
Oppen, D.C., and Dalal, Y.K., The Clearinghouse: A Decentralized Agent for Locating Named Objects in a Distributed
Environment, Xerox Office Products Div., Palo Alto, Calif., October, 1981.

175

176

Early Experience with
Mesa
Charles M. Geschke, James H. Morris Jr.,
and Edwin H. Satterthwaite
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center

The experiences of Mesa's first users - primarOy its
implementers - are discussed, and some impHcations
for Mesa and simOar programming languages are suggested. The specific topics addressed are: module structure and its use in defining abstractions, data-structuring facUities in Mesa, an equivalence algorithm for
types and type coercions, the benefits of the type system and why it is breached occasionally, and the dimculty of making the treatment of variant records safe.
Key Words and Phrases: programming languages,
types, modules, data structures, systems programming
CR Categories: 4.22

was inspired by, and is similar to, that of Pascal [14] or
Algol 68 [12], while the global structure is more like
that of Simula 67 [1]. We have chosen features from
these and related languages selectively, cast them in a
different syntax, and added a few new ideas of our own.
All this has been constrained by our need for a language to be used for the production of real system
software right now. We believe that most of our observations are relevant to the languages mentioned above,
and others like them, when used in a similar environment. We have therefore omitted a comprehensive
description of Mesa and concentrated on annotated
examples that should be intelligible to anyone familiar
with a similar language. We hope that our experiences
will help others who are creating or studying such
languages.
An interested reader can find more information
about the details of Mesa elsewhere. A previous paper
[7] addresses issues concerning transfer of control. Another paper [3] discusses some more advanced datastructuring ideas. A paper on schemes [8] suggests
another possible direction of advance. In this paper we
restrain our desires to redesign or extend Mesa and
simply describe how we are using the language as currently implemented.
The version of Mesa presented in this paper is one
component of a continuing investigation into programming methodology and language design. Most major
aspects of the language were frozen when implementation was begun in the autumn of 1974. Although we
were dissatisfied with our understanding of certain design issues even then. we proceeded with implementation for the following reasons.
- We perceived a need for a "state of the art" implementation langauge within our laboratory. It
seemed possible to combine some of our ideas
into a design that was fairly conservative, but that
would still dominate the existing and proposed
alternatives.
- We wanted feedback from a community of users,
both to evaluate those ideas that were ready for
implementation and to focus subsequent research
on problems actually encountered in building real
systems.
- We had accumulated a backlog of ideas about implementation techniques that we were anxious to
try.
It is important to understand that we have consciously decided to attempt a complete programming
system for demanding and sophisticated users. Their
own research projects were known to involve the construction of "state of the art" programs, many of which
tax the limits of available computing resources. These
users are well aware of the capabilities of the underlying hardware, and they have developed a wide range of
programming styles that they have been loath to abandon. Working in this environment has had the following consequences.
I

1. Introduction
What happens when professional programmers
change over from an old-fashioned systems programming language to a new, modular, type-checked one
like Mesa? Considering the large number of groups
developing such languages, this is certainly a question
of great interest.
This paper focuses on our experiences with strict
type checking and modularization within the Mesa programming system. Most of the local structure of Mesa
Copyright © 1977, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.
General permission to repUblish, but not for profit, all or part of
this material is granted provided that ACM's copyright notice is
given and that reference is made to the publication, to its date of
issue, and to the fact that reprinting privileges were granted by permission of the Association for Computing Machinery.
A version of this paper was presented at the SIGPLAN/SIGOPS/SICSOFr Conference on Language Design for Reliable Software, Raleigh, N.C., March 28-30,1977.
Authors' address: Computer Science Laboratory, Palo Alto Research Center, Xerox Corporation, 3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo
Alto CA 94304

177

- We could not afford to be too dogmatic. The language design is conservative and permissive; we
have attempted to accommodate old methods of
programming as well as new, even at some cost in
elegance.
- Efficiency is important. Mesa reflects the general
properties of existing machines and contains no
features that cannot be implemented efficiently
(perhaps with some microcode assistance); for example, there is no automatic garbage collection.
A cross-compiler for Mesa became operational in
the spring of 1975. We used it to build a small operating system and a display-oriented symbolic debugger.
By early 1976, it was possible to run a system built
entirely in Mesa on our target machine, and rewriting
the compiler in its own language was completed in the
summer of 1976. The basic system, debugger, and
compiler consist of approximately 50,000 lines of Mesa
code, the bulk of which was written by four people.
Since mid-1976, the community of users and scope of
application of Mesa have been expanding rapidly, but
its most experienced and demanding users are still its
implementers. It is in this context that we shall try to
describe our experiences and to suggest some tentative
conclusions. Naturally. we have discovered some bugs
and omissions in the design, and the implemented version of the language is already several years from the
frontiers of research. We have tried to restrain our
desire to redesign. however, and we report on Mesa as
it is, not as we now wish it were.
The paper begins with a brief overview of Mesa's
module structure. The uses of types and strict type
checking 10 Mesa are then examined in some detail.
The facilities for defining data structures are summarized. and an abstract description of the Mesa type
calculus is presented. We discuss the rationale and
methods for breaching the type system and illustrate
them with a "type-strenuous" example that exploits
several of the type system's interesting properties. A
final section discusses the difficulties of handling variant records in a type-safe way.

definition. It typically declares a collection of variables
that provide a localized database and a set of procedures performing operations upon that database. Modules are designed to be compiled independently, but
the declarations in one module can be made visible
during the compilation of another by arranging to reference the first within the second by a mechanism
called inclusion. To decouple the internal details of an
implementation from its abstract behavior, Mesa
provides two kinds of modules: definitions and
programs.
A definitions module defines the interface to an
abstraction. It typically declares some shared types and
useful constants. and it defines the interface by naming
a set of procedures and specifying their input/output
types. Definitions modules claim no storage and have
no existence at run time. Included modules are usually
definitions modules. but they need not be.
Certain program modules. called impiementers,
provide the concrete implementation of an abstraction;
they declare variables and specify bodies of procedures.
There can be a one-to-many relation between definitions modules and concrete implementations. At run
time. one or more instances of a module can be created. and a separate frame (activation record) is allocated for each. In this respect. module instances resemble Simula class objects. Unlike procedure instances.
the lifetimes of module instances are not constrained to
follow any particular discipline. Communication paths
among modules are established dynamically as described below and are not constrained by. e.g., compile-time or run-time nesting relationships. Thus lifetimes and access paths are completely decoupled.
The following skeletal Mesa modules suggest the
general form of a definitions module and one of its
implementers:
Abstraction: DEFINITIONS =

BEGIN
it: TYPE = ... ; n: TYPE = ... ;

p: PROCEDURE;
pI: PROCEDURE [INTEGER];

2. Modules

Modules provide a capability for partitioning a large
system into manageable units. They can be used to
encapsulate abstractions and to provide a degree of
protection. In the design of Mesa, we were particularly
influenced by the work of Parnas [to], who proposes
information hiding as the appropriate criterion for
modular decomposition, and by the concerns of Morris
[9] regarding protection in programming languages.
Module Structure
Viewed as a piece of source text, a module is similar
to an Algol procedure declaration or a Simula class

178

pi: PROCEDURE (it] RETURNS (rt];

END
Implementer: PROGRAM IMPLEMENTING Abstraction =

BEGIN
OPEN Abstraction;
x: INTEGER;
p: PUBLIC PROCEDURE = (code for p);
pJ: PUBLIC PROCEDURE (i: INTEGER] = (code for p1);

pi: PUBLIC PROCEDURE [x: it] RETURNS [y: rt] =
(code for pi);

END

Longer but more complete and realistic examples can
be found in the discussion of A"ayStore below;
ArrayStoreDefs and ArrayStore correspond to Abstraction and Implementer, respectively.
Mesa allows specification of attributes that can be
used to control intermodular access to identifiers. In
the definition of an abstraction, some types or record
fields are of legitimate concern only to an implementer.
but they involve or are components of other types that
are parts of the advertised interface to the abstraction.
Any identifier with the attribute PRIVATE is visible only
in the module in which it is declared and in any module
claiming to implement that module. Subject to the
ordinary rules of scope. an identifier with the attribute
PUBLIC is visible in any module that includes and opens
the module in which it is declared. The PUBLIC attribute
can be restricted by specifying the additional attribute
READ-ONLY. By default. identifiers are PUBLIC in defini-"
tions modules and PRIVATE otherwise.
In the example above. Abstraction contains definitions of shared types and enumerates the elements of a
procedural interface. Implementer uses those type definitions and provides the bodies of the procedures; the
compiler will check that an actual procedure with the
same name and type is supplied for each public procedure declared in Abstraction.
A module that uses an abstraction is called a client
of that abstraction. Interface definitions are obtained
by including the Abstraction module. Any instance of a
client must be connected to an instance of an appropriate implementer before the actual operations of the
abstraction become available. This connection is called
binding. and there are several ways to do it.
Binding Mechanisms
When a relatively static and purely procedural interfac~ between modules is acceptable, the connection
can be made in a conventional way. Consider the following skeleton:
Client1: PROGRAM =
BEGIN
OPEN Abstraction;
px: EXTERNAL PROCEDURE;
p[ ];px[ ];

END.

A client module can request a system facility called the
binder to locate and assign appropriate values to all
external procedure names, such as px. The binder follows a well-defined binding path from module instance
to module instance. When the binder encounters an
actual procedure with the same name as, and a type
compatible with, an external procedure, it makes the
linkage. The compiler automatically inserts an EXTERNAL procedure declaration for any procedure identifier, such as p, that is mentioned by a client but defined
only in an included definitions module. The binder also

checks that all identifiers from a single definitions
module are bound consistently (that is, to a single
implementer) .
The observant reader will have noticed that this
binding mechanism and the undisciplined lifetimes of
module instances leave Mesa programs vulnerable to
dangling reference problems. We are not happy about
this, but so far we have not observed any serious bugs
attributable to such references.
As an alternate binding mechanism, Mesa supports
the Simula paradigm as suggested by the following
skeleton (which assumes that x is a public variable):
Client2: PROGRAM =
BEGIN
OPEN Abstraction;
frame: POINTER TO FRAME[lmplementer]
NEW Implementer;
frame
frame

+-

t .x +- 0;
t .p[ ];

END.

Here, the client creates an instance of Implementer
directly. Through a pointer to the frame of that instance, the client can access any public variable or
invoke any public procedure. Note that the relevant
declarations are in Implementer; the Abstraction module is included only for type definitions. Some of the
binding has been moved to compile time. In return for
a wider, not necessarily procedural interface (and potentially more efficient code). the client has committed
itself to using a particular implementation of the abstraction.
Because Mesa has procedure variables. it is possible
for a user to create any binding regime he wishes simply
by writing a program that distributes procedures. Some
users have created their own versions of Simula classes.
They have not used the binding mechanism described
above for a number of reasons. First, the actual implementation of an abstract object is sometimes unknown
when a program is compiled or instantiated; there
might be several coexisting implementations, or the
actual implementation of a particular object might
change dynamically. Their binding scheme deals with
such situations by representing objects as record structures with procedure-valued fields. The basic idea was
described in connection with the implementation of
streams in OS6 [11]: some fields of each record contain
the state information necessary to characterize the object, while others contain procedure values that implement the set of operations. If the number of objects is
much larger than the number of implementations, it is
space-efficient to replace the procedure fields in each
object with a link to a separate record containing the
set of values appropriate to a particular implementation. When this binding mechanism is used, interface
specifications consist primarily of type definitions, as
suggested by the following skeleton:

179

ObjectAbstraction: DEFINITIONS =

BEGIN
Handle: TYPE'" POINTER TO Object;
Object: TYPE = RECORD [
ops: POINTER TO Operations.
stllte: POINTER TO ObjectRecord, .

. . .);

Operations: TYPE", RECORD [
pI: PROCEDURE [Handle, INTEGER),
... );

END.

A client invokes a typical operation by writing handle t .ops t .p1 [handle. x]. where handle is an object
of type Handle.
Observations
We believe that we could not have built the current
Mesa system if we had been forced to work with large
logically monolithic programs. Assembly language programmers are well aware of the benefits of modularity,
but many designers of high-level programming languages pay little attention to the problems of independent compilation and instantiation. Since these capabilities will be grafted on anyway, they should be anticipated in the original design. We have more to say about
interface control in our discussion of types, but it is
hard to overestimate the value of articulating abstractions, centralizing their definitions, and propagating
them through the inclusion mechanism.
3. The Mesa Type System
Strict vs. Nonstrict Type Checking
A widely held view is that the purpose of type
declarations is to allow one to write more succinct
programs. For example, the Algol 60 declarations
real x,y; iDteger i,j;

allow one to attach two different interpretations to the
symbol "+" in the expressions x + y and i + j.
Similarly, the declaration
x: RECORD[a: [0 .. 7]. b: [0 .. 255))

permits one to write x.a andx.b in place of descriptions
of the shifting and masking that might occur. Descriptive declarations also allow utility programs such as
debuggers to display values of variables in a helpful way
when the type is not encoded as part of the value.
This view predominated in an earlier version of
Mesa. Type declarations were used primarily as devices
to improve the expressive power and readability of the
language. Types were ignored by the compiler except
to discover the number of bits involved in an operation.
In contrast, the current version of Mesa checks type
agreement as rigorously as languages such as Pascal or
Algol 68, potentially rendering compile-time complaints in great volume. This means in effect that the
language is more redundant since there are fewer programs acceptable to the compiler.

180

What benefit do we hope to gain by stricter checking and the attendant obligations on the programmer?
We expect that imposing additional structure on the
data space of the program and checking it mechanically
will make the modification and maintenance of programs easier. The type system allows us to write down
certain design decisions. The type checker is a tool that
is used to discover violations of the conventions implied
by those decisions without a great expenditure of
thought.
Type Expressions
Mesa provides a fairly conventional set of expressions for describing types; detailed discussions of the
more important constructors are available elsewhere
[3]. We shall attempt just enough of an introduction to
help in reading the subsequent examples and concentrate upon the relations among types.
There is a set of predefined basic types and a set of
type operators which construct new types. The arguments of these operators may be other types. integer
constants, or identifiers with no a priori meanings.
Most of the operators are familiar from languages such
as Pascal or Algol 68, and the following summary
emphasizes only the differences.
Basic Types. The basic types are INTEGER, BOOLEAN, CHARACTER, and UNSPECIFIED. the last of which
is a one-word. wild-card type.
Enumerated Types. If ai' a2, ... , an are distinct
identifiers, the form {ai, a2 • ...• an} denotes an ordered type of which the identifiers denote the allowed
constant values.
Unique Types. If n is a manifest (compile-time)
constant of type INTEGER. the form UNIQuE(n] denotes
a type distinct from any other type. The value of n
determines the amount of storage allocated for values
of that type. which are otherwise uninterpreted. Its use
is illustrated by the ArrayStore example in Section 4.
Record Types. IfT 1 • T2 • • • • • Tn are types and!2.
. .. ,!n are distinct identifiers. the the form RECORD (f1:
T 1 ,!2: T 2 • • • • .tn: Tn] denotes a record type. The!i are
called field selectors. As usual. the field selectors are
used to access individual components; in addition. linguistic forms called constructors and extractors are
available for synthesizing and decomposing entire records. The latter forms allow either keyword notation.
using the field names. or positional notation. Intermodule access to individual fields can be controlled by
specifying the attributes PUBUC. PRIVATE. or READONLY; if no such attributes appear. they are inherited
from the enclosing declaration. Some examples:
Thing: TYPE'" RECORD [n: INTEGER.p: BOOLEAN);
v: Thing; i: INTEGER; b: BOOLEAN;

IF v.p THEN v.n +-v.n + 1; --field selection
v +- (100, TRUE);
--a positional constructor
v +-fp:b. n :i);
-a keyword constructor
[n:i. p:b ) +- v;
-the inverse extractor.

Pointer Types. If T is a type, the form POINTER TO T
denotes a pointer type. If x is a variable of that type,
then x t derelerences the pointer and designates the
object pointed to, as in Pascal. If v is of type T, then
@v is its address with type POINTER TO T. The form
POINTER TO READ-ONLY T denotes a similar type; however, values of this type cannot be used to change the
indirectly referenced object. Such pointer types were
introduced so that objects could be passed by reference
across module interfaces with assurance that their values would not be modified.
Array Types. If Tj and Te are types, the form ARRAY
Tj OF Tc denotes an array type. Tj must be a finite
ordered type. An array a maps an index i from the
index type Tj into a value a [i] of the component type
Te. If a is a variable, the mapping can be changed by
assignment to ali].
Array Descriptor Types. If Tj and Tc are types, the
form DESClUPrOR FOR ARRAY Tj OF Tc denotes an array
descriptor type. Tj must be an ordered type. An array
descriptor value provides indirect access to an array
and contains envugh auxiliary information to determine the allowable indices as a subrange of Tj •
Set Types. If T is a type, the form SET OF T denotes a
type. values of which are the subsets ofthe set of values
of T. T must evaluate to an enumerated type.
Transler Types. If T " ... , Tj, TJ , ••• , Tn are types
and 11, ... , It, h' ... ,In are distinct identifiers, then the
form PROCEDURE [11: T 1. • •. , It: Td RETURNS [fj: TJ ,
... , In: Tn] denotes a procedm:e type. Each nonlocal
control transfer passes an argument record; the field
lists enclosed by the paired brackets, if not empty,
implicitly declare the types of the records accepted and
returned by the procedure [7]. If x has some transfer
type, a control transfer is invoked by the evaluation of
x [e 1, ••• , ed. where the bracketed expressions are used
to construct the input record. and the value is the
record constructed in preparation for the transfer that
returns control.
The symbol PROCEDURE can be replaced by several
alternatives that specify different transfer disciplines
with respect to name binding, storage allocation, etc.,
but the argument transmission mechanism is uniform.
Transfer types are full-fledged types; it is possible to
declare procedure variables and otherwise to manipulate procedure values, which are represented by procedure descriptors. Indeed, some of the intermodule
binding mechanisms described previously depend crucially upon the assignment of values to procedure
variables.
Sub range Types. If T is INTEGER or an enumerated
type, and m and n are manifest constants of that type,
the form T[m .. n] denotes a finite, ordered subrange
type for which any legal value x satisfies m s x S n .If T
is INTEGER, the abbreviated form [m .. n] is accepted.
These types are especially useful as the index types of
arrays. Other notational forms, e.g. [m .. n), allow inter-

vals to be open or closed at either endpoint.
Finally, Mesa has adapted Pascal's variant record
concept to provide values whose complete type can
only be known after a run-time discrimination. Because
they are of more than passing interest, variant records
are discussed separately in Section 5.
Declarations and Definitions
The form
v: Thing-e

declares a variable v of type Thing and initializes it to
the value of e; the form
v: Thing = e

is similar except that assignments cannot be made to v
subsequently. When e itself is a manifest constant, this
form makes v such a constant also.
This syntax is used for the introduction of new type
names, using the special type TYPE. Thus
Thing: TYPE

= TypeExpression

defines the type Thing. This approach came from ECL
[13], in which a type is a value that can be computed by
a running program and then used to declare variables.
In Mesa, however, TypeExpression must be constant.
Recursive type declarations are essential for describing most list structures and are allowed more generally whenever they make sense. To accommodate a
mutually recursive list structure, forward references to
type identifiers are allowed and do not yield "uninitialized" values. (This is to be contrasted with forward
references to ordinary variables.) In effect, all type
expressions within a scope are evaluated simultaneously. Meaningful recursion in a type declaration usually involves the type constructor POINTER; in corresponding values, the recursion involves a level of indirection and can be terminated by the empty pointer
value NIL. Recursion that is patently meaningless is
rejected by the compiler; for example,
r: TYPE = RECORD [left. right: rJ -":not permitted
a: TYPE = ARRAY [0 .. 10) OF s;
s: TYPE = RECORD [i: INTEGER. m: aJ --not permitted.

Similar pathological types have been noted and prohibited in Algol 68 [6].
Equivalence of Type Expressions
One might expect that two identical type expressions appearing in different places in the program text
would always stand for the same type. In Algol 68 they
do. In Mesa (and certain implementations of Pascal)
they do not. Specifically, the type operators RECORD,
UNIQUE, and { ... } generate new types whenever they
appear in the text.
The original reasons for this choice are not very
important, but we have not regretted the following
consequences for records:
(a) All modules wishing to communicate using a
shared record type must obtain the definition of that

181

type from the same source. In practice. this means that
all definitions of an abstraction tend to come from a
single module; there is less temptation to declare scattered, partial interface definitions.
(b) Tests for record type equivalence are cheap. In
our experience. most record types contain references to
other record types, and this linking continues to a
considerable depth. A recursive definition of equivalence would. in the worst case. require examining many
modules unknown and perhaps unavailable to the casual user of a record type or, alternatively. copying all
type definitions supporting a particular type into the
symbol table of any module mentioning that type.
(c) The rule for record equivalence provides a
mechanism for sealing values that are distributed to
clients as passkeys for later transactions with an implementer. Suppose that the following declaration occurs
in a definitions module:
Handle: PUBLIC TYPE

= RECORD

[value: PRIVATE Thing).

The PRIVATE attribute of value is overridden in any
implementer of Handle. A client of that implementer
can declare variables of type Handle and can store or
duplicate values of that type. but there is no way for the
client to construct a counterfeit Handle without violating the type system. Such sealed types appear to provide a basis for a compile-time capability scheme [2].
(d) Finally, this choice has not caused discomfort
because programmers are naturally inclined to introduce names for record types anyway.
The case for distinctness of enumerated types is
much weaker; we solved the problem of the exact
relationships among such types of {a, b, c}, {C, b, a},
{a, c}, {aa, b, cc}, etc. by specifying that all these types
are distinct. In this case, we are less happy that identical sequences of symbols construct different enumerated types.
Why did we not choose a similar policy for other
types? It would mean that a new type identifier would
have to be introduced for virtually every type expression, and we found it to be too tedious. In the case of
procedures we went even further in liberalizing the
notion of equivalence. Even though the formal argument and result lists are considered to be record declarations, we not only permit recursive matching but also
ignore the field selectors in doing the match. We were
unwilling to abandon the idea that procedures are mappings in which the identifiers of bound variables are
irrelevant. We also had a pragmatic motivation. In
contrast to records, where the type definitions cross
interface boundaries, procedural communication
among modules is based upon procedure values, not
procedure types. Declaring named types for all interface procedures seemed tiresome. Fortunately all argument records are constructed in a standard way, so this
view causes no implementation problems.
To summarize, we state an informal algorithm for
testing for type equivalence. Given one or more pro-

182

gram texts and two particular type expressions in them:
1. Tag each occurrence of RECORD. UNIQUE. and {...}
with a distinct number.
2. Erase all the variable names in the formal parameter and the result lists of procedures.
3. Compare the two expressions. replacing type identifiers with their defining expressions whenever
they are encountered. If a difference (possibly in a
tag attached in step 1) is ever encountered, the two
type expressions are not equivalent. Otherwise
they are equivalent.
The final step appears to be a semidecision procedure
since the existence of recursive types makes it impossible to eliminate all the identifiers. In fact. it is always
possible to tell when one has explored enough (cf. (5],
Section 2.3.5, Exercise 11).
Coercions
To increase the flexibility of the type system Mesa
permits a variety of implicit type conversions beyond
those implied by type equivalence. They fall into two
categories: free coercions and computed coercions.
Free Coercions. Free coercions involve no computation whatsoever. For two types T and S, we write T ~ S
if any value of type T can be stored into a variable of
type S without checking, change of representation, or
other computation. (By "store" we mean to encompass
assignment, parameter passing, result passing, and all
other value transmission.) The following recursive rules
show how to compute the relation ~, assuming that
equivalence has already been accounted for:
1.

T

~

T.

In the following assume that T
2.

T[i..j]

~

~

S.

S if i is the minimum value of type S.

The restriction is necessary because we chose to represent values of a subrange type relative to its minimum
value. Coercions in other cases require computation.
Similarly,
3.
4.
5.

T[i..j] ~ S[i..k] iffj :$ k.
var T ~ S if var is a variant of T (cf. Section 5).
RECORD [f: T] ~ S for any field name f unless f has
the PRIVATE attribute.

6.

POINTER TO

T

~ POINTER TO READ-ONLY

S.

In other words, one can always treat a pointer as a
read-only pointer, but not vice versa.

7.

POINTER TO READ-ONLY
ONLY

T

~

POINTER TO READ-

S.

The relation POINTER TO T
because it would allow

ps: POINTER TO S;
pt: POINTER TO T = @t;
ps -pt;
ps t -s;

~ POINTER TO

S is not true

which is a sneaky way of accomplishing "t - s," which
is not allowed unless SeT.
8.

ARRAY

I

OF

TC

ARRAY

I

OF

S.

Note that the index sets must be the same.

9.

[S'] RETURNS [T] C
[S] if T' C S' as well.

PROCEDURE
RETURNS

PROCEDURE

[T']

Here the relation between the input types is the reverse
of what one might expect.
Sub range Coercions. Coercions between subranges
require further comment. As others have noted [4],
associating range restrictions with types instead of specific variables leads to certain conceptual problems;
however, we wanted to be able to fold range restrictions into more complex constructed types. We were
somewhat surprised by the subtlety of this problem,
and our initial solutions allowed several unintended
breaches of the type system.
Values of an ordered type and all its subranges are
interassignable even if they do not satisfy cases (2) or
(3) above. This is an example of a computed coercion.
Code is generated to check that the value is in the
proper subrange and to convert its representation if
necessary. It is important to realize that computed
coercions cannot be extended recursively as was done
above. Consider the declarations
x: [0 .. 100] +- 15;
y: [10 .. 20];
px: POINTER TO READ-ONLY [0 .. 100] +- @x;
py: POINTER TO READ-ONLY [10 .. 20];

The assignmenty -x is permitted because x is 15; 5 is
stored in y since its value is represented relative to 10.
However, the assignment py - px, which rule 7 might
suggest, is not permitted because the value of x can
change and there is no reasonable way to generate
checking code. Even if the value of x cannot change, we
could not perform any change in representation because the value 15 is shared. Similar problems arise
when one considers rules 6, 8, and 9.
Other Computed Coercions. Research in programming language design has continued in parallel with our
implementation work, and some proposals for dealing
with uniform references [3] and generalizations of
classes [8] suggested adding the following computed
coercions to the language:
Dereferencing: POINTER TO T- T
Deproceduring: PROCEDURE RETURNS T Referencing:
T - POINTER TO T.

T

Initially we had intended to support contextually implied application of these coercions much as does Algol
68. Reactions of Mesa's early users to this proposal
ranged from lukewarm to strongly negative. In addition, the data structures and accounting algorithms
necessary to deduce the required coercions and detect
pathological types substantially complicated the com-

piler. We therefore decided to reconsider our decision'
even after the design and some of the implementation
had been done. The current language allows subrange
coercion as described above. There is no uniform support for other computed coercions, but automatic dereferencing is invoked by the operators for field extraction and array indexing. Thus such forms as p t .f and
at t [I], which are common when indirection is used
extensively, may be written asp.fanda[i].
There are hints of a significant problem for language designers here. Competent and experienced programmers seem to believe that coercion rules make
their programs less understandable and thus less reliable and efficient. On the other hand, techniques being
developed with the goal of decreasing the cost of creating and changing programs seem to build heavily upon
coercion. Our experience suggests that such work
should proceed with caution.
Why is coercion distrusted? Our discussions with
programmers suggest that the reasons include the following:
- Mesa programmers are familiar with the underlying
hardware and want to be aware of the exact consequences of what they write.
- Many of them have been burned by forgotten indirect bits and the like in previous programming and
are suspicious of any unexpected potential for side
effects.
- To some extent, coercion negates the advantages of
type checking. One view of coercion is that it corrects common type errors, and some of the detection capability is sacrificed to obtain the correction.
We conjecture that the first two objections will diminish as programmers learn to think in terms of higherlevel abstractions and to use the type checking to
advantage.
The third objection appears to have some merit.
We know of no system of coercions in which strict type
checking can be trusted to flag all coercion errors, and
such errors are likely to be especially subtle and persistent. The difficulties seem to arise from the interactions
of coercion with generic operators. In Algol 68, there
are rules about "loosely related" types that are intended to avoid this problem, but the identity operators
still suffer. With the coercion rules that had been proposed for Mesa, the following trap occurs. Given the
declaration p, q: POINTER TO INTEGER, the Mesa
expressions p t == q t and 2*p == 2*q would compare
integers and give identical results; on the other hand,
the expression p == q would compare pointers and could
give a quite different answer. In the presence of such
traps, we believe that most programmers would resolve
to supply the" t ., always. If this is their philosophy,
coercions can only hide errors. Even if such potentially
ambiguous expressions as p == q were disallowed, this
example suggests that using coercion to achieve representational independence can easily destroy referential
transparency instead.

183

4. Experiences with Strict Type Cheddng
It is hard to give objective evidence that increasing
compile-time checking has materially helped the programming process. We believe that it will take more
effort to get one's program to compile and that some of
the effort eliminates errors that would have shown up
during testing or later, but the magnitude of these
effects is hard to measure. All we can present at the
moment are testimonials and anecdotes.

A Testimonial
Programmers whose previous experience was with
unchecked languages report that the usual fear and
trepidation that accompanied making modifications to
programs has substantially diminished. Under previous
regimes they would never change the number or types
of arguments that a procedure took for fear that they
would forget to fix all of the calls on that procedure.
Now they know that all references will be checked
before they try to run the program.
An Anecdote
The following kind of record is used extensively in
the compiler:
RelativePtr: TYPE = [0 .. 37777.];
TaggedPtr: TYPE = RECORD[tag: {tolJ,t2,1a}.
ptr: RelativePtr}.

This record consists of a 2-bit tag and a 14-bit pointer.
As an accident of the compiler's choice of representation, the expressions x and TaggedPtr [t o,x] generated
the same internal value. The nonstrict type checker
considered these types equivalent, and unwittingly we
used TaggedPtrs in many places actually requiring
RelativePtrs. As it happened, the tag in these contexts
was always to.
The compiler was working well, but one day we
made the unfortunate decision to redefine TaggedPtr as
RECORDfptr: RelativePtr, tag: {to,tlh,la}].

This caused a complete breakdown, and we hastily
unmade that decision because we were unsure about
what parts of the code were unintentionally depending
upon the old representation. Later, when we submitted
a transliteration of the compiler to the strict type
checker, we found all the places where this error had
been committed. At present, making such a change is
routine. In general, we believe that the benefits of
static checking are significant and cost-effective once
the programmer learns how to use the type system
effectively.
A Shortcoming
The type system is very good at detecting the difference in usage between T and POINTER TO T; however,
programmers often use array indices as pointers, especially when they want to perform arithmetic on them.
The difference between an integer used as a pointer

184

and an integer used otherwise is invisible to the type
checker. For example, the declaration
map: ARRAY [i ..j] OF INTEGER[m .. n);

defines a variable map with the property that compiletime type checking cannot distinguish between legitimate uses of k and map [k]. Furthermore, ifm :S i andj
:S n , even a run-time bounds check could never detect a
use of k when map [k] was intended. We have observed
several troublesome bugs of this nature and would like
to change the language so that indices of different
arrays can be made into distinct types.
Violating the Type System
One of the questions often asked about languages
with compile-time type checking is whether it is possible to write real programs without violating the type
system. It goes without saying that one can bring virtually any program within the confines of a type system
by methods analogous to the silly methods for eliminatinggotos; e.g. simulate things with integers. However.
our experience has been that it is not always desirable
to remain within the system. given the realities of
programming and the restrictiveness of the current language. There are three reasons for which we found it
desirable to evade the current type system.
Sometimes the violation is logically necessary. Fairly
often one chooses to implement part of a language's
run-time system in the language itself. There are certain things of this nature that cannot be done in a typesafe way in Mesa, or any other strictly type-checked
language we know. For example, the part of the system
that takes the compiler's output and creates values of
type PROCEDURE must exercise a rather profoun~
loophole in turning data into program. Another exampie, discussed in detail below, is a storage allocator.
Most languages with compile-time checking submerge
these activities into the implementation and thereby
avoid the need for type breaches.
Sometimes efficiency is more important than type
safety. In many cases the way to avoid a type breach is
to redesign a data structure in a way that takes more
space, usually by introducing extra levels of pointers.
The section on variant records gives an example.
Sometimes a breach is advisable to increase type
checking elsewhere. Occasionally a breach could be
avoided by declaring two distinct types to be the same,
but merging them would reduce a great deal of checking elsewhere. The ArrayStore example below illustrates this point.
Given these considerations, we chose to allow occasional breaches of the type system, making them as
explicit as possible. The advantages of doing this are
twofold. First, making breaches explicit makes them
less dangerous since they are clearer to the reader.
Second, their occurrences provide valuable hints to a
language designer about where the type system needs
improvement.
One of the simplest ways to breach the Mesa type

system is to declare something to be UNSPECIFIED. The
type checking algorithm regards this as a one-word
don't-care type that matches any other one-word type.
This is similar to PL/I UNSPEC. We have come to the
conclusion that using UNSPECIFIED is too drastic in most
cases. One usually wants to turn off type checking in
only a few places involving a particular variable, not
everywhere. In practice there is a tendency to use
UNSPECIFIED in the worst possible way: at the interfaces of modules. The effect is to turn off type checking
in other people's modules without their knowing it!
As an alternative, Mesa provides a general type
transfer function, RECAST, that (without performing
any computation) converts between any two types of
equal size. It can often be used instead of UNSPECIFIED.
In cases where we had declared a particular variable
UNSPECIFIED, we now prefer to give- it some specific
type and to use RECAST whenever it is being treated in a
way that violates the assumptions about that type.
The existence of RECAST makes many decisions
much less painful. Consider the type CHARACTER. On
the one hand we would like it to be disjoint from
INTEGER so that simple mistakes would be caught by
the type checker. On the other hand, one occasionally
needs to do arithmetic on characters. We chose to
make CHARACTER a distinct type and use RECAST in
those places where character arithmetic is needed. Why
reduce the quality of type checking everywhere just to
accommodate a rare case?
Pointer arithmetic is a popular pastime for system
programmers. Rather than outlawing it, or even requiring a RECAST, Mesa permits it in a restricted form. One
can add or subtract an integer from a pointer to produce a pointer of the same type. One can subtract two
pointers of the same type to produce an integer. The
need for more exotic arithmetic has not been observed.
Here is a typical example: It is common to use a
large contiguous area of memory to hold a data structure consisting of many records, e.g. a parse tree. To
conserve space one would like to make all pointers
relative to the start of the area, thus reducing the size of
pointers that are internal to the structure. Furthermore, one might like to move the entire area, possibly
via secondary storage. These needs would be met by an
unimplemented feature called the tied pointer. The idea
is that a certain type of pointer would be made relative
to a designated base value and this value would be
added just before dereferencing the pointer. In other
words, if ptr were declared to be tied to base then ptr i
actually would mean (base+ptr) i . Since tied pointers
have not yet been implemented, this notation is in fact
used extensively within the Mesa compiler. Subsequent
versions of Mesa will include tied pointers, and this
temporary loophole will be reconsidered.
The Skeleton Type System
Once we provided the opportunity for evading the
official type system, we had to ask ourselves just why

we thought certain breaches were safe while others
were not. Ultimately, we came. to the conclusion that
the only really dangerous breaches of the type systems
were those that require detailed knowledge of the runtime environment. First and foremost, fabricating a
procedure value requires a detailed understanding of
how various structures in memory are arranged. Second, pointer types also depend on various memory
structures' being set up properly and should not be
passed through loopholes without some care. In contrast, the distinction between the two types RECORD
[a,b: INTEGER] and RECORD[c,d: INTEGER] is not vital to
the run-time system's integrity. To be sure, the user
might wish to keep them distinct, but using a loophole
to store one into the other would go entirely unnoticed
by the system.
The present scheme that is used to judge the appropriateness of RECAST transformations merely checks to
ensure that the source and destination types occupy the
same number of bits. Since most of the code invoking
RECAST has been written by Mesa implementers, this
simplified check has proved to be sufficient. However,
as the community of users has grown, we have observed
a justifiable anxiety over the use of RECAST. Users fear
that unchecked use of this escape will cause a violation
of some system convention unknown to them.
We are in the process of investigating a more complete and formal skeletal type system that will reduce
the hazards of the present RECAST mechanism. Its aim
is to ensure that although a RECAST may do great
violence to user-defined type conventions, the system's
type integrity will not be violated.
Example - A Compacting Storage Allocator
A module that provides many arrays of various sizes
by parceling out pieces of one large array is an interesting benchmark for a systems programming language for
a number of reasons:
(a) It taxes the type system severely. We must deal
with an array containing variable length heterogeneous
objects, something one cannot declare in Mesa.
(b) The clients of the allocator wish to use it for
arrays of differing types. This is a familiar polymorphism problem.
(c) As a programming exercise, the module can
involve tricky pointer manipulations. We would like
help to prevent programming errors such as the ubiquitous address/contents confusion.
(d) A nasty kind of bug associated with the use of
such packages is the so-called dangling reference problem: variables or data structures might be used after
their space has been relinquished.
(e) Another usage bug. peculiar to compacting allocators, is that a client might retain a pointer to storage
that the compacter might move.
The first two problems make it impossible to stay
entirely within the type system. One's first impulse is to

185

Fig.!. Definitions module.
AmI,StorrDefs: DEFlNmONS =
BEGIN
A"ayPtr: TYPE = POINTER TO PRo
PR: TYPE = POINTER TO R;
R: TYPE =
RECORD [p: Prefix.
.
a: ARRAY [0 ..0] OF Thing ];
Prefix: TYPE = RECORD (backp: PRIVATE A rray Plr.
length: READ-ONLY INTEGER];
Thing: TYPE = UNIQUE[16];
AllocArray: PROCEDURE [length: INTEGER]
RETURNS [new: ArrayPtr];
FreeArray: PROCEDURE [dying: ArrayPtr];
END

Fig. 2. Implementation of a compacting storage allocator.
DIRECTORY ArrayStoreDeft: FROM "ArrayS'oreDefs";
DEFINITIONS FROM ArrayStoreDeft.
AmI,Storr: PROGRAM IMPLEMENTING A"ayStoreDep =
BEGIN
Storage: ARRAY (O.'storageSize) OF UNSPECIFIED;
StorageSize: INTEGER = 2000;
Table: ARRAY Tablelndex OF PRo
Table Index: TYPE = (O .. TableSize);
TableSize: INTEGER = 500;
beginStorage: PR = @Storage(O];
--the address of Storage [0]
endStorage: PR = @Storage[StorageSize];
nextR: PR - beginStorage; -next space to put an R
beginTable: A"ayPrr = @Table[O];
endTable: ArrayPrr = @Table[TableSize];
ovh: INTEGER = SIZE(Prefix]; --overhead
AllocAmI,: PUBLIC PROCEDURE In: INTEGER]
RETURNS [new: A"ayPrr] =
BEGIN i:Tablelndex;
IF n < 0 OR n > 77777B - ovh THEN ERROR;
IF n + ovh > endStorage - nextR THEN
BEGIN
Compact[ );
IF n + ovh > endStorage - nextR THEN ERROR;
END;
-Find a table entry
FOR i IN Tablelndex DO
IF Table [i] = NIL THEN GOTO found
REPEAT
found ~ new -@Table[i];
FINISHED ~ ERROR
ENDLOOP;
new t - nextR;
-initialize the array storage
newt t .p.backp -new;
new t t .p.length - n;
nextR -nextR + (n + ovh);
END;
COlllptlct: PROCEDURE = (omitted)
'mAml,: PUBLIC PROCEDURE (dead: ArrayPrr) =
BEGIN IF dead t = NIL THEN ERROR; -array already free
deadt f .p.backp - NIL;
deadf - NIL;
END;
-lDIdaladoD
i: Tablelndex;
FOR i IN Tablelndex DO Table[i]- NIL ENDLOOP;
END.

186

declare everything unspecified and proceed to program
as in days of yore. The remaining problems are real
ones, however, and we are reluctant to turn off the
entire type system just when we need it most. The
following is a compromise solution.
To deal with problem (a), we have two different
ways of designating the array to be parceled out, which
we call Storage. From a client's point of view. the
storage is accessible through the definitions shown in
the module ArrayStoreDejS (cf. Figure 1).
These definitions suggest that the client can get
ArrayPtrs (Le. pointers to pointers to array records) by
calling AllocArray and can relinquish them by calling
FreeArray. The PRIVATE attribute on backp means that
the client cannot access that field at all. The READ-ONLY
attribute on length means that the client cannot change
it. Of course these restrictions do not apply to the
implementing module. The type Thing occupies 16 bits
of storage (one word) and matches no other type.
Intuitively it is our way of simulating a type variable.
The implementing module ArrayStore is shown in Figure 2. It declares the array Storage to create the raw
material for allocation. We chose to declare its element
type UNSPECIFIED. This means that every transaction
involving Storage is an implicit invocation of a loophole. Specifically the initializations of beginStorage and
endStorage store pointers to UNSPECIFIED into variables
declared as pointers to R.
The general representation scheme is as follows:
The storage area [beginStorage .. nextR) consists of zero
or more Rs. each with the fonn (backp, length, eo •... ,
t;'tml/th-U)' where length varies from sequence to sequence. The array represented by the record is (eo •... ,
t;'tml/th-U)' If backp is not NIL then backp is an address
in Table and backp t is the address of backp itself. If
Table[i) is not NIL, it is the address of one of these
records (cf. Figure 3).
After the initialization, Storage is not mentioned
again. All the subsequent type breaches in ArrayStore
are of the pointer arithmetic variety. The expression
endStorage - nextR in AllocArray subtracts two PR's
to produce an integer. The type checker is not entirely
asleep here: If we slipped up and wrote
IF n + ovh > endStorage - n

there would be a complaint because the left-hand side
of the comparison is an integer and the right is aPR.
The assignment
nexlR - nUtR + (n + ovh)

at the end of AllocArray also uses the pointer arithmetic breach. The rule PR + INTEGER = PR makes sense
here because n + ovh is just the right amount to add to
nextR to produce the next place where an R can go.
Despite all these breaches, we are still getting a
good aeal of checking. The checker would point out (or
correct) any address/contents confusions we had, manifested by the omission of t's or their unnecessary

appearance. We can be sure that integers and PRs are
not being mixed up. In the (unlikely) event that we
wrote something like
newt .p.length -newt .a[k]

we would be warned because the value on the left is an
integer and the value on the right is a Thing. Notice
that none of this checking would occur if Thing were
replaced by UNSPECIFIED. Thus, even though the type
system is not airtight. we are better off than we would
be in a completely unchecked language (unless, perhaps, we get a false sense of security).
Now let us consider how this module is to be used
by a client who wants to manipulate two different kinds
of arrays: arrays of integers and arrays of strings. At
first it looks as if the code is going to have a very high
density of RECAST'S. For example, to create an array
and store an integer in it the client will have to say
fA: ArrayPtr = AliocArray[100];
fA t t .a[2] - RECAST[6]

because the type of IA t t .a [2] is Thing, which does
not match anything. Writing a loophole every time is
intolerable, so we are tempted to replace Thing by
UNSPECIFIED. thereby losing a certain amount of type
checking elsewhere.
There are much nicer ways out of this problem.
Rather than passing every array element through a
loophole, one can pass the procedures AllocArray and
FreeA"ay through loopholes (once, during initialization). The module ArrayClient (d. Figure 4) shows
how this is done. Not only does this save our having to
make Thing UNSPECIFIED, it allows us to use the type
checker to ensure that integer arrays contain only integers and that string arrays contain only strings. More
precisely. the type checker guarantees that every store
into fA stores an integer. We must depend upon the
correctness of the code in ArrayStore, particularly the
compactor. to make sure that data structures stay well
formed.
. This scheme does not have any provisions for coping with problem (d), dangling reference errors. However, somewhat surprisingly, problem (e)-saving a
raw pointer - cannot happen as long as the client does
not commit any further breaches of the type system.
The trick is in the way we declared fntArray - all in one
mouthful. That makes it impossible to declare a variable to hold a raw pointer. This is because (as mentioned
before) every occurrence of the type constructor RECORD generates a new type, distinct from all other
types. Therefore, even if we should declare
rawPointer: POINTER TO RECORD [
p: Prefix.

the compiler has been carefully designed to ensure that
no type-checked program can hold such a pointer
across a procedure call.
Passing procedure values through loopholes is a
rather frightening thing to do. What if, by some mischance, AllocA"ay doesn't have the number of parameters ascribed to it by the client? Since we have waved
off the type checker to do the assignment of AllocArray
to AlloclntArray and AllocStrArray, no compile-time
type violation would be detected and some hard-todiagnose disaster would occur at run time. To compensate for this, we introduce the curious procedure Gedan ken , whose only purpose is to fail to compile if the
number or size ofAllocArray's parameters change. The
skeleton type system, discussed earlier in this section.
would obviate the need for this foolishness.
We would like to emphasize that, although our
examples focus on controlled breaches of the type system, many real Mesa programs do not violate the type
system at all. We also expect the density of breaches to
decrease as the descriptive powers of the type system
increase.

s.

Variant Records

Mesa. like Pascal. has variant records. The descriptive aspects of the two languages' notion of variant
records are very similar. Mesa. however, also requires
strict type checking for accessing the components of
variant records. To illustrate the Mesa variant record
facility consider the following example of the declaration for an I/O stream:
StreamHandle: TYPE = POINTER TO Stream;
StreamType: TYPE = {disk. display. keyboard};
Stream: TYPE = RECORD [
Get: PROCEDURE [Stream Handle ]RETURNS[ftem].
Put: PROCEDURE [Stream Handle. Item].
body: SELECT type; Stream Type FROM
disk =? [
file: File Pointer.
position: Position.
Set Position: PROCEDURE [
POINTER TO disk Stream.
Position].
buffer: SELECT size:· FROM
short =? [b: ShortArray],
long ~ [b: l.ongArray].

ENDCASE ].
display ~ [
first: Display ControlBlock ,
last: DisplayControlBlock,
position: Screen Position.
nLines: [0 .. 100]],
keyboard ~ NULL.

ENDCASE];

a: ARRA YeO .. 0] OF INTEGER ];

we could not perform the assignment rawpointer _
fA because fA has a different type, even though it
looks the same. If one cannot declare the type of fA t ,
it is rather difficult to hang onto it for very long. In fact,

t

t

The record type has three main variants; disk, display, and keyboard. Furthermore, the disk variant has
two variants of its own: short and long. Note that the
field names used in variant subparts need not be
unique. The asterisk used in declaring the subvariant of

187

Fig. 3. A"ayStore's data structure.

T
1
n

FREE

disk is a shorthand mechanism for generating an enumerated type for tagging variant subparts.
The declaration of a variant record species a type,
as usual; it is the type ofthe whole record. The declaration itself defines some other types: one for each variant in the record. In the above example, the total
number of type variations is six, and they are used in
the following declarations:
r: Stream;
rDisk: disk Stream;
rDisplay: display Stream;
rKeyb: keyboard Stream;
rShon: short disk Stream;
rLong: long disk Stream;

The last five types are called bound variant types. The
rightmost name must be the type identifier for a variant
record. The other names are adjectives modifying the
type identified to their right. Thus disk modifies the
type Stream and identifies a new type. Further, short
modifies the type disk Stream and identifies still another type. Names must occur in order and may not be
skipped. (For instance, short Stream would be incorrect
since short does not identify a Stream variant.)
When a record is a bound variant, the components
of its variant part may be accessed without a preliminary test. For example. the following assignments are
legal:
r Display .last ~ r Display first;
rDisk .position ~ rShort . position ;

If a record is not a bound variant (e.g. r in the previous
section), the program needs a way to decide which
variant it is before accessing variant components. More
importantly, the testing of the variant must be done in a
formal way so that the type checker can verify that the
programmer is not making unwarranted assumptions
about which variant is in hand. For this purpose, Mesa
uses a discrimination statement which resembles the
declaration of the variant part. However, the arms in a
discriminating SELECT contain statements; and, within a
given arm, the discriminated record value is viewed as a

188

bound variant. Therefore, within that arm, its variant
components may be accessed using normal qualification. The following example discriminates on r:
WITHstreamRec: r SELECT FROM
display ~
BEGIN streamRec .first +- streamRec . last;
streamRec .position +- 73; streamRec .nLines +- 4;
END;
disk ~
WITH diskRec: streamRec SELECf FROM
shon ~ diskRec.b[O] +- 10;
long ~ diskRec.b[O] +- 100;
ENDCASE;
ENDCASE ~ streamrec .put +- streamrec .newput;

The expression in the WTIH clause must represent
either a variant record (e.g. r) or a pointer to a variant
record. The identifier preceding the colon in the WITH
clause is a synonym for the record. Within each selection, the type of the identifier is the selected bound
variant type, and fields specific to the particular variant
can be mentioned.
In addition to the descriptive advantages of bound
variant types, the Mesa compiler also exploits the more
precise declaration of a particular variant to allocate
the minimal amount of storage for variables declared to
be of a bound variant type. For example. the storage
for r above must be sufficient to contain anyone of the
five possible variants. The storage for rKeyb, on the
other hand. need only be sufficient for storing a keyboard Stream.
The Mutable Variant Record Problem
The names streamRec' and diskRec in the example

above are really synonyms in the sense that they name
the same storage as r; no copying is done by the discrimination operation. This decision opens a loophole
in the type system. Given the declaration
Splodge: TYPE = RECORD [
refcount: INTEGER;
vp: SELECf t: • FROM
blue ~
[x: ARRAy[O .. 1000) OF CHARACfER].
red ~
[item: INTEGER. left, right: POINTER TO Splodge],
green ~
[item: INTEGER. next: POINTER TO green SplodgeJ,'
ENDCASE]; .

one can write the code
t: Splodge;
P: PROCEDURE = BEGIN t +- Splodge[O, green[lO, NIL]] END;

WITH s: t SELECf FROM
red ~ BEGIN ... P[ J .... s.left +-os.right END;

The procedure P overwrites t. and therefore s, with a
green Splodge. The subsequent references to s . left and
s . right are invalid and will cause great mischief.
Closing this breach is simple enough: we could have
simply followed Algol 68 and combined the discrimination with a copying operation that places the entire

Fig. 4. Oient of a compacting allocator.
DIRECTORY ArrayStoreDe/s: FROM "ArraySloreDe/s";
DEFINITIONS FROM ArrayStoreDe/s;
ArrIl,Clien,: PROGRAM =
BEGIN
--loteger array primitives
InlArray: TYPE = POINTER TO POINTER TO
RECORD[p: Prefix, a: ARRAY [0 .. 0] OF INTEGER];
AUoclntArray: PROCEDURE [INTEGER] RETURNS [lntArray]
= RECAST [AllocArray ];
FreelntArray: PROCEDURE [lmArray]
= RECAST [FreeArray ];
--String array primitives
SlrArray: TYPE = POINTER TO POINTER TO
RECORD[p: Prefix, a: ARRAY [0 .. 0] OF STRING];
AUocStrArray: PROCEDURE [INTEGER] RETURNS [StrArray]
= RECAST [AllocA rray ];
FreeStrArray: PROCEDURE [StrArray1
= RECAST [FreeArray];
Gedallken: PROCEDURE =
--This procedure's only role in life is to fail to
compile if ArrayStore does not have the right sort of
procedures.
BEGIN
uAllocArray:
PROCEDURE [INTEGER] RETURNS [UNSPECIFIED]
= AllocArray;
uFreeArray: PROCEDURE [UNSPECIFIED] = FreeArray;
END;
fA: IntArray = A lIoclmA rray [100];
SA: StrArray = AllocStrArray[IO];
i: INTEGER;
FORi IN [O.JA t t .p.length) DOIA t t .a[i] +-i/3 ENDLOOP;
SA t i .a[O) +- "zero"; SA t t .a[l] +- "one";
SA t t .a[2] +- "two"; SA i i .a[3] +- "surprise";
SA t t .a[4] +- "four";
FreelntArray [IA);
FreeStrArray [SA];
END.

Splodge in a new location (s) which is fixed to be red.
We chose not to do so for three reasons:
(1) Making copies can be expensive.
(2) Making a copy destroys useful sharing relations.
(3) This loophole has yet to cause a problem.
Consider the following procedure, which is representative of those found throughout the Mesa compiler's symbol table processor:
Add5: PROCEDURE[ x: POINTER TO Splodge) =
BEGIN y: POINTER TO green Splodge;
IF x = NIL THEN RETURN;
WITH s: x i SELECT FROM
blue :? RETURN;
red:?
BEGINs.item +-s.item + 5;
Add5[s.left]; Add5[s.right] END;
green :?
BEGINy +-@S;--meansy +-x
UNTIL y = NIL DO
y i .item +- y t .item + 5; y +- y t .next;
ENDLOOP;
END
ENDCASE
END

As it stands, this procedure runs through a Splodge,
adding 5 to all the integers in it. Suppose we chose to
copy while discriminating: i.e. suppose x t were copied
into some new storage nameds. In the blue arm a lot of
space and time would be wasted copying a 1000-character array intos, even though it was never used. In the
red arm the assignment to s 's item field is useless since it
doesn't affect the original structure.
The green arm illustrates the usefulness of declaring
bound variant types like green Splodge explicitly. If we
had to declare y and the next field of a green Splodge to
be simply Sp/odges, even though we knew they were
always green, the loop in that arm would have to be
rewritten to contain a useless discrimination.
To achieve the effect we desire under a copy-whilediscriminating regime, we would have to redesign our
data structure to include another level of pointers:
Splodge: TYPE = RECORD [
refcount: INTEGER;
vp: SELECT t: * FROM
blue :? [POINTER TO BlueSplodge],
red:? [POINTER TO RedSplodge],
green:? [POINTER TO GreenSplodge],
ENDCASE];
BlueSplodge: TYPE = RECORD[
x: ARRAy[O .. IOOO) OF CHARACTER];
RedSpolodge: TYPE = RECORD[
item: INTEGER. left, right: POINTER TO Splodge];
GreenSplodge: TYPE = RECORD[
item: INTEGER. next: POINTER TO GreenSplodge];

Now we do not mind copying because it doesn't consume much time or space, and it doesn't destroy the
sharing relations. Unfortunately, we must pay for the
storage occupied by the extra pointers. and this might
be intolerable if we have a large collection of Splodges.
How have we lived with this loophole so far without
getting burnt? It seems that we hardly ever change the
variant of a record once it has been initialized. Therefore the possible confusions never occur because the
variant never changes after being discriminated. In
light of this observation, our suggestion for getting rid
of the breach is simply to invent an attribute IMMUTABLE whose attachment to a variant record declaration
guarantees that changing the variant is impossible after
initialization. This means that special syntax must be
invented for the initialization step, but that is all to the
good since it provides an opportunity for a storage
allocator to allocate precisely the right amount of
space.

6. Conclusions
In this paper, we have discussed our experiences
with program modularization and strict type checking.
It is hard to resist drawing parallels between the disciplines introduced by these features on the one hand and
those introduced by programming without gotos on the
other. In view of the great goto debates of recent

189

memory, we would like to summarize our experiences
with the following observations and cautions.
(1) The benefits from these linguistic mechanisms,
large though they might be, do not come automatically.
A programmer must learn to use them effectively. We
are just beginning to learn how to do so.
(2) Just as the absence of gotos does not always
make a program better, 'the absence of type errors does
not make it better if their absence is purchased by
sacrificing clarity, efficiency, or type articulation.
(3) Most good programmers use many of the techniques implied by these disciplines, often subconsciously, and can do so in any reasonable language.
Language design can help by making the discipline
more convenient and systematic, and by catching blunders or other unintended violations of conventions.
Acquiring a particular programming style seems to depend on having a language that supports or requires it;
once assimilated, however, that style can be applied in
many other languages.
Acknowledgments. The principal designers of Mesa,
in addition to the authors, have been Butler Lampson

and Jim Mitchell. The major portion ofthe Mesa operating system was programmed by Richard Johnsson
and John Wick of the System Development Division of
Xerox. In addition to those mentioned above, Douglas
Clark, Howard Sturgis, and Niklaus Wirth have made
helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
References
1. Dahl. O.-J .• Myhrhaug. B .. and Nygaard. K. The SIMULA 67
common base language. Publ. No. S-2. Norwegian Comptng. etr .•
Oslo. May 1968.
2. Dennis. J.B .. and Van Hom. E. Programming semantics for
multiprogrammed computations. Comm. ACM 9, 3 (March 1966).
143-155.
3. Geschke. C .• and Mitchell. J. On the problem of uniform references to data structures. IEEE Trans. Software Eng. SE-1 • 2 (June
1975).207-219.
4. Habermann. A.N . Critical comments on the programming language PASCAL. Acta Informatica 3 (1973).47-57.
5. Knuth. D. TheAno/Computer Programming. Vol. 1: Fundamental Algorithms. Addison-Wesley, Reading. Mass .. 1968.
6. Koster. C.H.A. On infinite modes. ALGOL Bull. AB 30.3.3
(Feb. 1969). 109-112.
'
7. Lampson. B .• Mitchell. J., and Satterthwaite. E. On the transfer
of control between contexts. In Lecture Notes in Computer Science.
Vol. 19. G. Goos and J. Hartmanis. Eds .• Springer-Verlag. New
York. (1974). 181-203.
8. Mitchell. J .• and Wegbreit, B. Schemes: a high level data structuring concept. To appear in Current Trends in Programming Methodologies, R. Yeh, Ed., Prentice-Hall. Englewood Cliffs. N.J.
9. Morris. J. Protection in programming languages. Comm. ACM
16, 1 (Jan t 973). 15-21.
10. Pamas, D. A technique for software module specification.
Comm. ACM 15. 5 (May 1972).330-336.
11. Stay. J.E., and Strachey, C. OS6 - an experimental operating
system for a small computer, Part 2; input/output and filing system.
Computer}. 15.3 (Aug 1972). 195-203.
12. van Wijngaarden. A .• Ed. A repon on the algorithmic language
ALGOL 68. Num. Math. 14.2 (1969). 79-218.
13. Wegbreit. B. The treatment of data types in ELl. Comm. ACM
17.5 (May 1974).251-264.
14. Wirth. N. The programming language PASCAL. Acta Informatica 1 (1971).35-63.

190

Operating
Systems

R. Stockton Gaines
Editor

Experience with
Processes and
Monitors in Mesa
Butler W. Lampson
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
David D. Redell
Xerox Business Systems

The use of monitors for describing concurrency has
been much discussed in the literature. When monitors
are used in real systems of any size, however, a number
of problems arise which have not been adequately dealt
with: the semantics of nested monitor calls; the various
ways of derming the meaning of WAIT; priority
scheduling; handling of timeouts, aborts and other
exceptional conditions; interactions with process
creation and destruction; monitoring large numbers of
small objects. These problems are addressed by the
facilities described here for concurrent programming in
Mesa. Experience with several substantial applications
gives us some confidence in the validity of our
solutions.
Key Words and Phrases: concurrency, condition
variable, deadlock, module, monitor, operating system,
process, synchronization, task
CR Categories: 4.32, 4.35, ~.24

Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is
granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct
commercial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the
publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by
permission of the Association for Computing Machinery. To copy
otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and/or specific permission.
A version of this paper was presented at the 7th ACM Symposium
on Operating Systems Principles, Pacific Grove, Calif., Dec. 10-12,
1979.
Authors' present address: B. W. Lampson and D. D. Redell, Xerox
Corporation, 3333 Coyote Hill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304.
© 1980 ACM 0001-0782/80/0200-0105 $00.75.

191

1. Introduction
In early 1977 we began to design the concurrent
programming facilities of Pilot, a new operating system
for a personal computer [18]. Pilot is a fairly large
program itself (24,000 lines of Mesa code). In addition,
it must support a variety of quite large application
programs, ranging from database management to internetwork message transmission, which are heavy users of
concurrency; our experience with some of these applications is discussed later in the paper. We intended the
new facilities to be used at least for the following purposes:
Local concurrent programming. An individual application can be implemented as a tightly coupled group of
.synchronized processes to express the concurrency inherent in the application.
Global resource sharing. Independent applications
can run together on the same machine, cooperatively
sharing the resources; in particular, their processes can
share the processor.
Replacing interrupts. A request for software attention
to a device can be handled directly by waking up an
appropriate process, without going through a separate
interrupt mechanism (e.g., a forced branch).
Pilot is closely coupled to the Mesa language [17],
which is used to write both Pilot itself and the applications programs it supports. Hence it was natural to design
these facilities as part of Mesa; this makes them easier to
use, and also allows the compiler to detect many kinds
of errors in their use. The idea of integrating such
facilities into a language is certainly not new; it goes
back at least as far as PL/I [1]. Furthermore the invention
of monitors by Dijkstra, Hoare, and Brinch Hansen [3,
5, 8] provided a very attractive framework for reliable
concurrent programming. There followed a number of
papers on the integration of concurrency into programming languages, and at least one implementation [4].
We therefore thought that our task would be an easy
one: read the literature, compare the alternatives offered
there, and pick the one most suitable for our needs. This
expectation proved to be naive. Because of the large size
and wide variety of our applications, we had to address
a number of issues which were not clearly resolved in
the published work on monitors. The most notable
among these are listed below, with the sections in which
they are discussed.
(a) Program structure. Mesa has facilities for organizing
programs into modules which communicate
through well-dermed interfaces. Processes must fit
into this scheme (see Section 3.1).
(b) Creating processes. A set of processes fixed at com~
pile-time is unacceptable in such a general-purpose
system (see Section 2). Existing proposals for varying the amount of concurrency were limited to
concurrent elaboration of the statements in a block,
in the style of Algol 68 (except for the rather
complex mechanism in PL/I).

192

Creating monitors. A fixed number of monitors is
also unacceptable, since the number of synchronizers should be a function of the amount of data, but
many of the details of existing proposals depended
on a fixed association of a monitor with a block of
the program text (see Section 3.2).
(d) WAIT in a nested monitor call. This issue had been
(and has continued to be) the source of a considerable amount of confusion, which we had to resolve in an acceptable manner before we coUld
proceed (see Section 3.1).
(e) Exceptions. A realistic system must have timeouts,
and it must have a way to abort a process (see
Section 4.1). Mesa has an UNWIND mechanism for
abandoning part of a sequential computation in an
orderly way, and this must interact properly with
monitors (see Section 3.3).
(f) Scheduling. The precise semantics of waiting on a
condition variable had been discussed [10] but not
agreed upon, and the reasons for making any particular choice had not been articulated (see Section
4). No attention had been paid to the interactioiI
between monitors and priority scheduling of processes (see Section 4.3).
(g) Input-output. The details of fitting I/O devices into
the framework of monitors and condition variables
had not been fully worked out (see Section 4.2).
Some of these points have also been made by Keedy
[12], who discusses the usefulness of monitors in a modem general-purpose mainframe operating system. The
Modula language [21] addresses (b) and (g), but in a
more limited context than ours.
Before settling on the monitor scheme described below, we considered other possibilities. We felt that our
first task was to choose either shared memory (i.e.,
monitors) or message passing as our basic interprocess
communication paradigm.
Message passing has been used (without language
support) in a number of operating systems; for a recent
proposal to embed messages in a language, see [9]. An
analysis of the differences between such schemes and
those based on monitors was made by Lauer and Needham [14]. They conclude that, given certain mild restrictions on programming style, the two schemes are duals
under the transformation
(c)

message ++ process
process ++ monitor
send/reply ++ call/return
Since our work is based on a language whose main tool
of program structuring is the procedure, it was considerably easier to use a monitor scheme than to devise a
message-passing scheme properly integrated with the
type sY!!lem and control structures of the language.
Within the shared memory paradigm, we considered
the possibility of adopting a simpler primitive synchronization facility than monitors. Assuming the absence of
multiple processors, the simplest form of mutual exclu-

sion appears to be a nonpreemptive scheduler; if processes only yield the processor voluntarily, then mutual
exclusion is insured between yield-points. In its simplest
form, this approach tends to produce very delicate programs, since the insertion of a yield in a random place
can introduce a subtle bug in a previously correct program. This danger can be alleviated by the addition of
a modest amount of "syntactic sugar" to delineate critical
sections within which the processor must not be yielded
(e.g., pseudo monitors). This sugared form of nonpreemptive scheduling can provide extremely efficient
solutions to simple problems, but was nonetheless rejected for four reasons:
(1) While we were willing to accept an implementation
which would not work on multiple processors, we
did not want to embed this restriction in our basic
semantics.
(2) A separate preemptive mechanism is needed anyway, since the processor must respond to timecritical events (e.g., I/O interrupts) for which voluntary process switching is clearly too sluggish.
With preemptive process scheduling, interrupts can
be treated as ordinary process wakeups, which reduces the total amount of machinery needed and
eliminates the awkward situations which tend to
occur at the boundary between two scheduling regimes.
(3) The use of nonpreemption as mutual exclusion
restricts programming generality within critical sections; in particular, a procedure that happens to
yield the processor cannot be called. In large systems where modularity is essential, such restrictions
are intolerable.
(4) The Mesa concurrency facilities function in a virtual memory environment. The use of nonpreemption as mutual exclusion forbids multiprogramming
across page faults, since that would effectively insert
preemptions at arbitrary points in the program.
For mutual exclusion with a preemptive scheduler, it
is necessary to introduce explicit locks, and machinery
which makes requesting processes wait when a lock is
unavailable. We considered casting our locks as semaphores, but decided that, compared with monitors, they
exert too little structuring discipline on concurrent programs. Semaphores do solve several different problems
with a single mechanism (e.g, mutual exclusion, producer/consumer) but we found similar economies in our
implementation of monitors and condition variables (see
Section 5.1).
We have not associated any protection mechanism
with processes in Mesa, except what is implicit in the
type system of the language. Since the system supports
only one user, we feel that the considerable protection
offered by the strong typing of the language is sufficient.
This fact contributes substantially to the low cost of
process operations.

2. Processes
Mesa casts the creation of a new process as a special
procedure activation which executes concurrently with
its caller. Mesa allows any procedure (except an internal
procedure of a monitor; see Section 3.1) to be invoked in
this way, at the caller's discretion. It is possible to later
retrieve the results returned by the procedure. For example, a keyboard input routine might be invoked as a
normal procedure by writing:
buffer +- ReadLine[terminal]

but since ReadLine is likely to wait for input, its caller
might wish instead to compute concurrently:
p +- FORK Readline[terminal];
... (concurrent computation) ...
buffer +- JOIN p;

Here the types are
Readline:

p:

[Device]
[Line].

PROCEDURE

PROCESS RETURNS

RETURNS

[Line];

The rendezvous between the return from ReadLine
which terminates the new process and the JOIN in the old
process is provided automatically. ReadLine is the root
procedure of the new process.
This scheme has a number of important properties.
(a) It treats a process as a first-class value in the language, which can be assigned to a variable or an
array element, passed as a parameter, and in general
treated exactly like any other value. A process value
is like a pointer value or a procedure value which
refers to a nested procedure, in that it can become
a dangling reference if the process to which it refers
goes away.
(b) The method for passing parameters to a new process and retrieving its results is exactly the same as
the corresponding method for procedures, and is
subject to the same strict type checking. Just as
PROCEDURE is a generator for a family of types
(depending on the argument and result types), so
PROCESS is a similar generator, slightly simpler since
it depends only on result types.
(c) No special declaration is needed for a procedure
which is invoked as a process. Because of the implementation of procedure calls and other global
control transfers in Mesa [13], there is no extra
execution cost for this generality.
(d) The cost of creating and destroying a process is
moderate, and the cost in storage is only twice the
minimum cost of a procedure instance. It is therefore feasible to program with a large number of
processes, and to vary the number quite rapidly. As
Lauer and Needham [14] point out, there are many
synchronization problems which have straightforward solutions using monitors only when obtaining
a new process is cheap.

193

Many patterns of process creation are possible. A
common one is to create a detached process, which never
returns a result to its creator, but instead functions quite
independently. When the root procedure p of a detached
process returns, the process is destroyed without any
fuss. The fact that no one intends to wait for a result
from p can be expressed by executing:
Detach[p]

From the point of view of the caller, this is similar to
freeing a dynamic variable-it is generally an erro.r to
make any further use of the current value of p, Since
the process, running asynchronously, may complete
its work and be destroyed at any time. Of course the
design of the program may be such that this ~nnot
happen, and in this case the value of p can. s1111 be
useful as a parameter to the Abort operatlon (see
Section 4.1).
This remark illustrates a general point: Processes
offer some new opportunities to create dangling references. A process variable itself is a kind of pointer, and
must not be used after the process is destroyed. Furthermore, parameters passed by reference to a process are
pointers, and if they happen to be local variables of a
procedure, that procedure must ~ot return ~ntil the
process is destroyed. Like most Implemen~at1on l.anguages, Mesa does not provide any prote~tlOn against
dangling references, whether connnected with processes
or not.
The ordinary Mesa facility for exception handling
uses the ordering established by procedure calls to control the processing of exceptions. Any block ~a! have
an attached exception handler. The block containing the
statement which causes the exception is given the first
chance to handle it, then its enclosing block, and so forth
until a procedure body is reached. Then the caller of the
procedure is given a chance in the same way. Since the
root procedure of a process has no caller, it must be
prepared to handle any exceptions which can be generated in the process, including exceptions generated by
the procedure itself. If it fails to do so, the resulting error
sends control to the debugger, where the identity of the
procedure and the exception can easily be determined
by a programmer. This is not much comfort, ~owever,
when a system is in operational use. The practlcal consequence is that while any procedure suitable for forking
can also be called sequentially, the converse is not generally true.

3. Monitors

When several processes interact by sharing data, care
must be taken to properly synchronize access to the data.
The idea behind monitors is that a proper vehicle for this
interaction is one which unifies

194

-the synchronization,
-the shared data,
-the body of code which performs the accesses.
The data is protected by a monitor, and can only be
accessed within the body of a monitor procedure. There
are two kinds of monitor procedures: entry procedures,
which can be called from outside the monitor, and
internal procedures, which can only be called from ~on­
itor procedures. Processes can only perform operatl~ns
on the data by calling entry procedures. The monttor
ensures that at most one process is executing a monitor
procedure at a time; this process is said to be in the
monitor. If a process is in the monitor, any other process
which calls an entry procedure will be delayed. The
monitor procedures are written textually next to each
other, and next to the declaration of the protected data,
so that a reader can conveniently survey all the references
to the data.
As long as any order of calling th~ ~ntry procedur~s
produces meaningful results, no addltton~l synchron~­
zation is needed among the processes sharmg the monttor. If a random order is not acceptable, other provisions
must be made in the program outside the monitor. For
example, an unbounded buffer with Put and Get procedures imposes no constraints (of course a Get may have
to wait, but this is taken care of within the monitor, as
described in the next section). On the other hand, a tape
unit with Reserve, Read, Write, and Release operations
requires that each process execute a ~eserve first and. a
Release last. A second process executmg a Reserve Will
be delayed by the monitor, but another process doing a
Read without a prior Reserve will produce chaos. Thus
monitors do not solve all the problems of concurrent
programming; they are intended, in part, as primitive
building blocks for more complex scheduling policies. A
discussion of such policies and how to implement them
using monitors is beyond the scope of this paper.

3.t Monitor Modules
In Mesa the simplest monitor is an instance of a
module, which is the basic unit of-global program struc-

turing. A Mesa module consists of a collection of procedures and their global data, and in sequential programming is used to implement a data abstraction. Such a
module has PUBLIC procedures which constitute the external interface to the abstraction, and PRIVATE procedures which are internal to the implementation and
cannot be called from outside the module; its data is
normally entirely private. A MONITOR module differs
only slightly. It has three kinds of procedures: entry,
internal (private), and external (nonmonitor procedures).
The first two are the monitor procedures, and execute
with the monitor lock held. For example, consider a
simple storage allocator with two entry procedures, Allocate and Free, and an external procedure Expand which
increases the size of a block.

StorageAllocator. MONITOR =
availableStorage: INTEGER;
moreAvailable: CONDITION;

BEGIN

Allocate: ENTRY PROCEDURE [size:
RETURNS
UNTIL

[p: POINTER)

INTEGER)

= BEGIN

availableStorage ~ size
moreAvailable ENDLOOP;

DO WAIT

p ..... {remove chunk of size words & update availableStorage>
END;

Free:

ENTRY PROCEDURE

[p:

POINTER,

size: INTEGER)

= BEGIN
{put back chunk of size words & update availableStorage>;
NOTIFY moreAvailable END;
Expand: PUBUC PROCEDURE [pOld: POINTER,
size: INTEGER)
RETURNS [pNew: POINTER) = BEGIN
pNew +- Allocate[size];

{copy contents from old block to new block>;

Free[pOld]

END;

END.

A Mesa module is normally used to package a collection of related procedures and protect their private
data from external access. In order to avoid introducing
a new lexical structuring mechanism, we chose to make
the scope of a monitor identical to a module. Sometimes,
however, procedures which belong in an abstraction do
not need access to any shared data, and hence need not
be entry procedures of the monitor, these must be distinguished somehow.
For example, two asynchronous processes clearly
must not execute in the Allocate or Free procedures at
the same time; hence, these must be entry procedures.
On the other hand, it is unnecessary to hold the monitor
lock during the copy in Expand, even though this procedure logically belongs in the storage allocator module;
it is thus written as an external procedure. A more
complex monitor might also have internal procedures,
which are used to structure its computations, but which
are inaccessible from outside the monitor. These do not
acquire and release the lock on call and return, since
they can only be called when the lock is already held.
If no suitable block is available, Allocate makes its
caller wait on the condition variable moreA vailable. Free
does a NOTIFY to this variable whenever a new block
becomes available; this causes some process waiting on
the variable to resume execution (see Section 4 for
details). The WAIT releases the monitor lock, which is
reacquired when the waiting process reenters the monitor. If aWAIT is done in an internal procedure, it still
releases the lock. If, however, the monitor calls some
other procedure which is outside the monitor module,
the lock is not released, even if the other procedure is
in (or calls) another monitor and ends up doing a
WAIT. The same rule is adopted in Concurrent
Pascal [4J.
To understand the reasons for this, consider the form
of a correctness argument for a program using a monitor.
The basic idea is that the monitor maintains an invariant
which is always true of its data, except when some
process is executing in the monitor. Whenever control

leaves the monitor, this invariant must be established. In
return, whenever control enters the monitor the invariant
can be assumed. Thus an entry procedure must establish
the invariant before' returning, and monitor procedures
must establish it before doing a WAIT. The invariant can
be assumed at the start of an entry procedure, and after
each WAIT. Under these conditions, the monitor lock
ensures that no one can enter the monitor when the
invariant is false. Now, if the lock were to be released on
aWAIT done in another monitor which happens to be
called from this one, the invariant would have to be
established before making the call which leads to the
WAIT. Since in general there is no way to know whether
a call outside the monitor will lead to aWAIT, the
invariant would have to be established before every such
call. The result would be to make calling such procedures
hopelessly cumbersome.
An alternative solution is to allow an outside block to
be written inside a monitor, with the following meaning:
on entry to the block the lock is released (and hence the
invariant must be established); within the block the
protected data is inaccessible; on leaving the block the
lock is reacquired. This scheme allows the state represented by the execution environment of the monitor to
be maintained during the outside call, and imposes a
minimal burden on the programmer: to establish the
invariant before making the call. This mechanism would
be easy to add to Mesa; we have left it out because we
have not seen convincing examples in which it significantly simplifies the program.
If an entry procedure generates an exception in the
usual way, the result will be a call on the exception
handler from within the monitor, so that the lock will
not be released. In particular, this means that the exception handler must carefully avoid invoking that same
monitor, or a deadlock will result. To avoid this restriction, the entry procedure can restore the invariant and
then execute
RETURN WITH ERROR[ (arguments) J
which returns from the entry procedure, thus releasing
the lock, and then generates the exception.
3.2 Monitors and Deadlock
There are three patterns of pairwise deadlock that
can occur using monitors. In practice, of course, deadlocks often involve more than two processes, in which
case the actual patterns observed tend to be more complicated; conversely, it is also possible for a single process
to deadlock with itself (e.g., if an entry procedure is
recursive).
The simplest form of deadlock takes place inside a
single monitor when two processes do a WAIT, each
expecting to be awakened by the other. This represents
a localized bug in the monitor code and is usually easy
to locate and correct.
A more subtle form of deadlock can occur if there is
a cyclic calling pattern between two monitors. Thus if

195

monitor M calls an entry procedure in N, and N calls
one in M, each will wait for the other to release the
monitor lock. This kind of deadlock is made neither
more nor less serious by the monitor mechanism. It arises
whenever such cyclic dependencies are allowed to occur
in a program, and can be avoided in a number of ways.
The simplest is to impose a partial ordering on resources
such that all the resources simultaneously possessed by
any process are totally ordered, and insist that if resource
r precedes s in the ordering, then r cannot be acquired
later than s. When the resources are monitors, this reduces to the simple rule that mutually recursive monitors
must be avoided. Concurrent Pascal [4] makes this check
at compile time; Mesa cannot do so because it has
procedure variables.
A more serious problem arises if M calls N, and N
then waits for a condition which can only occur when
another process enters N through M and makes the
condition true. In this situation, N will be unlocked,
since the WAIT occurred there, but M will remain locked
during the WAIT in N. This kind of two-level data
abstraction must be handled with some care. A straightforward solution using standard monitors is to break M
into two parts: a monitor M' and an ordinary module 0
which implements the abstraction defined by M, and
calls M' for access to the shared data. The call on N must
be done from 0 rather than from within M'.
Monitors, like any other interprocess communication
mechanism, are a tool for implementing synchronization constraints chosen by the programmer. It is unreasonable to blame the tool when poorly chosen constraints
lead to deadlock. What is crucial, however, is that the
tool make the program structure as understandable as
possible, while not restricting the programmer too much
in his choice of constraints (e.g., by forcing a monitor
lock to be held much longer than necessary). To some
extent, these two goals tend to conflict; the Mesa concurrency facilities attempt to strike a reasonable balance
and provide an environment in which the conscientious
programmer can avoid deadlock reasonably easily. Our
experience in this area is reported in Section 6.
3.3 Monitored Objects
Often we wish to have a collection of shared data
objects, each one representing an instance of some abstract object such as a file, a storage volume, a virtual
circuit, or a database view, and we wish to add objects
to the collection and delete them dynamically. In a
sequential program this is done with standard techniques
for allocating and freeing storage. In a concurrent program, however, provision must also be made for serializing access to each object. The straightforward way is to
use a single monitor for accessing all instances of the
object, and we recommend this approach whenever possible. If the objects function independently of each other
for the most part, however, the single monitor drastically
reduces the maximum concurrency which can be obtained. In this case, what we want is to give each object

196

its own monitor; all these monitors will share the same
code, since all the instances of the abstract object share
the same code, but each object will have its own lock.
One way to achieve this result is to make multiple
instances of the monitor module. Mesa makes this quite
easy, and it is the next recommended approach. However, the data associated with a module instance includes
information which the Mesa system uses to support
program linking and code swapping, and there is some
cost in duplicating this information. Furthermore, module instances are allocated by the system; hence the
program cannot exercise the fme control over allocation
strategies which is possible for ordinary Mesa data objects. We have therefore introduced a new type constructor called a monitored record, which is exactly like an
ordinary record, except that it includes a monitor lock
and is intended to be used as the protected data of a
monitor.
In writing the code for such a monitor, the programmer must specifY how to access the monitored record,
which might be embedded in some larger data structure
passed as a parameter to the entry procedures. This is
done with a LOCKS clause which is written at the beginning of the module:
MONITOR LOCKS filet
USING file: POINTER TO

FileData;

if the FileData is the protected data. An arbitrary expression can appear in the LOCKS clause; for instance, LOCKS
file.buffers[cu"entPage] might be appropriate if the protected data is one of the buffers in an array which is part
of the file. Every entry procedure of this monitor, and
every internal procedure that does a WAIT, must have
access to a file, so that it can acquire and release the lock
upon entry or around a WAIT. This can be accomplished
in two ways: the file may be a global variable of the
module, or it may be a parameter to every such procedure. In the latter case, we have effectively created a
separate monitor for each object, without limiting the
program's freedom to arrange access paths and storage
allocation as it likes.
Unfortunately, the type system of Mesa is not strong
enough to make this construction completely safe. If the
value of file is changed within an entry procedure, for
example, chaos will result, since the return from this
procedure will release not the lock which was acquired
during the call, but some other lock instead. In this
example we can insist that file be read-only, but with
another level of indirection aliasing can occur and such
a restriction cannot be enforced. In practice this lack of
safety has not been a problem.
3.4 Abandoning a Computation
Suppose that a procedure PI has called another procedure P2, which in tum has called P3 and so forth until
the current procedure is Pn. If Pn generates an exception
which is eventually handled by PI (because P2 •• • ·Pn do
not provide handlers), Mesa allows the exception handler

in PI to abandon the portion of the computation being
done in P2 ••• Pn and continue execution in Pl. When
this happens, a distinguished exception called UNWIND
is first generated, and each of P2 ••• Pn is given a chance
to handle it and do any necessary cleanup before its
activation is destroyed.
This feature of Mesa is not part of the concurrency
facilities, but it does interact with those facilities in the
following way. If one of. the procedures being abandoned, say Pi, is an entry procedure, then the invariant
must be restored and the monitor lock released before Pi
is destroyed. Thus if the logic of the program allows an
UNWIND, the programmer must supply a suitable handler
in Pi to restore the invariant; Mesa will automatically
supply the code to release the lock. If the programmer
fails to supply an UNWIND handler for an entry procedure, the lock is not automatically released, but remains
set; the cause of the resulting deadlock is not hard to
find.

4. Condition Variables
In this section we discuss the precise semantics of
and other details associated with condition variables. Hoare's definition of monitors [8] requires that a
process waiting on a condition variable must run immediately when another process signals that variable,
and that the signaling process in tum runs as soon as the
waiter leaves the monitor. This definition allows the
waiter to assume the truth of some predicate stronger
than the monitor invariant (which the signaler must of
course establish), but it requires several additional process switches whenever a process continues after a WAIT.
It also requires that the signaling mechanism be perfectly
reliable.
Mesa takes a different view: When one process establishes a condition for which some other process may be
waiting, it notifies the corresponding condition variable.
A NOTIFY is regarded as a hint to a waiting process; it
causes execution of some process waiting on the condition to resume at some convenient future time. When the
waiting process resumes, it will reacquire the monitor
lock. There is no guarantee that some other process will
not enter the monitor before the waiting process. Hence
nothing more than the monitor invariant may be assumed after a WAIT, and the waiter must reevaluate the
situation each time it resumes. The proper pattern of
code for waiting is therefore:
WAIT,

WHILE NOT (OK

to proCeed)

DO WAIT C

ENDLOOP.

This arrangement results in an extra evaluation of the
(OK to proceed) predicate after a wait, compared to
Hoare's monitors, in which the code is:
IF NOT (OK

to proceed)

THEN WAIT

c.

In return, however, there are no extra process switches,

and indeed no constraints at all on when the waiting
process must run after a NOTIFY. In fact, it is perfectly all
right to run the waiting process even if there is not any
NOTIFY, although this is presumably pointless if a NOTIFY
is done whenever an interesting change is made to the
protected data.
It is possible that such a laissez-faire attitude to
scheduling monitor accesses will lead to unfairness and
even starvation. We do not think this is a legitimate
cause for concern, since in a properly designed system
there should typically be no processes waiting for a
monitor lock. As Hoare, Brinch Hansen, Keedy, and
others have pointed out, the low level scheduling mechanism provided by monitor locks should not be used to
implement high level scheduling decisions within a system (e.g., about which process should get a printer next).
High level scheduling should be done by taking account
of the specific characteristics of the resource being scheduled (e.g., whether the right kind of paper is in the
printer). Such a scheduler will delay its client processes
on condition variables after recording information about
their requirements, make its decisions based on this
information, and notify the proper conditions. In such a
design the data protected by a monitor is never a bottleneck.
The verification rules for Mesa monitors are thus
extremely simple: The monitor invariant must be established just before a return from an entry procedure or a
WAIT, and it may be assumed at the start of an entry
procedure and just after a WAIT. Since awakened waiters
do not run immediately, the predicate established before
a NOTIFY cannot be assumed after the corresponding
WAIT, but since the waiter tests explicitly for (OK to
proceed), verification is actually made simpler and more
localized.
Another consequence of Mesa's treatment of NOTIFY as a hint is that many applications do not trouble to
determine whether the exact condition needed by a
waiter has been established. Instead, they choose a very
cheap predicate which implies the exact condition (e.g.,
some change has occurred), and NOTIFY a covering condition variable. Any waiting process is then responsible
for determining whether the exact condition holds; if not,
it simply waits again. For example, a process may need
to wait until a particular object in a set changes state. A
single condition covers the entire set, and a process
changing any of the objects broadcasts to this condition
(see Section 4.1). The information about exactly which
objects are currently of interest is implicit in the states of
the waiting processes, rather than having to be represented explicitly in a shared data structure. This is an
attractive way to decouple the detailed design of two
processes; it is feasible because the cost of waking up a
process is small.
4.1 Alternatives to NOTIFY
With this rule it is easy to add three additional ways
to resume a waiting process:

197

Timeout. Associated with a condition variable is a
timeout interval t. A process which has been waiting for
time t will resume regardless of whether the condition
has been notified. Presumably in most cases it will check
the time and take some recovery action before waiting
again. The original design for timeouts raised an exception if the timeout occurred; it was changed because
many users simply wanted to retry on a timeout, and
objected to the cost and coding complexity of handling
the exception. This decision could certainly go either
way.
Abort. A process may be aborted at any time by
executing Abort[p]. The effect is that the next time the
process waits, or if it is waiting now, it will resume
immediately and the Aborted exception will occur. This
mechanism allows one process to gently prod another,
generally to suggest that it should clean up and terminate.
The aborted process is, however, free to do arbitrary
computations, or indeed to ignore the abort entirely.
Broadcast. Instead of doing a NOTIFY to a condition,
a process may do a BROADCAST, which causes all the
processes waiting on the condition to resume, instead of
simply one of them. Since a NOTIFY is just a hint, it is
always correct to use BROADCAST. It is better to use
NOTIFY if there will typically be several processes waiting
on the condition, and it is known that any waiting
process can respond properly. On the other hand, there
are times when a BROADCAST is correct and a NOTIFY is
not; the alert reader may have noticed a problem with
the example program in Section 3.1, which can be solved
by replacing the NOTIFY with a BROADCAST.

None of these mechanisms affects the proof rule for
monitors at all. Each provides a way to attract the
attention of a waiting process at an appropriate time.
Note that there is no way to stop a runaway process.
This reflects the fact that Mesa processes are cooperative.
Many aspects of the design would not be appropriate in
a competitive environment such as a general-purpose
time-sharing system.

4.2 Naked NOTIFY
Communication with input/output devices is handled by monitors and condition variables much like
communication among processes. There is typically a
shared data structure, whose details are determined by
the hardware, for passing commands to the device and
returning status information. Since it is not possible for
the device to wait on a monitor lock, the updating
operations on this structure must be designed so that the
single-word atomic read and write operations provided
by the memory are sufficient to make them atomic.
When the device needs attention, it can NOTIFY a condition variable to wake up a waiting process (i.e., the
interrupt handler); since the device does not actually
acquire the monitor lock, its NOTIFY is called a naked

198

NOTIFY. The device finds the address of the condition
.variable in a fixed memory location.
There is one complication associated with a naked
NOTIFY: Since the notification is not protected by a
monitor lock, there can be a race. It is possible for a
process to be in the monitor, find the (OK to proceed)
predicate to be FALSE (i.e., the device does not need
attention), and be about to do aWAIT, when the device
updates the shared data and does its NOTIFY. The WAIT
will then be done and the NOTIFY from the device will be
lost. With ordinary processes, this cannot happen, since
the monitor lock ensures that one process cannot be
testing the predicate and preparing to WAIT, while another is changing the value of (OK to proceed) and doing
the NOTIFY. The problem is avoided by providing the
familiar wakeup-waiting switch [19] in a condition variable, thus turning it into a binary semaphore [8]. This
switch is needed only for condition variables that are
notified by devices.
We briefly considered a design in which devices
would wait on and acquire the monitor lock, exactly like
ordinary Mesa processes; this design is attractive because
it avoids both the anomalies just discussed. However,
there is a serious problem with any kind of mutual
exclusion between two processes which run on processors
of substantially different speeds: The faster process may
have to wait for the slower one. The worst-case response
time of the faster process therefore cannot be less than
the time the slower one needs to fmish its critical section.
Although one can get higher throughput from the faster
processor than from the slower one, one cannot get better
worst-case real-time performance. We consider this a
fundamental deficiency.
It therefore seemed best to avoid any mutual exclusion (except for that provided by the atomic memory
read and write operations) between Mesa code and
device hardware and microcode. Their relationship is
easily cast into a producer-consumer form, and this can
be implemented, using linked lists or arrays, with only
the memory's mutual exclusion. Only a small amount of
Mesa code must handle device data structures without
the protection of a monitor. Clearly a change of models
must occur at some point between a disk head and an
application program; we see no good reason why it
should not happen within Mesa code, although it should
certainly be tightly encapsulated.

4.3 Priorities
In some applications it is desirable to use a priority
scheduling discipline for allocating the processor(s) to
processes which are not waiting. Unless care is taken, the
ordering implied by the assignment of priorities can be
subverted by monitors. Suppose there are three priority
levels (3 highest, I lowest), and three processes Ph P2,
and Pa, one running at each level. Let PI and P a communicate using a monitor M. Now consider the following
sequence of events:

PI enters M.
PI is preempted by P2•
P 2 is preempted by Pa•
P a tries to enter the monitor, and waits for the lock.
P2 runs again, and can effectively prevent P 3 from
running, contrary to the purpose of the priorities.
A simple way to avoid this situation is to associate
with each monitor the priority of the highest-priority
process which ever enters that monitor. Then whenever
a process enters a monitor, its priority is temporarily
increased to the monitor's priority. Modula solves the
problem in an even simpler way-interrupts are disabled
on entry to M, thus effectively giving the process the
highest possible priority, as well as supplying the monitor
lock for M. This approach fails if a page fault can occur
while executing in M.
The mechanism is not free, and whether or not it is
needed depends on the application. For instance, if only
processes with adjacent priorities share a monitor, the
problem described above cannot occur. Even if this is
not the case, the problem may occur rarely, and absolute
enforcement of the priority scheduling may not be important.

s.

Implementation

The implementation of processes and monitors is
split more or less equally among the Mesa compiler, the
runtime package, and the underlying machine. The compiler recognizes the various syntactic constructs and generates appropriate code, including implicit calls on builtin (i.e., known to the compiler) support procedures. The
runtime implements the less heavily used operations,
such as process creation and destruction. The machine
directly implements the more heavily used features, such
as process scheduling and monitor entry/exit.
Note that it was primarily frequency of use, rather
than cleanliness of abstraction, that motivated our division of labor between processor and software. Nonetheless, the split did turn out to be a fairly clean layering, in
which the birth and death of processes are implemented
on top of monitors and process scheduling.

5.1 The Processor
The existence of a process is normally represented
only by its stack of procedure activation records or
frames, plus a small (lO-byte) description called a
ProcessState. Frames are allocated from aframe heap by
a microcoded allocator. They come in a range of sizes
which differ by 20 percent to 30 percent; there is a
separate free list for each size up to a few hundred bytes
(about 15 sizes). Allocating and freeing frames are thus
very fast, except when more frames of a given size are
needed. Because all frames come from the heap, there is
no need to preplan the stack space needed by a process.
When a frame of a given siz(l is needed but not available,

Fig. I. A process queue.

there is a frame fault, and the fault handler allocates
more frames in virtual memory. Resident procedures
have a private frame heap which is replenished by seizing
real memory from the virtual memory manager.
The Process States are kept in a fixed table known to
the processor; the size of this table determines the maximum number of processes. At any given time, a
ProcessState is on exactly one queue. There are four
kinds of queues:
Ready queue. There is one ready queue, containing
all processes which are ready to run.
Monitor lock queue. When a process attempts to enter
a locked monitor, it is moved from the ready queue to a
queue associated with the monitor lock.
Condition variable queue. When a process executes a
WAIT, it is moved from the ready queue to a queue
associated with the condition variable.
Fault queue. A fault can make a process temporarily
unable to run; such a process is moved from the ready
queue to a fault queue, and a fault-handling process is
notified.
Queues are kept sorted by process priority. The implementation of queues is a simple one-way circular list,
with the queue-cell pointing to the tail of the queue (see
Figure 1). This compact structure allows rapid access to
both the head and the tail of the queue. Insertion at the
tail and removal at the head are quick and easy; more
general insertion and deletion involve scanning some
fraction of the queue. The queues are usually short
enough that this is not a problem. Only the ready queue
grows to a substantial size during normal operation, and
its patterns of insertions and deletions are such that
queue scanning overhead is small.
The queue cell of the ready queue is kept in a fixed
location krrown to the processor, whose fundamental
task is to always execute the next instruction of the
highest priority ready process. To this end, a check is
made before each instruction, and a process switch is
done if necessary. In particular, this is the mechanism by
which interrupts are serviced. The machine thus implements a simple priority scheduler, which is preemptive
between priorities and FIFO within a given priority.
Queues other than the ready list are passed to the
processor by software as operands of instructions, or
through a trap vector in the case of fault queues. The
queue cells are passed by reference, since in general they
must be updated (i.e., the identity of the tail may change.).
Monitor locks and condition variables are implemented
as small records containing their associated queue cells

199

plus a small amount of extra information: in a monitor
lock, the actual lock; in a condition variable, the timeout
interval and the wakeup-waiting switch.
At a fIxed interval (-20 times per second) the processor scans the table of ProcessStates and notifIes any
waiting processes whose timeout intervals have expired.
This special NOTIFY is tricky because the processor does
not know the location of the condition variables on
which such processes are waiting, and hence cannot
update the queue cells. This problem is solved by leaving
the queue cells out of date, but marking the processes in
such a way that the next normal usage of the queue cells
will notice the situation and update them appropriately.
There is no provision for time-slicing in the current
implementation, but it could easily be added, since it has
no effect on the semantics of processes.
5.2 The Runtime Support Package
The Process module of the Mesa runtime package
does creation and deletion of processes. This module is
written (in Mesa) as a monitor, thus utilizing the underlying synchronization machinery of the processor
to coordinate the implementation of FORK and JOIN as
the built-in entry procedures Process. Fork and
Process.Join, respectively. The unused ProcessStates are
treated as essentially normal processes which are all
waiting on a condition variable called rebirth. A call of
Process. Fork performs appropriate "brain surgery" on
the fIrst process in the queue and then notifIes rebirth to
bring the process to life; Process.Join synchronizes with
the dying process and retrieves the results. The (implicitly
invoked) procedure Process. End synchronizes the dying
process with the joining process and then commits suicide by waiting on rebirth. An explicit cell on
Process. Detach marks the process so that when it later
calls Process. End, it will simply destroy itself immediately.
The operations Process.Abort and Process. Yield are
provided to allow special handling of processes which
wait too long and compute too long, respectively. Both
adjust the states of the appropriate queues, using the
machine's standard queueing mechanisms. Utility routines are also provided by the runtime for such operations
as setting a condition variable timeout and setting a
process priority.
5.3 The Compiler
The compiler recognizes the syntactic constructs for
processes and monitors and emits the appropriate code
(e.g., a MONITORENTRY instruction at the start of each
entry procedure, an implicit call of Process. Fork for each
FORK). The compiler also performs special static checks
to help avoid certain frequently encountered errors. For
example, use of WAIT in an external procedure is flagged
as an error, as is a direct call from an external procedure
to an internal one. Because of the power of the underlying Mesa control structure primitives, and the care with

200

which concurrency was integrated into the language, the
introduction of processes and monitors into Mesa resulted in remarkably little upheaval inside the compiler.

5.4 Performance
Mesa's concurrent programming facilities allow the
intrinsic parallelism of application programs to be represented naturally; the hope is that well-structured programs with high global efficiency will result. At the same
time, these facilities have nontrivial local costs in storage
and/or execution time when compared with similar sequential constructs; it is important to minimize these
costs, so that the facilities can be applied to a fmer
"grain" of concurrency. This section summarizes the
costs of processes and monitors relative to other basic
Mesa constructs, such as simple statements, procedures,
and modules. Of course, the relative efficiency of an
arbitrary concurrent program and an equivalent sequential one cannot be determined from these numbers alone;
the intent is simply to provide an indication of the
relative costs of various local constructs.
Storage costs fall naturally into data and program
storage (both of which reside in swappable virtual memory unless otherwise indicated). The minimum cost for
the existence of a Mesa module is 8 bytes of data and 2
bytes of code. Changing the module to a monitor adds
2 bytes of data and 2 bytes of code. The prime component
of a module is a set of procedures, each of which requires
a minimum of an 8-byte activation record and 2 bytes of
code. Changing a normal procedure to a monitor entry
procedure leaves the size of the activation record unchanged, and adds 8 bytes of code. All of these costs are
small compared with the program and data storage
actually needed by typical modules and procedures. The
other cost specifIc to monitors is space for condition
variables; each condition variable occupies 4 bytes of
data storage, while WAIT and NOTIFY require 12 bytes
and 3 bytes of code, respectively.
The data storage overhead for a process is 10 bytes
of resident storage for its ProcessState, plus the swappable storage for its stack of procedure activation records.
The process itself contains no extra code, but the code
for the FORK and JOIN which create and delete it together
occupy 13 bytes, as compared with 3 bytes for a normal
procedure call and return. The FORK/JOIN sequence also
uses 2 data bytes to store the process value. In summary:

Construct

module
procedure
call + return
monitor
entry procedure

FORK+JOIN
process
condition variable

WAIT
NOTIFY

Space (bytes)
data
code

8
8

10
8
2
10
4

2
2
3
4
10
13
0
12
3

For measuring execution times we define a unit called
a tick: The time required to execute a simple instruction
(e.g., on a "one-MIP" machine, one tick would be one
microsecond). A tick is arbitrarily set at one-fourth of
the time needed to execute the simple statement "a +- b
+ c" (i.e., two loads, an add, and a store). One interesting
number against which to compare the concurrency facilities is the cost of a normal procedure call (and its
associated return), which takes 30 ticks if there are no
arguments or results.
The cost of calling and returning from a monitor
entry procedure is 50 ticks, about 70 percent more than
an ordinary call and return. In practice, the percentage
increase is somewhat lower, since typical procedures pass
arguments and return results, at a cost of 2-4 ticks per
item. A process switch takes 60 ticks; this includes the
queue manipulations and all the state saving and restoring. The speed of WAIT and NOTIFY depends somewhat
on the number and priorities of the processes involved,
but representative figures are 15 ticks for a WAIT and 6
ticks for a NOTIFY. Finally, the minimum cost of a FORK/
JOIN pair is 1,100 ticks, or about 38 times that of a
procedure call. To summarize:
Construct

simple instruction
call+return
monitor ca1l+return
process switch
WAIT

NOTIFY, no one waiting
NOTIFY, process waiting
FORK+JOIN

Time (ticks)
I

30
50
60
15
4

9
1,100

On the basis of these performance figures, we feel
that our implementation has met our efficiency goals,
with the possible exception of FORK and JOIN. The decision to implement these two language constructs in software rather than in the underlying machine is the main
reason for their somewhat lackluster performance.
Nevertheless, we still regard this decision as a sound one,
since these two facilities are considerably more complex
than the basic synchronization mechanism, and are used
much less frequently (especially JOIN, since the detached
processes discussed in Section 2 have turned out to be
quite popular).

6. Applications
In this section we describe the way in which processes
and monitors are used by three substantial Mesa programs: an operating system, a calendar system using
replicated databases, and an internetwork gateway.
6.1 Pilot: A General-Purpose Operating System
Pilot is a Mesa-based operating system [18] which
runs on a large personal computer. It was designed
jointly with the new language features, and makes heavy
use of them. Pilot has several autonomous processes of

its own, and can be called by any number of client
processes of any priority, in a fully asynchronous manner. Exploiting this potential concurrency requires extensive use of monitors within Pilot; the roughly 75 program
modules contain nearly 40 separate monitors.
The Pilot implementation includes about 15 dedicated processes (the exact number depends on the hardware configuration); most of these are event handlers for
three classes of events:

I/O interrupts. Naked notifies as discussed in
Section 4.2.
Process faults. Page faults and other such events,
signaled via fault queues as discussed in Section 5.1.
Both client code and the higher levels of Pilot, including
some of the dedicated processes, can cause such faults.
Internal exceptions. Missing entries in resident databases, for example, cause an appropriate high level
"helper" process to wake up and retrieve the needed
data from secondary storage.
There are also a few "daemon" processes, which
awaken periodically and perform housekeeping chores
(e.g., swap out unreferenced pages). Essentially all of
Pilot's internal processes and monitors are created at
system initialization time (in particular, a suitable complement of interrupt-handler processes is created "to
match the actual hardware configuration, which is determined by interrogating the hardware). The running system makes no use of dynamic process and monitor
creation, largely because much of Pilot is involved in
implementing facilities such as virtual memory which
are themselves used by the dynamic creation software.
The internal structure of Pilot is fairly complicated,
but careful placement of monitors and dedicated processes succeeded in limiting the number of bugs which
caused deadlock; over the life of the system, somewhere
between one and two dozen distinct deadlocks have been
discovered, all of which have been fixed relatively easily
without any global disruption of the system's structure.
At least two areas have caused annoying problems in
the development of Pilot:

(1) The lack of mutual exclusion in the handling of
interrupts. As in more conventional interrupt systems,
subtle bugs have occurred due to timing races between
I/O devices and their handlers. To some extent, the
illusion of mutual exclusion provided by the casting of
interrupt code as a monitor may have contributed to this,
although we feel that the resultant economy of mechanism still justifies this choice.
(2) The interaction of the concurrency and exception
facilities. Aside from the general problems of exception
handling in a concurrent environment, we have experienced some difficulties due to the specific interactions of
Mesa signals with processes and monitors (see Sections
3.1 and 3.4). In particular, the reasonable and consistent
handling of signals (including UNWINDS) in entry procedures represents a considerable increase in the mental

201

overhead involved in designing a new monitor or understanding an existing one.
6.2 Violet: A Distributed Calendar System
The Violet system [6, 7] is a distributed database
manager which supports replicated data files, and provides a display interface to a distributed calendar system.
It is constructed according to the hierarchy of abstractions in Figure 2. Each level builds on the next lower
one by calling procedures supplied by it. In addition, two
of the levels explicitly deal with more than one process.
Of course, as any level with multiple processes calls
lower levels, it is possible for multiple processes to be
executing procedures in those levels as well.
The user interface level has three processes: Display,
Keyboard, and DataChanges. The Display process is
responsible for keeping the display of the database consistent with the views specified by the user and with
changes occurring in the database itself. It is notified by
the other processes when changes occur, and calls on
lower levels to read information for updating the display.
Display never calls update operations in any lower level.
The other two processes respond to changes initiated
either by the user (Keyboard) or by the database
(DataChanges). The latter process is FORKed from the
Transactions module when data being looked at by Violet
changes, and disappears when it has reported the changes
to Display.
A more complex constellation of processes exists in
FileSuites, which constructs a single replicated file from
a set of representative files, each containing data from
some version of the replicated file. The representatives
are stored in a transactional file system [11], so that each
one is updated atomically, and each carries a version
number. For each FileSuite being accessed, there is a
monitor which keeps track of the known representatives
and their version numbers. The replicated file is considered to be updated when all the representatives in a write
quorum have been updated; the latest version can be
found by examining a read quorum. Provided the sum of
the read quorum and the write quorum is as large as the
total set of representatives, the replicated file behaves
like a conventional file.
When the file suite is created, it FORKS and detaches
an inquiry process for each representative. This process
tries to read the representative's version number, and if
successful, reports the number to the monitor associated
with the file suite and notifies the condition CrowdLarger. Any process trying to read from the suite must
collect a read quorum. If there are not enough representatives present yet, it waits on CrowdLarger. The
inquiry processes expire after their work is done.
When the client wants to update the FileSuite, he
must collect a write quorum of representatives containing
the current version, again waiting on CrowdLarger if one
is not yet present. He then FORKS an update process for
each representative in the quorum, and each tries to
write its file. After FORKing the update processes, the

202

Fig. 2. The internal structure of Violet.
Level
4

User interface

3

Views

"

Calendar names

Buffers

2

File suites

/~

Transactions

o

Process table

Stable flies

.Containers

Volatile files

client lOINS each one in tum, and hence does not proceed
until all have completed. Because all processes run within
the same transaction, the underlying transactional file
system guarantees that either all the representatives in
the quorum will be written, or none of them.
It is possible that a write quorum is not currently
accessible, but a read quorum is. In this case the writing
client FORKS a copy process for each representative which
is accessible but is not up to date. This process copies the
current file suite contents (obtained from the read quorum) into the representative, which is now eligible to join
the write quorum.
Thus as many as three processes may be created for
each representative in each replicated file. In the normal
situation when the state of enough representatives is
known, however, all these processes have done their
work and vanished; only one monitor call is required to
collect a quorum. This potentially complex structure is
held together by a single monitor containing an array of
representative states and a single condition variable.
6.3 Gateway: An Internetwork Forwarder
Another substantial application program which has
been implemented in Mesa using the process and monitor facilities is an internetwork gateway for packet networks [2]. The gateway is attached to two or more
networks and serves as the connection point between
them, passing packets across network boundaries as required. To perform this task efficiently requires rather
heavy use of concurrency.
At the lowest level, the gateway contains a set of
device drivers, one per device, typically consisting of a
high priority interrupt process, and a monitor for synchronizing with the device and with noninterrupt level
software. Aside from the drivers for standard devices
(disk, keyboard, etc.) a gateway contains two or more
drivers for Ethernet local broadcast networks [16] and/

or common-carrier lines. Each Ethernet driver has two
processes, an interrupt process, and a background process for autonomous handling of timeouts and other
infrequent events. The driver for common-carrier lines
is similar, but has a third process which makes a collection of lines resemble a single Ethernet by iteratively
simulating a broadcast. The other network drivers have
much the same structure; all drivers provide the same
standard network interface to higher level software.
The next level of software provides packet routing
and dispatching functions. The dispatcher consists of a
monitor and a dedicated process. The monitor synchronizes interactions between the drivers and the dispatcher
process. The dispatcher process is normally waiting for
the completion of a packet transfer (input or output);
when one occurs, the interrupt process handles the interrupt, notifies the dispatcher, and immediately returns to
await the next interrupt. For example, on input the
interrupt process notifies the dispatcher, which dispatches the newly arrived packet to the appropriate
socket for further processing by invoking a procedure
associated with the socket.
The router contains a monitor which keeps a routing
table mapping network names to addresses of other
gateway machines. This defines the next "hop" in the
path to each accessible remote network. The router also
contains a dedicated housekeeping process which maintains the table by exchanging special packets with other
gateways. A packet is transmitted rather differently than
it is received. The process wishing to transmit to a remote
socket calls into the router monitor to consult the routing
table, and then the same process calls directly into the
appropriate network driver monitor to initiate the output
operation. Such asymmetry between input and output
is particularly characteristic of packet communication,
but is also typical of much other I/O software.
The primary operation of the gateway is now easy to
describe: When the arrival of a packet has been processed
up through the level ofthe dispatcher, and it is discovered
that the packet is addressed to a remote socket, the
dispatcher forwards it by doing a normal transmission;
i.e., consulting the routing table and calling back down
to the driver to initiate output. Thus, although the gateway contains a substantial number of asynchronous
processes, the most critical path (forwarding a message)
involves only a single switch between a pair of processes.

refined sufficiently to fit into this context. The task has
been accomplished, however, yielding a set of language
features of sufficient power that they serve as the only
software concurrency mechanism on our personal computer, handling situations ranging from input/output
interrupts to cooperative resource sharing among unrelated application programs.
Received June 1979; accepted September 1979; revised November 1979
References
1. American National Standard Programming Language PL/l.
X3.53, American Nat. Standards Inst., New York, 1976.
2. Boggs, D.R., et. al. Pup: An internetwork architecture. IEEE
Trans. on Communications 28, 4 (April 1980).
3. Brinch Hansen, P. Operating System Principles. Prentice-Hall,
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, July 1973.
4. Brinch Hansen, P. The programming language Concurrent
Pascal. IEEE Trans. on Software Eng. 1,2 (June 1975), 199-207.
5. Dijkstra, E.W. Hierarchical ordering of sequential processes. In
Operating Systems Techniques, Academic Press, New York, 1972.
6. Gifford, D.K. Weighted voting for replicated data. Operating
Systs. Rev. 13,5 (Dec. 1979), 150-162.
7. Gifford, D.K. Violet, an experimental decentralized system.
Integrated Office Syst. Workshop, IRIA, Rocquencourt, France, Nov.
1979 (also available as CSL Rep. 79-12, Xerox Res. Ctr., Palo Alto,
Calif.).
8. Hoare, C.A.R. Monitors: An operating system structuring
concept. Comm. ACM 17, 10 (Oct. 1974),549-557.
9. Hoare, C.A.R. Communicating sequential processes. Comm.
ACM 21,8 (Aug. 1978),666-677.
10. Howard, J.H. Signaling in monitors. Second Int. Conf. on
Software Eng., San Francisco, Calif., Oct. 1976, pp. 47-52.
II. Israel, J.E., Mitchell, J.G., and Sturgis, H.E. Separating data
from function in a distributed file system. Second Int. Symp. on
Operating Systs., IRIA, Rocquencourt, France, Oct. 1978.
12. Keedy, J.J. On structuring operating systems with monitors.
Australian Comptr. J. 10, I (Feb. 1978),23-27 (reprinted in Operating
Systs. Rev. 13, I (Jan. 1979), 5-9).
13. Lampson, B.W., Mitchell, J.G., and Satterthwaite, E.H. On the
transfer of control between contexts. In Lecture Notes in Computer
Science 19, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1974, pp. 181-203.
14. Lauer, H.E., and Needham, R.M. On the duality of operating
system structures. Second Int. Symp. on Operating Systems, IRIA,
Rocquencourt, France, Oct. 1978 (reprinted in Operating Systs. Rev.
13, 2 (April 1979), 3-19).
15. Lister, A.M., and Maynard, K.J. An implementation of monitors.
Software-Practice and Experience 6,3 (July 1976),377-386.
16. Metcalfe, R.M., and Boggs, D.G. Ethernet: Packet switching for
local computer networks. Comm. ACM 19, 7 (July 1976),395-403.
17. Mitchell, J.G., Maybury, W., and Sweet, R. Mesa Language
Manual. Xerox Res. Ctr., Palo Alto, Calif., 1979.
18. Redell, D., et. al. Pilot: An operating system for a personal
computer. Comm. ACM 23,2 (Feb. 1980).
19. Saltzer, J.H. Traffic control in a multiplexed computer system.
Th., MAC-TR-30, MIT, Cambridge, Mass., July 1966.
20. Saxena, A.R., and Bredt, T.H. A structured specification of a
hierarchical operating system. SIGPLAN Notices 10, 6 (June 1975),
310-318.
21. Wirth, N. Modula: A language for modular multiprogramming.
Software-Practice and Experience 7, I (Jan. 1977),3-36.

Conclusion
The integration of processes and monitors into the
Mesa language was a somewhat more substantial task
than one might have anticipated, given the flexibility of
Mesa's control structures and the amount of published
work on monitors. This was largely due to the fact that
Mesa is designed for the construction of large, serious
programs, and that processes and monitors had to be

203

Traits:
An Approach to
Multiple-Inheritance Subclassing
Gael Curry, Larry Baer, Daniel Lipkie, Bruce Lee
Xerox Corporation, El Segundo, California

Abstract: This paper describes a new technique for
organizing software which has been used successfully
by the Xerox Star 8010 workstation. The workstation
(WS) software is written in an "object-oriented" style:
it can be viewed as a system of inter-communicating
objects of different object types. Most of the WS
software considers object types to be constructed by
assembling more primitive abstractions called traits.
A trait is a characteristic of an object, and is expressed
as a set of operations which may be applied to objects
carrying that trait. The traits model of subclassing
generalizes the SIMULA-67 model by permitting
multiple inheritance paths. This paper describes the
relationship of WS software to the traits model and
then describes the model itself.
Star Workstation Software and the Traits Model
History: Star WS software has been committed to an
objec.t-oriented coding style (discussed shortly) in the
Mesa programming language[Mitchell 79] since actual
development first started in the spring of 1978
Initial designs did not rely on
[Harslem 82].
subclassing. This was partly because the designers
had had little experience with it (authors included),
and partly because an extensible design based on
subc1assing seemed to necessitate a violation of Mesa's
type system. An early Star text editor was built
without the benefit of subclassing. It gradually
became clear thp;t significant code-sharing was
possible if the design were based on subclassing, since
the objects we were dealing with were more similar
than different.

204

By late 1978, we had re-implemented that editor in
terms of SIMULA-67-style subclassing, where object
types were considered to form a tree under the
specialization relation.
The subclassing was
represented as coding conventions in Mesa. That was
a great help, particularly the analogue of SIMULA-67
VIRTUAL procedures (which permitted operations to
be specified at more abstract levels and interpreted at
more concrete ones). Use of this subc1assing style
extended into other areas of WS software, especially
support for property sheets and open icon windows
[Smith 82], [Seybold 81]; Star graphics and tables were
ini tially designed in these terms also. As the class
hierarchy grew, we began to notice that the constraint
of pure-tree class hierarchies was causing code to
become contorted, and that generalizing the concept of
"class hierarchy" to include directed acyclic graphs
would allow code to be organized more cleanly.
A new subclassing model was defined along those
lines. It postulated that object types were constructed
from
more
primitive
abstractions,
traits,
corresponding roughly to SIMULA-67 classes. The
major difference was that a given trait may be defined
in terms of several more primitive ones, rather than
just a single one. Supporting software - the "Traits
Mechanism" - was implemented in late 1979. Star
graphics [Lipkie 82] was the first major piece of Star
software designed in terms of traits and using the full
generality of the model. Other areas, especially Star
folders and record files, began using the generality
permitted by traits heavily.
The Traits Mechanism: A major design goal was to
make the new mechanism as efficient as the old coding
pattern for the case of static, tree-structured class
hierarchies. We found a way to do this with a
particular global optimization (outside the scope of
this paper), but it required that a central facility, or
trait manager, collect information about all extant
traits. This trait manager collects information from
each trait in the system regarding its storage
requirements, arranges that trait's storage (in objects)

for optimum access, and mediates access to it upon the
individual trait's demand. Client code (code calling
the trait mechanism) adopts a Mesa coding pattern to
use trait-style subclassing.
Another important property of the traits mechanism is
that the cost of accessing a trait's data in an object, or
the implementation of an operation that the trait
introduces, is not a function of the position of the trait
in the class hierarchy. There is no run-time searching.
Star today: Star software has been using the Traits
Model of subclassing since 1979 with good results.
Star-l was completed in October, 1981. It defined 169
traits. Of those, 129 were object types, or class traits;
i.e., 40 were purely internal abstractions. In general,
each trait requires some storage in objects which carry
it; 99 were of this sort. Also, each trait introduces
some number of operations which can be applied to
objects which carry it. While not all of these
operations may be "VIRTUAL", 31 traits in Star-l
introduce this kind of operation.
The Traits Model
Object Orientation: Object-orientation is a method
for organizing software where, at any time,
computation is performed under the aegis of a
particular object. Part of the computation may include
transferring control and information to another object
(message-passing), which then continues the
computation; control and other information may be
returned to the first subsequently. An object's state is
typically represented as some sort of storage; each
object has a name. A restricted form of messagepassing is typically represented by procedure call,
where a distinguished parameter of each procedure is
the name of the object which is to continue the
computation. Objects' state may be represented as
records, pointers to records, names of records, implicit
records, or in any number of other ways.

In both cases advantages come from sharing: clarity of
code through factoring or abstraction; uniformity of
behavior, including correctness; ease of maintenance;
reduced swapping. Another important property for
large systems, which both models possess, is
extensibility: the addition of a new class or trait does
not invalidate existing code.
Instances : There is a wide range of interpretations
for the term "object". In order to avoid problems of
language, we will use the term instance to refer to any
of the objects in our universe of discourse. This is left
intentionally vague.
Instances have state, which allows them to remember
information. They also have names, or handles. Often
an instance will remember the names of other useful
instances.
Operations: An operation is a means of presenting
information to and/or extracting information from an
instance. Every instance possesses an identifiable set
of operations, called its operation set. An operation is
applied to an instance, perhaps presenting some
information to the instance (in a well-defined format)
and perhaps receiving some information from it (also
in a well-defined format) in return.
Applying an
operation to an instance changes the state of the
instance, in general.
Each operation has a specification and a realization;
the realization meets the specification. The range of
specifications in actual practice extends from strictly
functional input/output specifications, to those
including some behavioral clauses (operational
specifications), to those including contextual clauses
(behavior varies with context), to that which is simply
"it works when you plug it in". Two operations are
equal if they have the same specification and
realization. They are equivalent if they have the same
specification; one operation is a variant of another if
they are equivalent.

Subclassing : SIMULA-67 noted that often an object
is a specialization of another, being able to to the job of
the first - and more. It provided a means of expressing
the common portion once, in order that the specialized
object need only specify the way in which it was
different from the simpler one. The specialized object
inherited the properties of the simpler one.

Types : Many times instances will have the same
operation set, being different only in their internal
state and in their identity. The universe of instances
can be partitioned into equivalence classes, based on
having the same operation set (that is, two instances
are in some sense equivalent if they have the same
operation set). These equivalence classes are types.
The operation set ofa type is also well-defined.

The Traits model notes that an object (type) may be a
synthesis of several component abstractions, being
able to do the job of its components and more. It
provides a means of expressing the common, or shared,
parts once.

This view says that two instances have different type if
their operation sets are different, however minor the
difference. While that is correct, it also ignores a lot of
information about exactly how those operation sets are
different.

205

Type Structure: There are many ways in which the
operation sets for types can be related to those of other
types.
•

•

•

•

UNRELATED - The operation sets for all types can
be totally different, so that we see no interesting
type structure. This situation is supported well by
programming conventions which devote one
"module" to each type, and ,implement operations
for the type's operation set within that module.
VARIATION - It may be that there is a one-to-one
correspondence between operations of one type and
those of another, and that each operation is
equivalent to its corresponding one. Then, each
type is a variant of the other. This situation is
supported well by the programming style which
accords each object one procedure variable for each
operation; realizations for each operation are
recorded in the corresponding procedure variable.
Streams are sometimes implemented this way.
EXTENSION - It may be that all of the operations of
one type are equal to operations of another type,
but that the latter type has extra operations.
Then, the latter type is an extension of the former.
This situation is supported well by simple
inheritance mechanisms.
SPECIALIZATION - It may be that one type's

operation set can be gotten from another's by
variation, perhaps followed by extension. Then,
the former type is a specialization of the latter.
This situation is supported well by SIMULA-67 and
Smalltalk-80.
In the cases above, it was possible to see how the
operation sets could be derived from the operation sets
of other types. In the cases below, type structure is
derived from units which are more basic than other
types.
•

UNIONS - It may be that of three types A, Band C :
A has operations 01 U 02
B has operations
02 U 03
C has operations 01 U
03,

where 01 02 and 03 are sets of operations. This is
a ~omewhat contrived case. The same sort of thing
¥ppens naturally on a larger scale (indeed,
perhaps only on a larger scale). Being minimal, the
example shows more clearly what is going on. In
this case, no type is a specialization of another, yet
there is clearly an interesting type structure.
Notice that the operation sets are not naturally
derivable from the operation sets of other types, but
rather from lower-level operation subsets. These

206

operation subsets represent a characterization of
some aspect of an instance's behavior in terms of a
set of operations. The pattern arises whenever an
instance has several independent aspects.
A trait is a characterization of an aspect of an
instance's behavior. The primary representation of
the trait may be an natural language description of
that aspect or may be some individual's intent for
or understanding of that aspect.
The
characterization is represented by a set of
specifications for operations which, considered
together, embody that aspect. A set of operations
with those specifications is called an operation set
for the trait.
•

SYNTHESIS - It may be that one type's operation set
can be gotten from operation sets of several other
component traits by variation of the operations in
the trait operation sets, followed by union of the
reSUlts, perhaps followed by extension. Then, the
type is a synthesis of the component traits.

This is the basic operation adopted by the Traits
approach.
•

RESTRICTED SYNTHESIS - It may be that one
type's operation set can be gotten from those of
several other component traits by synthesis,
followed by discarding some of the resulting
operations. This is not well handled by the current
Traits -mechanism; it can be simulated by redefining an undesired component trait's operation
to have nil realization (Note that the operation may
then not meet its specification).

The discussion above has been analytical. It assumed
instances, operations and types already existed; it
tried to dissect the situation. The ensuing discussion
is constructive. It tries to develop a view of traits as
basic design units, in order to show how to
incrementally build a system of trait-based instances.

Traits: A trait is a characterization of an aspect of an
instance's behavior. It is expressed as a set of
operations. Some examples of traits are:
•

Simple Traits : The traits listed above are simple
traits. A simple trait is completely defined by
specifying the operations which characterize it.
Figure 1 depicts a simple trait graphically.

IS·FORWARD·LlNKED·LlST·ELEMENT - This represents
the notion that an instance carrying this trait will
be linked with other instances in some forwardlinked list. It specifies operations

Operation Name
GetParent
SetParent
GetNextSibling
SetNextSibling
GetEldestChild
SetEldestChild

GetLink:
instance: Instance)
RETURNS [ Instance ), and

PROC [

SetLink:
PROC [instance:

Instance,

instanceLink : Instance).

Specification
SGetParent
SSetParent
SGetNextSibling
SSetNextSibling
SGetEldestChild
SSetEldestChild

whose semantics are obvious.
Figure 1. Definition of Simple Trait T
•

Represents the notion that an
instance carrying this trait will be embedded in a
tree of instances. It specifies operations

IS·TREE·ELEMENT -

GetParent:
PROC [

instance: Instance)

RETURNS [

Instance J.

SetParent:
PROC [instance:

Instance,

instanceParent : Instance),
GetNedSibling:
PROC [

instance: Instance)

RETURNS [

Instance ),

SetNextSibling:
PROC [instance: Instance,
instanceNextSibling: Instance J.
GetEldestChild :
PROC [

instance: Instance)

RETURNS [

Instance J.
Instance.

instanceEldestChild: Instance),

whose semantics are also obvious.
•

An instance carrying this trait has a
textual name. It specifies operations

IS·NAMED -

GetName:
PROC [

instance: Instance)

RETURNS [

Name ], and

SetName:
PROC[

instance: Instance. name: Name),

whose semantics are obvious.
•

IS·TREE·ELEMENT U IS-NAMED.

specifies operations for an element of a named instance
hierarchy. The operations specified by IS-IN-NAMEHIERARCHY might be the union of the operations
specified by IS·TREE·ELEMENT and IS·NAMED individually.
An instance having that trait would know that it was
part of an instance hierarchy, and would know it was
named. It mayor may not know the same for its
subordinates in that hierarchy.
In any case, it might be meaningful to augment that
trait's operation set with something like
Search:
PROCEDURE [

SetEldestChild :
PROC [instance:

Compound Traits : Sometimes a trait will be best
expressed as the "sum" of other traits. For example,
the trait
IS-IN·NAME·HIERARCHY =

This represents the notion that the
instance can print itself. It specifies the operation

IS·PRINTABLE -

Print: PROC [ instance: Instance, printer: Printer),

which causes the instance to emit an image level
representation of itself to a printer.
Note that the trait does not include realizations for the
various specifications.

RETURNS [

instance: Instance, name: Name)

Instance ),

which would return the name of the subordinate
having the indicated name, if there was one, and
instanceNil otherwise.
We could define a new trai t, IS-SEARCHABLE, which
specifies the Search operation as its sole operation - in
order to define the compound trait
IS-TREE·ELEMENT U IS-NAMED U IS-SEARCHABLE,

but it seems more straightforward to associate it
directly with the compound trait, as in
IS-IN-NAME·HIERARCHY

=

IS·TREE·ELEMENT U IS-NAMED U {Search}.

The latter demonstrates the compounding method for
trait definitions. Figure 2 illustrates the compounding
graphically.
The "Carries" Relation : A trait directly carries
another trait if it is defined in terms of that trait. So,
for example, IS-IN-NAME·HIERARCHY carries IS-NAMED
directly. "carries" is the reflexive transitive closure of
"directly carries", and we assume it is acyclic.

207

its operations - including operations introduced by the
traits it carries. Figure 4 shows trait Ts carrying
traits TI. T2, T4, T5. and Ts (itself) by displaying them
in bold. The boxes adjoining each of those traits

Operation Name
GetParent
SetParent
GetNextSibling
SetNextSibling
GetEldestChild
SetEldestChild

Specifica~

SGetParent
SSetP~rent
SGetNextSibling
SSetNextSibling
SGetEldestChild
SSetEldestChild

carries

SetName

Figure 2. Definition ofCornpound Trait H

The Traits Graph: The collection of all traits used in
a system of instances are inter-related, and form a
directed acyclic graph under the "carries" relation.
Nodes in the graph represent traits. Arcs represent
the "carries" relation. Associated with each node in
the traits graph are the specifications for operations
introduced at that level. For simple traits, that means
all of its operations. For compound traits, that means
operations over and above those of the component
traits. Figure 3 shows a possible trait graph.

Figure 4. Realizations for Operations of Carried
Traits
represent trait Ts's choices of realizations for the
operations of its carried traits. The notation RTi[Tj]
means Tj's choices for the realizations for the
operations "introduced by trait Ti.

Default Realizations : A trait always assigns a
default realization to each of the operations it
introduces. The default realization may be the nil
realization.
Optional Realizations : A trait sometimes makes
optional realizations for its operations available. For
any of a trait's operations, a trait may designate a pool
of realizations from which other traits may choose
their default realizations. This helps to maximize
sharing. The default realization for an operation
should be viewed as a distinguished member of the set
of optional realizations for that operation. Figure 5
shows a closeup of the realizations for a particular
operation 0 of a carried trait. The notation rol'fJ

,
•
Figure 3. A Possible Traits Graph

Realizations for Trait Operations : Every trait
determines a set of "carried" traits (i.e;, those that it
dominates in the traits graph).
A trait may
recommend or provide optional realizations for each of

208

o

s

rolT] =
< optionsolT], dfltolT] >

............

Figure 5. rolT] - Realizations for 0 in T

•
•
•

~

denotes T's choices for realizations of o. ro[T] is a 2tuple. The first element is a set of optional realizations
for 0 from the trait T's point of view; they must all
meet the specification s. The second element is a
singleton or empty set of realizations from optionsafT}
which are T's choices for what it considers to be the
default realization for o. All of the operations in rafT'}
must in some sense be defined below the level ofT.
Inheritance of Realizations for Operations : In
principle, each trait in the trait graph for a system is
solely responsible for determining the realizations for
the operations of all of the traits it carries. In practice
we find that most of a trait's choices for operations of a
carried trait are exactly the choices of the traits that it
directly carries for those operations. For this reason,
realizations for a trait's operations are defined
initially by inheritance.
Pure Inheritance : That is, unless the trait declares
otherwise, its assignment of realizations to the
operations of carried traits will be the union of
assignments made by the traits it immediately carries.
If those choices do not suit the trait, it must be able to
override those assignments. The trait always has
opportunity to define optional realizations for the
operations that it itself introduces; it has the
responsibility for defining default realizations for
those operations if it can.
Suppose T is a trait in some trait graph, and that it
carries a trait S which introduces an operation o.
Suppose that S is carried by immediate sub-traits Ti ...
Tk ofT. Then we have:
rafTj] =
< optionsafTj], defaultolTj} >, for j = i, ... , k.
The trait T initially views its realizations for the
operation 0 as consisting of the union of the
realizations as seen by each of the immediate subtraits, and is potentially confused about the default
realization:
inherited-rafT] =
 ,
where
inherited-optionsafT} =
optionsolTJ U •.• U optionsafTJJ, and
inherited-defaultafTl =
defaultafTJ U .•• U defaultafTJJ.
The difficulty is clear - traits Tj and Tj' can specify
different default realizations for an operation of a
shared sub-trait, so that pure inheritance does not
guarantee well-defined default realizations for
operations.
Consistent Inheritance and Conflict Resolution :
If 0 is an operation introduced by trait S carried by

trait T, the realizations for 0 are consistently inherited

at T iff inherited-defaultafTl is a singleton or null. If
this is not the ease, then the trait T must resolve the
inconsistency by explicitly designating some
realization as the default. It is a design error for T not
to do so.

Qualified Inheritance: Normally, a trait need not
explicitly designate realizations for any but its own
operations (except to resolve occurrences of
inconsistent inheritance). However, it is the trait's
prerogative to modify its realizations for any operation
introduced by a trait it carries. This includes changing
the default, or modifying the set of optional
realizations.
Traits, Class Traits and Instances: There is a set of
operation names associated with every trait T in the
trait graph for a system. Those include names for
operations introduced by the trait itself, as well as
names for operations introduced by carried traits.
Specifications exist for each of the names. Associated
with each of those names is also a default realization
(actually, some might be nil, but ignore that problem
for now). The operation set for a trait T in a trait
graph is the set of operations
{o: < s, defaultolTl >,

where 0 is an operation introduced by a trait
carried by T, s is its specification}.
It might be nice to have instances extant in the system
with the same operation set as certain traits.
[n some cases, it doesn't seem to make much sense. [t doesn't
seem like it would be very useful to have instances whose
operation set is the same as that of the simple trait ISFORWARD-UNKED-LIST-ELEMENT; those instances would--be
pretty uninteresting.

Any trait having such an interesting operation set can
be designated a class trait, and instances having the
same operation set can be generated. The instance is
tagged with the name of its class trait; that is the
instance's type. The instance carries the same traits as
its class trait.
Specifications for Trait Operations: Any operation
for a trait T should have well-defined semantics. The
meaning of an operation should be specified as clearly
as possible when the trait is defined.
That
specification is the invariant part of the trait; it does
not change (as do realizations for the operation)
depending on which other trait is carrying T.
The specification for a trait's operation should be in
terms of the instance carrying the trait. The client of a
trait must have a clear idea of the meaning of an
operation's semantics independent ofits carrier.

209

Denoting Applications of Trait Operations: The
application of an operation to an instance is often
denoted as

< results> +- instance.operation[ < parameters> J.
The denotation is non-committal regarding the trait
(subclass) to which the operation belongs. That has
the advantage that the denotation need not change if
the operation migrates from one trait to another
during the course of system development. It has the
disadvantage that it presents the instance as having a
rather unstructured "pile" of operations, which may
make the nature of the instance harder to understand.
If structure in the set of operations applicable to an
instance can be clearly seen, perhaps it should be
expressed, as in

parts of the state of the instance upon which the code is
operating.
Instance State vs. Trait State I Trait Data: Suppose
T is a simple trait which introduces operation 0 with
specification s, and assigns as its default realization r.
Suppose i is an instance carrying T. If the specification
s indicates that applying 0 to i will change the state of
i, then it is important to ask how the realization r
accesses the state it needs to change.
The problem is addressed in the Traits model by
asserting that every trait carried by an instance has
its own state, or storage, within the larger state of the
instance itself. We go so far as to say that the state
space of an instance is the product of the state spaces of
the traits that it carries. Figure 6 expresses that idea
graphically. Furthermore, only realizations defined

 +instance.operationtrait[ < parameters>],
where "operation" is introduced by "tra~t".
Another possible form is:

 +trait.operation(instance. < parameters> J.
In both of the cases above where the trait is mentioned,
it is assumed that the instance carries the trait
introducing the operation. The last form is well suited
for use in a module-oriented language, where each
trait can be represented by a single module.
Expressing Realizations for Trait Operations: It
is important to find a way to express realizations of a
trait's operations in a way which is independent of
context (Le., who carries that trait), so that
realizations for a trait need be implemented when the
trait is defined (as opposed to only when it is carried).
A realization is expressed in terms of "code" to be
invoked over a particular instance 1. That code may
express the application of an operation of a carried
trait to the same instance 1. It may also involve
applying operations to another instance l' of which I
has knowledge (remembers, or was just told about). It
may also involve changing the state of the instance
somehow.
The code may also involve computations over other
"objects" which happen not to be instances in the
system in question. For example, it may involve
numeric computations. While in principle "number
objects"
might
be
instances,
performance
considerations might recommend against it. All that
is required is that the code be able to compute locally,
invoke operations over instances, incorporate the
results .of such invocations, and change appropriate

210

Figure 6. Instance Storage is the Sum of Trait
Storage
by the trait can access or modify that trait storage
directly. The internal format for a trait's storage is
completely up to the trait itself.
We will say nothing about the location of storage for a
particular trait in instance storage. All that is
important is that a realization defined to act directly
on the storage for a particular trait must be able to
gain access to that storage. For this purpose (and
others) there is a trait manager, who knows how to
access the storage for any particular trait, given the
instance's name and the trait's name.
Instance Initialization : When an instance is
generated, storage is obtained from somewhere.
Embedded in that storage is storage for the individual
traits carried by that instance. After the storage is
allocated, individual traits are told to initialize their
storage. Carried traits initialize their storage before
carrying traits. In the example in Figure 6, trait Tl
would be told to initialize its storage before trait T4
was so instructed, which would be done before trait Ts

was so instructed. The bottom-up order of trait
initialization permits carrying traits to invoke carried
traits operations during their own initialization.

the class trait's choices for default realizations is
allocated only once.

Classes: Instances may be generated for class traits.
1fT is a class trait, then it needs to record its choices
for realizations for all of the operations it carries. The
Traits model postulates a class (object) for each class
trait. Associated with this class is storage which
records the choice of realizations. For brevity, the
operation set of the class trait is called the behavior of
the class.

Conclusions

Every trait which is carried by the class introduces
some number of operations whose realizations can be
assigned by the class. Associated with each trait T
carried by a class trait Tc is enough storage to record
the class trait's realizations for the operations of T.
Figure 7 depicts that situation.

Multiple-inheritance subclassing is a valid and useful
method for organizing object-oriented software; as
demonstrated by the existence of the Star
Workstation. The complexity of the Star WS software
has been controlled by object-orientation first,
subclassing second and multiple-inheritance third.
The Traits Model is a reasonable approach to multipleinheritance subclassing. It is possible to implement
efficient supporting mechanisms, especially for
statically specified class structures. The Traits
mechanism is optimal for pure-tree class structures,
and deep class structures cost nothing extra at runtime.
Acknowledgements : Derry Kabcenell and Tim
Rentsch made useful comments during early reviews
of the proposed Traits model. Eric Harslem allowed us
to apply this unproven software technique to a large
and important piece of software - successfully. Dan
Ingalls, Alan Borning, and Dave Gifford all later noted
the similarities between the traits approach and the
flavors approach [Weinreb 81] of the MIT LISP
machine and helped to articulate the differences. The
Xerox P ARC Methodology Discussion Group made
plenty ofinteresting observations.

Figure 7. Class Storage Records Realizations for
Trait Operations

Again, we will say nothing about the location of
storage for a particular trait in class storage. All that
is important is that at the time a trait operation is
invoked, the realization for that operation can be
found. The trait manager knows how to access a
particular trait's (realizations) storage, given the
name of the instance and the name of the trait.
Class Initialization : Initialization of a class is a
bottom-up enumeration of that part of the traits graph
dominated by the class' trait. Each trait enumerated
should override any default realizations of the traits it
carries and should establish its own default
realizations. In order to do so, it must be able to obtain
access to its component of class storage.
Instantiation: The class (object) is generally viewed
as the agent which generates, or instantiates,
instances. There may be many instances associated
with a particular class, but the storage for recording

211

REFERENCES

212

[Harslem 82]

E. Harslem and L.E. Nelson, "A
Retrospective on the Development of
Star,"
to be published in the
proceedings of the 6th International
Conference on Software Engineering;
Tokyo, Japan; Sept, 1982.

[Lipkie 82]

Daniel Lipkie, Steven R. Evans,
Robert Weissman, John K. Newlin,
"Star Graphics : An Object Oriented
Implementation," to be published in
the proceedings ofSIGGRAPH 1982.

[Mitchell 78]

J.G. Mitchell, W. Maybury, and R.E.
Sweet, "Mesa Language Manual,"
Technical report CSL-79-3, Xerox
Corporation, Palo Alto Research
Center, Palo Alto, California; April
1979.

[Weinreb 81]

Daniel Weinreb, David Moon, LISP
Machine Manual, Third Edition,
March, 1981.

[Seybold 81]

Seybold Report, "Xerox's Star,"
Volume 10, Number 16; April 27,
1981.

[Smith 82]

D.C. Smith, E. Harslem, C. Irby, R.
Kimball, "The Star User Interface, an
Overview," to be published in the
proceedings of NCC '82.

Operating Systems

Pilot: An Operating System for a Personal
Computer
David D. Redell, Yogen K. Dalal, Thomas R. Horsley, Hugh C. Lauer, William C. Lynch,
Paul R. McJones, Hal G. Murray, and Stephen C. Purcell
Xerox Business Systems
The POot operating system provides a single-user,
single-language environment for higher level software
on a powerful personal computer. Its features include
virtual memory, a large ''flat'' file system, streams,
network communication facilities, and concurrent
programming support. POot thus provides rather more
powerful facilities than are normaDy associated with
personal computers. The exact facilities provided
display interesting similarities to and differences from
corresponding facilities provided in large multi-user
systems. POot is implemented entirely in Mesa, a highlevel system programming language. The
modularization of the implementation displays some
interesting aspects in terms of both the static structure
and dynamic interactions of the various components.
Key Words and Phrases: personal computer,
operating system, high-level language, virtual memory,
file, process, network, modular programming, system
structure
CR Categories: 4.32, 4.35, 4.42, 6.20

1. Introduction
As digital hardware becomes less expensive, more
resources can be devoted to providing a very high grade
of interactive service to computer users. One important
expression of this trend is the personal computer. The
dedication of a substantial computer to each individual
user suggests .an operating system design emphasizing
Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is
granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct
commercial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the
publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by
permission of the Association for Computing Machinery. To copy
otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and/or specific permission.
A version of this paper was presented at the 7th ACM Symposium
on Operating Systems Principles, Pacific Grove, Calif., Dec. 10-12,
1979.
Authors' address: Xerox Business Systems, 3333 Coyote Hill Rd.,
Palo Alto, CA 94304.
© 1980 ACM 0001-0782/80/0200-0081 $00.75.

close user/system cooperation, allowing fuD exploitation
of a resource-rich environment. Such a system can also
function as its user's representative in a larger community
of autonomous personal computers and other information resources, but tends to deemphasize the largely
ajudicatory role of a monolithic time-sharing system.
The Pilot operating system is designed for the personal computing environment. It provides a basic set of
services within which higher level programs can more
easily serve the user and/or communicate with other
programs on other machines. Pilot omits certain functions that have been integrated into some other operating
systems, such as character-string naming and user-command interpretation; such facilities are provided by
higher level software, as needed. On the other hand,
Pilot provides a more complete ~t of services than is
normally associated with the "kernel" or "nucleus" of
an operating system. Pilot is closely coupled to the Mesa
programming langauge [16] and runs on a rather powerful personal computer, which would have been thought
sufficient to support a substantial time-sharing system of
a few years ago. The primary user interface is a high
resolution bit-map display, with a keyboard and a pointing device. Secondary storage is provided by a sizable
moving-arm disk. A local packet network provides a
high bandwidth connection to other personal computers
and to server systems offering such remote services as
printing and shared file storage.
Much of the design of Pilot stems from an initial set
of assumptions and goals rather different from those
underlying most time-sharing systems. Pilot is a singlelanguage, single-user system, with only limited features
for protection and resource allocation. Pilot's protection
mechanisms are defensive, rather than absolute [9], since
in a single-user system, errors are a more serious problem
than maliciousness. All protection in Pilot ultimately
depends on the type-checking provided by Mesa, which
is extremely reliable but by no means impenetrable. We
have chosen to ignore such problems as "Trojan Horse"
programs [20], not because they are unimportant, but
because our environment allows such threats to be coped
with adequately from outside the system. Similarly,

213

Pilot's resource allocation features are not oriented toward enforcing fair distribution of scarce resources
among contending parties. In traditional multi-user systems, most resources tend to be in short supply, and
prevention of inequitable distribution is a serious problem. In a single-user system like Pilot, shortage of some
resource must generally be dealt with either through
more effective utilization or by adding more of the
resource.
The close coupling between Pilot and Mesa is based
on mutual interdependence; Pilot is written in Mesa, and
Mesa depends on Pilot for much of its runtime support.
Since other languages are not supported, many of the
language-independence arguments that tend to maintain
distance between an operating system and a programming language are not relevant. In a sense, all of Pilot
can be thought of as a very powerful runtime support
package for the Mesa language. Naturally, none of these
considerations eliminates the need for careful structuring
of the combined Pilot/Mesa system to avoid accidental
circular dependencies.
Since the Mesa programming language formalizes
and emphasizes the distinction between an interface and
its implementation, it is particularly appropriate to split
the description of Pilot along these lines. As an environment for its client programs, Pilot consists of a set of
Mesa interfaces, each defining a group of related types,
operations, and error signals. Section 2 enumerates the
major interfaces of Pilot and describes their semantics,
in terms of both the formal interface and the intended
behavior of the system as a whole. As a Mesa program,
Pilot consists of a large collection of modules supporting
the various interfaces seen by clients. Section 3 describes
the interior structure of the Pilot implementation and
mentions a few of the lessons learned in implementing
an operating system in Mesa.

2. Pilot Interfaces
In Mesa, a large software system is constructed from
two kinds of modules: program modules specify the
algorithms and the actual data structures comprising the'
implementation of the system, while definitions modules
formally specify the interfaces between program modules. Generally, a given interface, defmed in a defmitions
module, is exported by one program module (its implementor) and imported by one or more other program
modules (its clients). Both program and defmitions modules are written in the Mesa source language and are
compiled to produce binary object modules. The object
form of a program module contains the actual code to
be executed; the object form of a defmitions module
contains detailed specifications controlling the binding
together of program modules. Modular programming in
Mesa is discussed in more detail by Lauer and Satterthwaite [13].

214

Pilot contains two kinds of interfaces:
(I) Public interfaces defming the services provided by

Pilot to its clients (i.e., higher level Mesa programs);
(2) Private interfaces, which form the connective tissue

binding the implementation together.
This section describes the major features supported by
the public interfaces of Pilot, including files, virtual
memory, streams, network communication, and concurrent programming support. Each interface defmes some
number of named items, which are denoted Interface.Item. There are four kinds of items in interfaces:
types, procedures, constants, and error signals. (For example, the interface File defmes the type File. Capability,
the procedure File. Create, the constant file.maxPages
PerFile, and the error signal File. Unknown.) The discussion that follows makes no attempt at complete enumeration of the items in each interface, but focuses instead
on the overall facility provided, emphasizing the more
important and unusual features of Pilot.

2.1 Files
The Pilot interfaces File and Volume defme the basic
facilities for permanent storage of data. Files are the
standard containers for information storage; volumes
represent the media on which mes are stored (e.g., magnetic disks). Higher level software is expected to superimpose further structure on mes and volumes as necessary (e.g., an executable subsystem on a file, or a detachable directory subtree on a removable volume). The
emphasis at the Pilot level is on simple but powerful
primitives for accessing large bodies of information. Pilot
can handle files containing up to about a million pages
of English text, and volumes larger than any currently
available storage device (_10 13 bits). The total number
of mes and volumes that can exist is essentially unbounded (264). The space of mes provided is "flat," in
the sense that mes have no recognized relationships
among them (e.g., no directory hierarchy). The size of a
me is adjustable in units of pages. As discussed below,
the contents of a me are accessed by mapping one or
more of its pages into a section of virtual memory.
The File. Create operation creates a new me and
returns a capability for it. Pilot me capabilities are
intended for defensive protection against errors [9]; they
are mechanically similar to capabilities used in other
systems for absolute protection, but are not desigtied to
withstand determined attack by a malicious programmer.
More significant than the protection aspect of capabilities
is the fact that mes and volumes are named by 64-bit
universal identifiers (uids) which are guaranteed unique
in both space and time. This means that distinct mes,
created anywhere at any time by any incarnation of
Pilot, will always have distinct uids. This guarantee is
crucial, since removable volumes are expected to be a
standard method of transporting information from one

Pilot system to another. If uid ambiguity were allowed
(e.g., different files on the same machine with the same
uid), Pilot's life would become more difficult, and uids
would be much less useful to clients. To guarantee
uniqueness, Pilot essentially concatenates the machine
serial number with the real time clock to produce each
new uid.
Pilot attaches only a small fIxed set of attributes to
each file, with the expectation that a higher level directory facility will provide an extendible mechanism for
associating with a file more general properties unknown
to Pilot (e.g., length in bytes, date of creation, etc.). Pilot
recognizes only four attributes: size, type, permanence,
and immutability.
The size of a file is adjustable from 0 pages to 223
pages, each containing 512 bytes. When the size of a file
is increased, Pilot attempts to avoid fragmentation of
storage on the physical device so that sequential or
otherwise clustered accesses can exploit physical contiguity. On the other hand, random probes into a file are
handled as efficiently as possible, by minimizing fIle
system mapping overhead.
The type of a file is a 16-bit tag which is essentially
uninterpreted, but is implemented at the Pilot level to
aid in type-dependent recovery of the fIle system (e.g.,
after a system failure). Such recovery is discussed further
in Section 3.4.
Permanence is an attribute attached to Pilot fIles that
are intended to hold valuable permanent information.
The intent is that creation of such a fIle proceed in four
steps:
(I) The file is created using File. Create and has temporary status.
(2) A capability for the fIle is stored in some permanent
directory structure.
(3) The file is made permanent using the
File.MakePermanent operation.
(4) The valuable contents are placed in the fIle.

ambiguity concerning the contents of the file. For example, a higher level "linkage editor" program might
wish to link a pair of object-code fIles by embedding the
uid of one in the other. This would be efficient and
unambiguous, but would fail if the contents were copied
into a new pair of files, since they would have different
uids. Making such files immutable and using a special
operation (File.Replicatelmmutable) allows propagation
of physical copies to other volumes without changing the
uids, thus preserving any direct uid-Ievel bindings.
As with files, Pilot treats volumes in a straightforward
fashion, while at the same time avoiding oversimplifIcations that would render its facilities inadequate for demanding clients. Several different. sizes and types of
storage devices are supported as Pilot volumes. (All are
varieties of moving-arm disk, removable or nonremovable; other nonvolatile random access storage devices
could be supported.) The simplest notion of a volume
would correspond one to one with a physical storage
medium. This is too restrictive, and hence the abstraction
presented at the Volume interface is actually a logical
volume; Pilot is fairly flexible about the correspondence
between logical volumes and physical volumes (e.g., disk
packs, diskettes, etc.). On the one hand, it is possible to
have a large logical volume which spans several physical
volumes. Conversely, it is possible to put several small
logical volumes on the same physical volume. In all
cases, Pilot recognizes the comings and goings of physical
volumes (e.g., mounting a disk pack) and makes accessible to client programs those logical volumes all of
whose pages are on-line.
Two examples which originally motivated the flexibility of the volume machinery were database applications, in which a very large database could be cast as a
multi-disk-pack volume, and the CoPilot debugger,
which requires its own separate logical volume (see
Section 2.5), but must be usable on a single-disk machine.

2.2 Virtual Memory
If a system failure occurs before step 3, the fIle will be
automatically deleted (by the scavenger; see Section 3.4)
when the system restarts; if a system failure occurs after
step 2, the file is registered in the directory structure and
is thereby accessible. (In particular, a failure between
steps 2 and 3 produces a registered but nonexistent fIle,
an eventuality which any robust directory system must
be prepared to cope with.) This simple mechanism solves
the "lost object problem" [25] in which inaccessible fIles
take up space but cannot be deleted. Temporary files are
also useful as scratch storage which will be reclaimed
automatically in case of system failure.
A Pilot file may be made immutable. This means that
it is permanently read-only and may never be modifIed
again under any circumstances. The intent is that multiple physical copies of an immutable fIle, all sharing the
same universal identifIer, may be replicated at many
physical sites to improve accessibility without danger of

The machine architecture on which Pilot runs defInes
a simple linear virtual memory of up to 232 16-bit words.
All computations on the machine (including Pilot itself)
run in the same address space, which is unadorned with
any noteworthy features, save a set of three flags attached
to each page: referenced, written, and write-protected.
Pilot structures this homogenous address space into contiguous runs of page called spaces, accessed through the
interface Space. Above the level of Pilot, client software
superimposes still further structure upon the contents of
spaces, casting them as client-defmed data structures
within the Mesa language.
While the underlying linear virtual memory is conventional and fairly straightforward, the space machinery superimposed by Pilot is somewhat novel in its
design, and rather more powerful than one would expect
given the simplicity of the Space interface. A space is
capable of playing three fundamental roles:

215

Allocation Entity. To allocate a region of virtual
memory, a client creates a space of appropriate size.
Mapping Entity. To associate information content
and backing store with a region of virtual memory, a
client maps a space to a region of some file.
Swapping Entity. The transfer of pages between primary memory and backing store is performed in units of
spaces.
Any given space may play any or all of these roles.
Largely because of their multifunctional nature, it is
often useful to nest spaces. A new space is always created
as a subspace of some previously existing space, so that
the set of all spaces forms a tree by containment, the root
of which is a predefmed space covering all of virtual
memory.
Spaces function as allocation entities in two senses:
when a space is created, by calling Space. Create, it is
serving as the unit of allocation; if it is later broken into
subspaces, it is serving as an allocation subpool within
which smaller units are allocated and freed [19]. Such
suballocation may be nested to several levels; at some
level (typically fairly quickly) the page granularity of the
space mechanism becomes too coarse, at which point
fmer grained allocation must be performed by higher
level software.
Spaces function as mapping entities when the operation Space.Map is applied to them. This operation
associates the space with a run of pages in a file, thus
defming the content of each page of the space as the
content of its associated file page, and propagating the
write-protection status of the file capability to the space.
At any given time, a page in virtual memory may be
accessed only if its content is well-defined, i.e., if exactly
one of the nested spaces containing it is mapped. If none
of the containing spaces is mapped, the fatal error
AddressFault is signaled. (The situation in which more
than one containing space is mapped cannot arise, since
the Space.Map operation checks that none of the ancestors or descendents of a space being mapped are themselves already mapped.) The decision to cast AddressFault and WriteProtectFault (i.e., storing into a writeprotected space) as fatal errors is based on the judgment
that any program which has incurred such a fault is
misusing the virtual memory facilities and should be
debugged; to this end, Pilot unconditionally activates the
CoPilot debugger (see Section 2.5).
Spaces function as swapping entities when a page of
a mapped space is found to be missing from primary
memory. The swapping strategy followed is essentially
to swap in the lowest level (i.e., smallest) space containing
the page (see Section 3.2). A client program can thus
optimize its swapping behavior by subdividing its
mapped spaces into subspaces containing items whose
access patterns are known to be strongly correlated. In
the absence of such subdivision, the entire mapped space
is swapped in. Note that while the client can always opt
for demand paging (by breaking a space up into onepage subspaces), this is not the default, since it tends to

216

promote thrashing. Further optimization is possible using the Space.Activate operation. This operation advises
Pilot that a space will be used soon and should be
swapped in as soon as possible. The inverse operation,
Space. Deactivate, advises Pilot that a space is no longer
needed in primary memory. The Space.Kill operation
advises Pilot that the current contents of a space are of
no further interest (i.e., will be completely overwritten
before next being read) so that useless swapping of the
data may be suppressed. These forms of optional advice
are intended to allow tuning of heavy traffic periods by
eliminating unnecessary transfers, by scheduling the disk
arm efficiently, and by insuring that during the visit to
a given arm position all of the appropriate transfers take
place. Such advice-taking is a good example of a feature
which has been deemed undesirable by most designers
of timesharing systems, but which can be very useful in
the context of a dedicated personal computer.
There is an intrinsic close coupling between Pilot's
file and virtual memory features: virtual memory is the
only access path to the contents of files, and files are the
only backing store for virtual memory; An alternative
would have been to provide a separate backing store for
virtual memory and require that clients transfer data
between virtual memory and files using explicit read/
write operations. There are several reasons for preferring
the mapping approach, including the following.
(I) Separating the operations of mapping and swapping
decouples buffer allocation from disk scheduling, as
compared with explicit file read/write operations.
(2) When a space is mapped, the read/write privileges
of the file capability can propagate automatically to
the space by setting a simple read/write lock in the
hardware memory map, allowing illegitimate stores
to be caught immediately.
(3) In either approach, there are certain cases that generate extra unnecessary disk transfers; extra "advicetaking" operations like Space.Kill can eliminate the
extra disk transfers in the mapping approach; this
does not seem to apply to the read/write approach.
(4) It is relatively easy to simulate a read/write interface
given a mapping interface, and with appropriate use
of advice, the efficiency can be essentially the same:
The converse appears to be false.
The Pilot virtual memory also provides an advice-like
operation called Space. ForceOut, which is designed as
an underpinning for client crash-recovery algorithms. (It
is advice-like in that its effect is invisible in normal
operation, but becomes visible if the system crashes.)
ForceOut causes a space's contents to be written to its
backing file and does not return until the write is completed. This means that the contents will survive a subsequent system crash. Since Pilot's page replacement
algorithm is also free to write the pages to the file at any
time (e.g., between ForceOuts), this facility by itself does
not constitute even a minimal crash recovery mechanism;
it is intended only as a ''toehold'' for higher level software

to use in providing transactional atomicity in the face of
system crashes.

Fig. I. A pipeline of cascaded stream components.

Client

2.3 Streams and I/O Devices
A Pilot client can access an I/O device in three
different ways:
~l)

implicitly, via some feature of Pilot (e.g., a Pilot file

accessed via virtual memory);
(2) directly, via a low-level device driver interface ex-

ported from Pilot;
(3) indirectly, via the Pilot stream facility.

In keeping with the objectives of Pilot as an operating
system for a personal computer, most I/O devices are
made directly available to clients through low-level procedural interfaces. These interfaces generally do little
more than convert device-specific I/O operations into
appropriate procedure calls. The emphasis is on providing maximum flexibility to client programs; protection is
not required. The only exception to this policy is for
devices accessed implicitly by Pilot itself (e.g., disks used
for files), since chaos would ensue if clients also tried to
access them directly.
For most applications, direct device access via the
device driver interface is rather inconvenient, since all
the details of the device are exposed to view. Furthermore, many applications tend to reference devices in a
basically sequential fashion, with only occasional, and
usually very stylized, control or repositioning operations.
For these reasons, the Pilot stream facility is provided,
comprising the following components:
(I) The stream interface, which defmes device independent operations for full-duplex sequential access to a
source/sink of data. This is very similar in spirit to
the stream facilities of other operating systems, such
as os6 [23] and UNIX (18].
(2) A standard for stream components, which connect
streams to various devices and/or implement "onthe-fly" transformations of the data flowing through
them.
(3) A means for cascading a number of primitive stream
components to provide a compound stream.
There are two kinds of stream components defmed
by Pilot: the transducer and the filter. A transducer is a
module which imports a device driver interface and
exports an instance of the Pilot Stream interface. The
transducer is thus the implementation of the basic sequential access facility for that device. Pilot provides
standard transducers for a variety of supported devices.
A filter is a module which imports one instance of the
Pilot standard Stream interface and exports another. Its
purpose is to transform a stream of data "on the fly"
(e.g., to do code or format conversion). Naturally, clients
~ augment the standard set of stream components
provided with Pilot by writing filters and transducers of
their own. The Stream interface provides for dynamic
binding of stream components at runtime, so that a

--1

Filter 1

~--

Device

transducer and a set of filters can be cascaded to provide
a pipeline, as shown in Figure I.
The transducer occupies the lowest position in the
pipeline (i.e., nearest the device) while the client program
accesses the highest position. Each filter accesses the next
lower filter (or transducer) via the Stream interface, just
as if it were a client program, so that no component need
be aware of its position in the pipeline, or of the nature
of the device at the end. This facility resembles the UNIX
pipe and filter facility, except that it is implemented
at the module level within the Pilot virtual memory,
rather than as a separate system task with its own address
space.

2.4 Communications
Mesa supports a shared-memory style of interprocess
communication for tightly coupled processes [ll]. Interaction between loosely coupled processes (e.g., suitable to
reside on different machines) is provided by the Pilot
communications facility. This facility allows client processes in different machines to communicate with each
other via a hierarchically structured family of packet
communication protocols. Communication software is
an integral part of Pilot, rather than an optional addition,
because Pilot is intended to be a suitable foundation for
network-based distributed systems.
The protocols are designed to provide communication across multiple interconnected networks. An interconnection of networks is referred to as an internet. A
Pilot internet typically consists of local, high bandwidth
Ethernet broadcast networks [15], and public and private
long-distance data networks like SBS, TELENET, TYMNET,
DDS, and ACS. Constituent networks are interconnected
by internetwork routers (often referred to as gateways in
the literature) which store and forward packets to their
destination using distributed routing algorithms [2, 4].
The constituent networks of an internet are used only as
a transmission medium. The source, destination, and
internetwork router, computers are all Pilot machines.
Pilot provides software drivers for a variety of networks;
a given machine may connect directly to one or several
networks of the same or different kinds.
Pilot clients identify one another by means of network
addresses when they wish to communicate and need not
know anything about the internet toplogy or each other's
locations or even the structure of a network address. In
particular, it is not necessary that the two communicators
be on different computers. If they are on the same
computer, Pilot will optimize the transmission of data
between them and will avoid use of the physical network
resources. This implies that an isolated computer (i.e.,

217

one which is not connected to any network) may still
contain the communications facilities of Pilot. Pilot
clients on the same computer should communicate with
one another using Pilot's communications facilities, as
opposed to the tightly coupled mechanisms of Mesa, if
the communicators are loosely coupled subsystems that
could some day be reconfigured to execute on different
machines on the network. For example, printing and file
storage server programs written to communicate in the
loosely coupled mode could share the same machine if
the combined load were light, yet be easily moved to
separate machines if increased load justified the extra
cost.
A network address is a resource assigned to clients
by Pilot and identifies a specific socket on a specific
machine. A socket is simply a site from which packets
are transmitted and at which packets are received; it is
rather like a post office box, in the sense that there is no
assumed relationship among the packets being sent and
received via a given socket. The identity of a socket is
unique only at a given point in time; it may be reused,
since there is no long-term static association between the
socket and any other resources. Protection against dangling references (e.g., delivery of packets intended for a
previous instance of a given socket) is guaranteed by
higher level protocols.
A network address is, in reality, a triple consisting of
a 16-bit network number, a 32-bit processor ID, and a
16-bit socket number, represented by a system-wide
Mesa data type System. NetworkA ddress. The internal
structure of a network address is not used by clients, but
by the communications facilities of Pilot and the internetwork routers to deliver a packet to its destination.
The administrative procedures for the assignment of
network numbers and processor IDs to networks and
computers, respectively, are outside the scope of this
paper, as are the mechanisms by which clients find out
each others' network addresses.
The family of packet protocols by which Pilot provides communication is based on our experiences with
the Pup Protocols [2]. The Arpa Internetwork Protocol
family [8] resemble our protocols in spirit. The protocols
fall naturally into three levels:
Level 0: Every packet must be encapsulated for
transmission over a particular communication medium,
according to the network-specific rules for that communication medium. This has been termed level 0 in our
protocol hierarchy, since its definition is of no concern
to the typical Pilot client.
Levell: Levell defines the format of the internetwork packet, which specifies among other things the
source and destination network addresses, a checksum
field, the length 9f the entire packet, a transport control
field that is used by internetwork routers, and a packet
type field that indicates the kind of packet defined at
level 2.
Level 2: A number of level 2 packet formats exist,
such as error packet, connection-oriented sequenced

218

packet, routing table update packet, and so on. Various
level 2 protocols are defined according to the kinds of
level 2 packets they use, and the rules governing their
interaction.
The Socket interface provides level 1 access to the
communication facilities, including the ability to create
a socket at a (local) network address, and to transmit and
receive internetwork packets. In the terms of Section 2.3,
sockets can be thought of as virtual devices, accessed
directly via the Socket (virtual driver) interface. The
protocol defining the format of the internetwork packet
provides end-to-end communication at the packet level.
The internet is required only to be able to transport
independently addressed packets from source to destination network addresses. As a consequence, packets
transmitted over a socket may be expected to arrive at
their destination only with high probability and not necessarily in the order they were transmitted. It is the
responsibility of the communicating end processes to
agree upon higher level protocols that provide the appropriate level of reliable communication. The Socket
interface, therefore, provides service similar to that provided by networks that offer datagram services [17] and
is most useful for connectionless protocols.
The interface NetworkStream defines the principal
means by which Pilot clients can communicate reliably
between any two network addreses. It provides access to
the implementation of the sequenced packet protocol-a
level 2 protocol. This protocol provides sequenced, duplicate-suppressed, error-free, flow-controlled packet
communication over arbitrarily interconnected communication networks and is similar in philosophy to the
Pup Byte Stream Protocol [2] or the Arpa Transmission
Control Protocol [3, 24]. This protocol is implemented as
a transducer, which converts the device-like Socket interface into a Pilot stream. Thus all data transmission
via a network stream is invoked by means of the operations defmed in the standard Stream interface.
Network streams provide reliable communication, in
the sense that the data is reliably sent from the source
transducer's packet buffer to the destination transducer's
packet buffer. No guarantees can be made as to whether
the data was successfully received by the destination
client or that the data was appropriately processed. This
final degree of reliability must lie with the clients of
network streams, since they alone know the higher level
protocol governing the data transfer. Pilot provides communication with varying degrees of reliability, since the
communicating clients will, in general, have differing
needs for it. This is in keeping with the design goals of
Pilot, much like the provision of defensive rather than
absolute protection.
A network stream can be set up between two communicators in many ways. The most typical case, in a
network-based distributed system, involves a server (a
supplier of a service) at one end and a client of the service
at the other. Creation of such a network stream is
inherently asymmetric. At one end is the server which

advertises a network address to which clients can connect
to obtain its services. Clients do this by calling
NetworkStream.Create, specifying the address of the
server as parameter. It is important that concurrent
requests from clients not conflict over the server's network address; to avoid this, some additional machinery
is provided at the server end of the connection. When a
server is operational, one of its processes listens for
requests on its advertised network address. This is done
by calling NetworkStream.Listen, which automatically
creates a new network stream each time a request arrives
at the specified network address. The newly created
network stream connects the client to another unique
network address on the server machine, leaving the
server's advertised network address free for the reception
of additional requests.
The switchover from one network address to another
is transparent to the client, and is part of the definition
of the sequenced packet protocol. At the server end, the
Stream. Handle for the newly created stream is typically
passed to an agent, a subsidiary process or subsystem
which gives its full attention to performing the service
for that particular client. These two then communicate
by means of the new network stream set up between
them for the duration of the service. Of course, the
NetworkStream interface also provides mechanisms for
creating connections between arbitrary network addresses, where the relationship between the processes is
more general than that of server and client.
The mechanisms for establishing and deleting a connection between any two communicators and for guarding against old duplicate packets are a departure from
the mechanisms used by the Pup Byte Stream Protocol
[2] or the Transmission Control Protocol [22], although
our protocol embodies similar principles. A network
stream is terminated by calling NetworkStream.Delete.
This call initiates no network traffic and simply deletes
all the data structures associated with the network
stream. It is the responsibility of the communicating
processes to have decided a priori that they wish to
terminate the stream. This is in keeping with the decision
that the reliable processing of the transmitted data ultimately rests with the clients of network streams.
The manner in which server addresses are advertised
by servers and discovered by clients is not defmed by
Pilot; this facility must be provided by the architecture
of a particular distributed system built on Pilot. Generally, the binding of names of resources to their addresses
is accomplished by means of a network-based database
referred to as a clearinghouse. The manner in which the
binding is structured and the way in which clearinghouses are located and accessed are 'outside the scope of
this paper.
The communication facilities of Pilot provide clients
various interfaces, which provide varying degrees of
service at the internetworking level. In keeping with the
overall design of Pilot, the communication facility attempts to provide a standard set of features which cap-

ture the most common needs, while still allowing clients
to custom tailor their own solutions to their communications requirements if that proves necessary.
2.5 Mesa Language Support
The Mesa language provides a number of features
which require a nontrivial amount of runtime support
[16]. These are primarily involved with the control structure of the language [10, II] which allow not only
recursive procedure calls, but also coroutines, concurrent
processes, and signals (a specialized form of dynamically
bound procedure call used primarily for exception handling). The runtime support facilities are invoked in
three ways:
(I) explicitly, via normal Mesa interfaces exported by
Pilot (e.g., the Process interface);
(2) implicitly, via compiler-generated calls on built-in
procedures;
(3) via traps, when machine-level op-codes encounter
exceptional conditions.
Pilot's involvement in client procedure calls is limited
to trap handling when the supply of activation record
storage is exhausted. To support the full generality of the
Mesa control structures, activation records are allocated
from a heap, even when a strict LIFO usage pattern is in
force. This heap is replenished and maintained by Pilot.
Coroutine calls also proceed without intervention by
Pilot, except during initialization when a trap handler is
provided to aid in the original setup of the coroutine
linkage.
Pilot's involvement with concurrent processes is
somewhat more substantial. Mesa casts process creation
as a variant of a procedure call, but unlike a normal
procedure call, such a FORK statement always invokes
Pilot to create the new process. Similarly, termination of
a process also involves substantial participation by Pilot.
Mesa also provides monitors and condition variables for
synchronized interprocess communication via shared
memory; these facilities are supported directly by the
machine and thus require less direct involvement of
Pilot.
The Mesa control structure facilities, including concurrent processes, are light weight enough to be used in
the fine-scale structuring of normal Mesa programs. A
typical Pilot client program consists of some number of
processes, any of which may at any time invoke Pilot
facilities through the various public interfaces. It is Pilot's
responsibility to maintain the semantic integrity of its
interfaces in the face of such client-level concurrency
(see Section 3.3). Naturally, any higher level consistency
constraints invented by the client must be guaranteed by
client-level synchronization, using monitors and condition variables as provided in the Mesa language.
Another important Mesa-support facility which is
provided as an integral part of Pilot is a "world-swap"
facility to allow a graceful exit to CoPilot, the Pilot/Mesa
interactive debugger. The world-swap facility saves the

219

contents of memory and the total machine state and then
starts CoPilot from a boot-file, just as if the machine's
bootstrap-load button had been pressed. The original
state is saved on a second boot-file so that execution can
be resumed by doing a second world-swap. The state is
saved with sufficient care that it is virtually always
possible to resume execution without any detectable
perturbation of the program being debugged. The worldswap approach to debugging yields strong isolation between the debugger and the program. under test. Not
only ·the contents of main memory, but the version of
Pilot, the accessible volume(s), and even the microcode
can be different in the two worlds. This is especially
useful when debugging a new version of Pilot, since
CoPilot can run on the old, stable version until the new
version becomes trustworthy. Needless to say, this approach is not directly applicable to conventional multiuser time-sharing systems.

Fig. 2. Major components of Pilot.
Pilot Client(s)

Network Streams
Sockets
Mesa Support (High·level)
Router

Virtual Memory Manager

Networ Drivers

I

File Manager
Swapper

I

Flier
Mesa Support (Low· level)

Machine

3. Implementation
The implementation of Pilot consists of a large number of Mesa modules which collectively provide the client
environment as decribed above. The modules are
grouped into larger components, each of which is responsible for implementing some coherent subset of the overall Pilot functionality. The relationships among the major components are illustrated in Figure 2.
Of particular interest is the interlocking structure of
the four components of the storage system which together
implement files and virtual memory. This is an example
of what we call the manager/kernel pattern, in which a
given facility is implemented in two stages: a low-level
kernel provides a basic core of function, which is extended by the higher level manager. Layers interposed
between the kernel and the manager can make use of
the kernel and can in turn be used by the manager. The
same basic technique has been used before in other
systems to good effect, as discussed by Habermann et al.
[6], who refer to it as "functional hierarchy." It is also
quite similar to the familiar "policy/mechanism" pattern
[1,25]. The main difference is that we place no emphasis
on the possibility of using the same kernel with a variety
of managers (or without any manager at all). In Pilot,
the manager/kernel pattern is intended only as a fruitful
decomposition tool for the design of integrated mechanisms.
3.1 Layering of the Storage System Implementation
The kernel/manager pattern can be motivated by
noting that since the purpose of Pilot is to provide a
more hospitable environment than the bare machine, it
would clearly be more pleasant for the code implementing Pilot if it could use the facilities of Pilot in getting its
job done. In particular, both components of the storage
system (the file and virtual memory implementations)
maintain internal databases which are too large to fit in

220

primary memory, but only parts of which are needed at
anyone time. A client-level program would simply place
such a database in a file and access it via virtual memory,
but if Pilot itself did so, the resulting circular dependencies would tie the system in knots, making it unreliable
and difficult to understand. One alternative would be
the invention of a special separate mechanism for lowlevel disk access and main memory buffering, used only
by· the storage system to access its internal databases.
This would eliminate the danger of circular dependency
but would introduce more machinery, making the system
bulkier and harder to understand in a different sense. A
more attractive alternative is the extraction of a streamlined kernel of the storage system functionality with the
following properties:
(I) It can be implemented by a small body of code which
resides permanently in primary memory.
(2) It provides a powerful enough storage facility to
significantly ease the implementation of the remainder of the full-fledged storage system.
(3) It can handle the majority of the "fast cases" of
client-level use of the storage system.
Figure 2 shows the implementation of such a kernel
storage facility by the swapper and the filer. These two
subcomponents are the kernels of the virtual memory
and file components, respectively, and provide a reasonably powerful environment for the nonresident subcomponents, the virtual memory manager, and the file manager, whose code and data are both swappable. The
kernel environment provides somewhat restricted virtual
memory access to a small number of special files and to
preexisting normal files of fixed size.
The managers implement the more powerful operations, such as file creation and deletion, and the more
complex virtual memory operations, such as those that

traverse subtrees of the hierarchy of nested spaces. The
most frequent operations, however, are handled by the
kernels essentially on their own. For example, a page
fault is handled by code in the swapper, which calls the
filer to read the appropriate page(s) into memory, adjusts
the hardware memory map, and restarts the faulting
process.
The resident data structures of the kernels serve as
caches on the swappable databases maintained by the
managers. Whenever a kernel finds that it cannot perform an operation using only the data in its cache, it
conceptually "passes the buck" to its manager, retaining
no state information about the failed operation. In this
way, a circular dependency is avoided, since such failed
operations become the total responsibility of the manager. The typical response of a manager in such a
situation is to consult its swappable database, call the
resident subcomponent to update its cache, and then
retry the failed operation.
The intended dynamics of the storage system implementation described above are based on the expectation
that Pilot will experience three quite different kinds of
load.
(1) For short periods of time, client programs will have

their essentially static working sets in primary memory and the storage system will not be needed.
(2) Most of the time, the client working set will be
changing slowly, but the description of it will fit in
the swapper/filer caches, so that swapping can take
place with little or no extra disk activity to access the
storage system databases.
(3) Periodically, the client working set will change drastically, requiring extensive reloading of the caches as
well as heavy swapping.
It is intended that the Pilot storage system be able to
respond reasonably to all three situations: In case (1), it
should assume a low profile by allowing its swappable
components (e.g., the managers) to swap out. In case (2),
it should be as efficient as possible, using its caches to
avoid causing spurious disk activity. In case (3), it should
do the best it can, with the understanding that while
continuous operation in this mode is probably not viable,
short periods of heavy traffic can and must be optimized,
largely via the advice-taking operations. discussed in
Section 2.2.

3.2 Cached Databases of the Virtual Memory
Implementation
The virtual memory manager implements the client
visible operations on spaces and is thus primarily concerned with checking validity and maintaining the database constituting the fundamental representation behind the Space interface. This database, called the hierarchy, represents the tree of nested spaces defined in
Section 2.2. For each space, it contains a record whose
fields hold attributes such as size, base page number, and
mapping information.

The swapper, or virtual memory kernel, manages
primary memory and supervises the swapping of data
between mapped memory and files. For this purpose it
needs access to information in the hierarchy. Since the
hierarchy is swappable and thus offlimits to the swapper,
the swapper maintains a resident space cache which is
loaded from the hierarchy in the manner described in
Section 3.1.
There are several other data structures maintained
by the swapper. One is a bit-table describing the allocation status of each page of primary memory. Most of the
bookkeeping performed by the swapper, however, is on
tqe basis of the swap unit, or smallest set of pages
transferred between primary memory and file backing
storage. A swap unit generally corresponds to a "leaf'
space; however, if a space is only partially covered with
.subspaces, each maximal run of pages not containing
any subspaces is also a swap unit. The swapper keeps a
swap unit cache containing information about swap units
such as extent (first page and length), containing mapped
space, and state (mapped or not, swapped in or out,
replacement algorithm data).
The swap unit cache is addressed by page rather than
by space; for example, it is used by the page fault handler
to find the swap unit in which a page fault occurred. The
content of an entry in this cache is logically derived from
a sequence of entries in the hierarchy, but direct implementation of this would require several file accesses to
construct a single cache entry. To avoid this, we have
chosen to maintain another database: the projection. This
is a second swappable database maintained by the virtual
memory manager, containing descriptions of all existing
swap units, and is used to update the swap unit cache.
The existence of the projection speeds up page faults
which cannot be handled from the swap unit cache; it
slows down space creation/deletion since then the projection must be updated. We expect this to be a useful
optimization based on our assumptions about the relative
frequencies and CPU times of these events; detailed
measurements of a fully loaded system will be needed to
evaluate the actual effectiveness of the projection.
An important detail regarding the relationship between the manager and kernel components has been
ignored up to this point. That detail is avoiding "recursive" cache faults; when a manager is attempting to
supply a missing cache entry, it will often incur a page
fault of its own; the handling of that page fault must not
incur a second cache fault or the fault episode will never
terminate. Basically the answer is to make certain key
records in the cache ineligible for replacement. This
pertains to the space and swap unit caches and to the·
caches maintained by the filer as well.

3.3 Process Implementation
The implementation of processes and monitors in
Pilot/Mesa is summarized here; more detail can be found
in [11].

221

The task of implementing the concurrency facilities
is split roughly equally among Pilot, the Mesa compiler,
and the underlying machine. The basic primitives are
defmed as language constructs (e.g., entering a MONITOR,
wAITing on a CONDITION variable, FORKing a new
PROCESS) and are implemented either by machine
op-codes (for heavily used constructs, e.g., WAIT) or by
calls on Pilot (for less heavily used constructs, e.g., FORK).
The constructs supported by the machine and the lowlevel Mesa support component provide procedure calls
and synchronization among existing processes, allowing
the remainder of Pilot to be implemented as a collection
of monitors, which carefully synchronize the multiple
processes executing concurrently inside them. These
processes comprise a variable number of client processes
(e.g., which have called into Pilot through some public
interface) plus a fixed number of dedicated system processes (about a dozen) which are created specially at
system initialization time. The machinery for creating
and deleting processes is a monitor within the high-level
Mesa support component; this places it above the virtual
memory implementation; this means that it is swappable,
but also means that the rest of Pilot (with the exception
of network streams) cannot make use of dynamic process
creation. The process implementation is thus another
example of the manager/kernel pattern, in which the
manager is implemented at a very high level and the
kernel is pushed down to a very low level (in this case,
largely into the underlying machine). To the Pilot client,
the split implementation appears as a unified mechanism
comprising the Mesa language features and the operations defined by the Pilot Process interface.
3.4 File System Robustness
One of the most important properties of the Pilot file
system is robustness. This is achieved primarily through
the use of reconstructable maps. Many previous systems
have demonstrated the value of a file scavenger, a utility
program which can repair a damaged file system, often
on a more or less ad hoc basis [5, 12, 14,21]. In Pilot, the
scavenger is given first-class citizenship, in the sense that
the file structures were all designed from the beginning
with the scavenger in mind. Each file page is self-identifying by virtue of its label, written as a separate physical
record adjacent to the one holding the actual contents of
the page. (Again, this is not a new idea, but is the crucial
foundation on which the file system's robustness is
based.) Conceptually, one can think of a file page access
proceeding by scanning all known volumes, checking the
label of each page encountered until the desired one is
found. In practice, this scan is performed only once by
the scavenger, which leaves behind maps on each volume
describing what it found there; Pilot then uses the maps
and incrementally updates them as file pages are created
and deleted. The logical redundancy of the maps does
not, of course, imply lack of importance, since the system
would be not be viable without them; the point is that
since they contain only redundant information, they can

222

be completely reconstructed should they be lost. In particular, this means that damage to any page on the disk
can compromise only data on that page.
The primary map structure is the volume file map, a
B-tree keyed on (file-uid, page-number) which returns
the device address of the page. All file storage devices
check the label of the page and abort the I/O operation
in case of a mismatch; this does not occur in normal
operation and generally indicates the need to scavenge
the volume. The volume file map uses extensive compression of uids and run-encoding of page numbers to
maximize the out-degree of the internal nodes of the Btree and thus minimize its depth.
Equally important but much simpler is the volume
allocation map, a table which describes the allocation
status of each page on the disk. Each free page is a selfidentifying member of a hypothetical file of free pages,
allowing reconstruction of the volume allocation map.
The robustness provided by the scavenger can only
guarantee the integrity of files as defined by Pilot. If a
database defmed by client software becomes inconsistent
due to a system crash, a software bug, or some other
unfortunate event, it is little comfort to know that the
underlying file has been declared healthy by the scavenger. An "escape-hatch" is therefore provided to allow
client software to be invoked when a file is scavenged.
This is the main use of the file-type attribute mentioned
in Section 2.1. After the Pilot scavenger has restored the
low-level integrity of the file system, Pilot is restarted;
before resuming normal processing, Pilot first invokes all
client-level scavenging routines (if any) to reestablish
any higher level consistency constraints that may have
been violated. File types are used to determine which
files should be processed by which client-level scavengers.
An interesting example of the first-class status of the
scavenger is its routine use in transporting volumes
between versions of Pilot. The freedom to redesign the
complex map structures stored on volumes represents a
crucial opportunity for continuing file system performance improvement, but this means that one version of
Pilot may fmd the maps left by another version totally
inscrutable. Since such incompatibility is just a particular
form of "damage," however, the scavenger can be invoked to reconstruct the maps in the proper format, after
which the corresponding version of Pilot will recognize
the volume as its own.

3.5 Communication Implementation
The software that implements the packet communication protocols consists of a set of network-specific
drivers, modules that implement sockets, network stream
transducers, and at the heart of it all, a router. The router
is a software switch. It routes packets among sockets,
sockets and networks, and networks themselves. A router
is present on every Pilot machine. On personal machines,
the router handles only incoming, outgoing, and intra-

machine packet traffic. On internetwork router machines, the router acts as a service to other machines by
transporting internetwork packets across network
boundaries. The router's data structures include a list of
all active sockets and networks on the local computer.
The router is designed so that network drivers may easily
be added to or removed from new configurations of
Pilot; this can even be done dynamically during execution. Sockets come and go as clients create and delete
them. Each router maintains a routing table indicating,
for a given remote network, the best internetwork router
to use as the next "hop" toward the final destination.
Thus, the two kinds of machines are essentially special
cases of the same program. An internetwork router is
simply a router that spends most of its time forwarding
packets between networks and exchanging routing tables
with other internetwork routers. On personal machines
the router updates its routing table by querying internetwork routers or by overhearing their exchanges over
broadcast networks.
Pilot has taken the approach of connecting a network
much like any other input/output device, so that the
packet communication protocol software becomes part
of the operating system and operates in the same personal
computer. In particular, Pilot does not employ a dedicated front-end communications processor connected to
the Pilot machine via a secondary interface.
Network-oriented communication differs from conventional input/output in that packets arrive at a computer unsolicited, implying that the intended recipient is
unknown until the packet is examined. As a consequence, each incoming packet must be buffered initially
in router-supplied storage for examination. The router,
therefore, maintains a buffer pool shared by all the
network drivers. If a packet is undamaged and its destination socket exists, then the packet is copied into a
buffer associated with the socket and provided by the
socket's client.
The architecture of the communication software permits the computer supporting Pilot to behave as a user's
personal computer, a supplier of information, or as a
dedicated internetwork router.

4. Conclusion
The context of a large personal computer has motivated us to reevaluate many design decisions which
characterize systems designed for more familiar situations (e.g., large shared machines or small personal computers). This has resulted in a somewhat novel system
which, for example, provides sophisticated features but
only minimal protection, accepts advice from client programs, and even boot-loads the machine periodically in
the normal course of execution.
Aside from its novel aspects, however, Pilot's real
significance is its careful integration, in a single relatively
compact system, of a number of good ideas which have
previously tended to appear individually, often in systems which were demonstration vehicles not intended to
support serious client programs. The combination of
streams, packet communications, a hierarchical virtual
memory mapped to a large file space, concurrent programming support, and a modular high-level language,
provides an environment with relatively few artificial
limitations on the size and complexity of the client
programs which can be supported.
Acknowledgments. The primary design and implementation of Pilot were done by the authors. Some of
the earliest ideas were contributed by D. Gifford, R.
Metcalfe, W. Shultz, and D. Stottlemyre. More recent
contributions have been made by C. Fay, R. Gobbel, F.
Howard, C. Jose, and D. Knutsen. Since the inception
of the project, we have had continuous fruitful interaction with all the members of the Mesa language group;
in particular, R. Johnsson, J. Sandman, and J. Wick
have provided much of the software that stands on the
border between Pilot and Mesa. We are also indebted to
P. Jarvis and V. Schwartz, who designed and implemented some of the low-level input/output drivers. The
success of the close integration of Mesa and Pilot with
the machine architecture is largely due to the talent and
energy of the people who designed and built the hardware and microcode for our personal computer.
Received June 1979; accepted September 1979; revised November 1979

3.6 The Implementation Experience
The initial construction of Pilot was accomplished by
a fairly small group of people (averaging about 6 to 8) in
a fairly short period of time (about 18 months). We feel
that this is largely due to the use of Mesa. Pilot consists
of approximately 24,000 lines of Mesa, broken into about
160 modules (programs and interfaces), yielding an average module size of roughly 150 lines. The use of small
modules and minimal intermodule connectivity, combined with the strongly typed interface facilities of Mesa,
aided in the creation of an implementation which
avoided many common kinds of errors and which is
relatively rugged in the face of modification. These issues
are discussed in more detail in [7] and [13].

. References
1. Brinch-Hansen, P. The nucleus of a multiprogramming system.
Comm. ACM 13, 4 (April 1970), 238-241.
2. Boggs, DR, Shoch, I.F., Taft, E., and Metcalfe, R.M. Pup: An
internetwork architecture. To appear in IEEE Trans. Commun.
(Special Issue on Computer Network Architecture and Protocols).
3. Cerf, V.G., and Kahn, R.E. A protocol for packet network
interconnection. IEEE Trans. Commun. COM-22, 5 (May 1974),637641.
4. Cerf, V.G., and Kirstein, P.T. Issues in packet-network
interconnection. Proc. IEEE 66, II (Nov. 1978), 1386-1408.
5. Farber, D.I., and Heinrich, F.R. The structure of a distributed
computer system: The distributed file system. In Proc. 1st Int. Conf.
Computer Communication, 1972, pp. 364-370.
6. Habermann, A.N., Flon, L., and Cooprider, L. Modularization
and hierarchy in a family of operating systems. Comm. ACM 19,5
(May 1976), 266-272.
7. Horsley, T.R., and Lynch, W.e. Pilot: A software engineering

223

case history. In Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Software Engineering, Munich,
Germany, Sept. 1979, pp. 94-99.
8. Internet Datagram Protocol, Version 4. Prepared by USC/
Information Sciences Institute, for the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency, Information Processing Techniques Office, Feb.
1979.
9. Lampson, B.W. Redundancy and robustness in memory
protection. Proc. IFIP 1974, North Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 128-

132.
10. Lampson, B.W., Mitchell, J.G., and Satterthwaite, E.H. On the
transfer of control between contexts. In Lecture Notes in Computer
Science 19, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1974, pp. 181-203.
11. Lampson, B.W., and Redell, D.D. Experience with processes and
monitors in Mesa. Comm. ACM 23,2 (Feb. 1980), 105-117.
12. Lampson, B.W., and Sproull, R.F. An open operating system for
a single user machine. Presented at the ACM 7th Symp. Operating
System Principles (Operating Syst. Rev. 13,5), Dec. 1979, pp. 98-105.
13. Lauer, H.C., and Satterthwaite, E.H. The impact of Mesa on
system design. In Proc. 4th Int. Conf. Software Engineering, Munich,
Germany, Sept. 1979, pp. 174-182.
14. Lockemann, P.C., and Knutsen, W.D. Recovery of disk contents
after system failure. Comm. ACM 11, 8 (Aug. 1968),542.
15. Metcalfe, R.M., and Boggs, D.R. Ethernet: Distributed packet
switching for local computer networks. Comm. ACM 19, 7 (July
1976), pp. 395-404.
16. Mitchell, J.G., Maybury, W., and Sweet, R. Mesa Language
Manual. Tech. Rep., Xerox Palo Alto Res. Ctr., 1979.
17. Pouzin, L. Virtual circuits vs. datagrams-technical and political
problems. Proc. 1976 NCC, AFIPS Press, Arlington, Va., pp. 483494.
18. Ritchie, D.M., and Thompson, K. The UNIX time-sharing
system. Comm. ACM 17, 7 (July 1974),365-375.
19. Ross, D.T. The AED free storage package. Comm. ACM 10,8
(Aug. 1967),481-492.
20. Rotenberg, Leo J. Making computers keep secrets. Tech. Rep.
MAC-TR-115, MIT Lab. for Computer Science.
21. Stern, J.A. Backup and recovery of on-line information in a
computer utility. Tech. Rep. MAC-TR-I16 (thesis), MIT Lab. for
Computer Science, 1974.
22. Sunshine, C.A., and Dalal, Y.K. Connection management in
transport protocol. Comput. Networks 2,6 (Dec. 1978).454-473.
23. Stoy, J.E., and Strachey, C. OS6--An experimental operating
system for a small computer. Comput. J. 15, 2 and 3 (May, Aug.
1972).
24. Transmission Control Protocol, TCP, Version 4. Prepared by
USC/Information Sciences Institute, for the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, Information Processing Techniques Office,
Feb. 1979.
25. Wulf, W., et. al. HYDRA: The kernel of a multiprocessor
operating system. Comm ACM 17, 6 (June 1974),337-345.

224

An Overview of the Mesa Processor Architecture
Richard K. Johnsson
John D. Wick
Xerox Office Products Division
3333 Coyote Hill Road
Palo Alto, California 94304

Introduction
This paper provides an overview of the architecture of the
Mesa processor, an architecture which was designed to
support the Mesa programming system [41. Mesa is a high
level systems programming language and associated tools
designed to support the development of large information
processing applications (on the order of one million source
lines). Since the start of development in 1971. the
processor architecture. the programming language, and the
operating system have been designed as a unit, so that
proper tradeoffs among these components could be made.
The three main goals of the architecture were:
-To enable the efficient implementation of a
modular, high level programming language such as
Mesa. The emphasis here is not on simplicity of the
compiler, but on efficiency of the generated object
code and on a good match between the semantics of
the language and the capabilities of the processor.
- To provide a very compact representation of
programs and data so that large, complex systems
can run efficiently in machines with relatively small
amounts of primary memory.
- To separate the architecture from any particular
implementation of the processor, and thus
accommodate new implementations whenever it is
technically or economically advantageous, without
materially affecting either system or application
software.
We will present a general introduction to the processor
and its memory and control structure; we then consider an
Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted
provided that the copics are not made or distributed for direct
commercial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the
publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by
permission of the Association for Computing Machinery. To copy
otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and/or specifIC permission.

example of how the Mesa instruction set enables
significant reductions in code size over more traditional
architectures. We will also discuss in considerable detail
the control transfer mechanism used to implement
procedure calls and context switches among concurrent
processes. A brief description of the process facilities is
also included.
General Overview
All Mesa processors have the following characteristics
which distinguish them from other computers:

High Level Language
The Mesa architecture is designed to efficiently execute
high level languages in the style of Algol. Mesa, and
Pascal. Constructs in the programming languages such as
modules, procedures and processes all have concrete
representations in the processor and main memory, and
the instruction set includes opcodes that efficiently
implement those language constructs (e.g. procedure call
and return) using these structures. The processor does not
"directly execute" any particular high level programming
language.

Compact Program Representation
The Mesa instruction set is designed primarily for a
compact, dense representation of programs. Instructions
are variable length with the most frequently used
operations and operands encoded in a single byte opcode;
less frequently used combinations are encoded in two
bytes, and so on. The instructions themselves are chosen
based on their frequency of use. This design leads to an
asymmetrical instruction set. For example, there are
twenty-four different instructions that can be used to load
local variables from memory, but only twenty-one that
store . into such variables; this occurs because typical
programs perform many more loads than stores. The
average instruction length (static) is 1.45 bytes.

225

Compact Data Representation

Virtual Memory

The instruction set includes. a wide variety of instructions
for accessing partial and multiword fields of the memory's
basic unit, the sixteen bit word. Except for system data
structures defined by the architecture, there are no
alignment restrictions on the allocation of variables, and
data structures are generally assumed to be tightly packed
in memory.

The Mesa processor provides a single large, uniformly
addressed virtual memory. shared by all processes. The
memory is addressed linearly as an array of 232 sixteen-bit
words, and, for mapping purposes, is further organized as
an array of 224 pages of 256 words each; it has no other
programmer visible substructure. Each page can be
individually write-protected. and the processor records the
fact that a page has been written into or referenced.

Evaluation Stack

The Mesa processor is a stack machine; it has no general
purpose registers. The evaluation stack is used as the
destination for load instructions, the source for store
instructions, and as both the source and destination for
arithmetic instructions; it is also used for passing
parameters to procedures. The primary motivation for the
stack architecture is not to simplify code generation, but to
achieve compact program representation. Since the stack is
assumed as the source andlor destination of one or more
operands. specifying operand location requires no bits in
the instruction. Another motivation for the stack is to
minimize the register saving and restoring required in the
procedure calling mechanism.
COn/rol Transfers

The architecture is designed to support modular
programming, and therefore suitably optimizes transfers of
control between modules. The Mesa processor implements
all control transfers with a single primitive called XFER,
which is a generalization of the notion of a procedure or
subroutine call. All of the standard procedure calling
conventions (call by value, call by reference (result), etc.)
and all transfers of control between contexts (procedure
call and return, nested procedure calls, coroutine transfers,
traps, and process switches) are implemented using the
XFER primitive. To support arbitrary control transfer
disciplines, activation records (called frames) are allocated
by XFER from a heap rather than a stack; this allows the
heap to be shared by multiple processes.
Process Mechanism

The architecture is designed for applications that expect a
large amount of concurrent activity. The Mesa processor
provides for the simultaneous execution of up to one
thousand asynchronous preemptable processes on a single
processor. The process mechanism implements monitors
and condition variables to control the synchronization and
mutual exclusion of processes and the sharing of resources
among them. Scheduling is event driven. rather than time
sliced. Interrupts, timeouts, and communication with 110
devices also utilize the process mechanism.

226

Protection

The architecture is designed for the execution of
cooperating. not competing. processes. There is no
protection mechanism (other than the write-protected
page) to limit the sharing of resources among processes.
There is no "supervisor mode," nor are there any
"privileged" instructions.

Virtual Memory Organization
Virtual addresses are mapped into real addresses by the
processor. The mapping mechanism can be modeled as an
array of real page numbers indexed by virtual page
numbers. The array can have holes so that an associative
or hashed implementation of the map is allowed; the
actual implementation is not specified by the architecture
and differs among the various implementations of the
Mesa processor.
Instructions are provided to enable a program (usually the
operating system) to examine and modify the virtual-toreal mapping. The processor maintains "write-protected,"
"dirty," and "referenced" flags for each mapped virtual
page which can also be examined and modified by the
program.
The address translation process is identical for all memory
accesses, whether they originate from the processor or
from 1/0 devices. There is no way to bypass the mapping
and directly reference a main memory location using a real
address. Any reference to a virtual page which has no
associated real page (page fault), or an attempt to store into
a write-protected page (wrileprotect faUlt) will cause the
processor to initiate a process switch (as described below).
The abstraction of faults is that they occur between
instructions so that the processor state at the time of the
fault is well defined. In order to honor this abstraction,
each instruction must avoid all changes to processor state
registers (including the evaluation stack) and main
memory until the possibility of faults has passed, or such
changes must be undone in the event of a fault
Virtual memory is addressed by either long (two word)
pointers containing a full virtual address or by short (one

_ _ _ _ _ _--'2 32 .1

Figure 1. Virtual Memory Structure

word) pointers containing an offset from an implicit 64K
word aligned base address. There are several uses of short
pointers defined by the architecture:
- The first 64K words of virtual memory are reserved
for booting data and communication with I/O
devices. Virtual addresses known to be in this range
are passed to I/O devices as short pointers with an
implicit base of zero.
- The second 64K of virtual memory contains data
structures relating to processes. Pointers to data
structures in this area are stored as short pointers
with an implicit base of 64K.

- Any other 64K region of virtual memory can be a
main data space (MDS). Each process executes
within some MDS in which its module and
procedure variables are stored; these variables can
be referenced by short pointers using as an implicit
base the value stored in the processor's MDS
register.
Code may be placed anywhere in virtual memory.
although in general it is not located within any of the three
regions mentioned above. A code segment contains read
only instructions and constants for the procedures that
comprise a Mesa module; it is never modified during
normal execution and is usually write-protected. A code

227

Caller's
Local Frame

Curen!
Local Frame
return link

Global Frame

Saved PC

r----,
I

Unks

I

Procedure
Variables

Variables

Read Only
Data

Figure 2. Local and Global Frames and Code Segments

segment is relocatable without modification; no
infonnation in a code segment depends on its location in
vinual memory.
The data associated with a Mesa program is allocated in a
main data space in the form of local and global frames. A
global frame contains the data common to all procedures
in the module, i.e. declared outside the scope of any
procedure. The global frame is allocated when a module is
loaded, and freed when the module is destroyed. A local
frame contains data declared within a procedure; it is
allocated when the procedure is called and freed when it
returns.
Any region of the vinual memory, including any main
data space, can contain additional dynamically allocated
user data; it is managed by the programmer and
referenced indirectly using long or short pointers. An MDS
also contains a few system data structures used in the
implementation of control transfers (discussed below). The
overall structure of vinual memory is shown in Figure 1.
Besides enabling standard high level language features
such as recursive procedures, multiple module instances,
coroutines. and multiple processes, the representation of a
program as local data, global data, and code segment tends
to increase locality of reference; this is important in a
paged virtual memory environment
Contexts
In addition to a program's variables, there is a small
amount of linkage and control information in each frame.
A local frame contains a short pointer to the associated
global frame and a short pointer to the local frame of its

228

caller (the return link). A local frame also holds the code
segment relative program counter for a procedure whose
execution has been suspended (by preemption or by a call
to another procedure). Each global frame contains a long
pointer to the code segment of the module. A global frame
optionally is preceded by an area called the link space,
where links to procedures and variables in other modules
are stored. This structure is shown in Figure 2.
To speed access to code and data. the processor contains
registers which hold the local and global frame addresses
(IF and GF), and the code base and program counter (CB
and pc) for the currently executing procedure; these are
collectively called a context When a procedure is
suspended, the single sixteen bit value which is the MDS
relative pointer to its local frame is sufficient to reestablish
this complete context by fetching GF and pc from the
local frame and CB from the global frame. The
management of these registers during context switches is
discussed in the section on control transfers below.
The Mesa Instruction Set

As mentioned above. a primary goal of the Mesa
architecture is compact representation of programs. The
general idea is to introduce special mechanisms into the
instruction set so that the most frequent operations can be
represented in a minimum number of bytes. See [51 for a
description of how the instruction set is tuned to
accomplish this goal. Below we enumerate a representative
sample of the instruction set
Many functions are implemented with a family of
instructions with the most common forms being a single

byte. In the descriptions of instructions below, operand
bytes in the code stream are represented by a and fJ: afJ
represents two bytes that are taken together ~ a sixteen bit
quantity. The suffix n on an opcode mnemonic represents
a group of instructions with n standing for small integers,
e.g. Lin represents LlO, Ll1, Ll2, etc. A trailing B in an
opcode indicates a following operand byte (a); W
indicates a word (aft); P indicates that the operand byte is
a pair of four bit quantities, a.left and a.right.

Operations on the stack. These instructions obtain
arguments from and return results to the evaluation stack.
Although elements in the stack are sixteen bits, some
instructions treat two elements as single thirty-two bit
quantities. Numbers are represented in two's complement.
DIS

Discard the top element of the stack
(decrement the stack pointer).

REC

Recover the previous top of stack
(increment the stack pointer).

EXCH

Exchange the top two elements of the
stack.

DEXCH

Exchange the top two
elements of the stack.

DUP

Duplicate the top element of the stack.

DDUP

Duplicate the top doubleword element of
the stack.

DBl

Double the top of stack (multiply by 2).

doubleword

Pln

Put Local n; equivalent to 5ln REC, i.e.
store and leave the value on the stack.

LGn

Load Global n; load the word at offset n
from GF.

LGB

a

Load Global B'yte; load the word at offset
a from GF.

5GB

a

Store Global Byte.

a

llKB

Load Link; load a word at offset a in the
link space.

There are also versions of these instructions that load
doubleword quantities. Note that there are no three-byte
versions of these loads and stores and no one-byte Store
Global instructions. These do not occur frequently enough
to warrant inclusion in the instruction set.

Jumps. All jump distances are measured in bytes relative tel
the beginning of the jump instruction: they are specified as
signed eight or sixteen bit numbers.
short positive jumps.

In

+ 127

JB

a

jump -128 to

JW

afJ

long positive or negative jumps.

JlB

a

compare (unsigned) top two elements of
stack and jump if less: also JLEB, JEB,
JGB, JGEB and unsigned versions.

JEBB

a

fJ

bytes.

if top of stack is equal to to a, jump
distance in fJ; also JNBB.

unary operations: NEG, INC, DEC, etc.

JZB

a

jump if top of stack is zero; also JNZB.

logical operations: lOR, AND, XOR.

JEP

a

if top of stack is equal to a.left, jump
distance in a.right; also JNEP.

JIB

afJ

at offset afJ in the code segment find a
table of eight bit distances to be indexed
by the top of stack; also JIW with a table
of sixteen bit distances.

arithmetic: ADD, SUB, MUL
doubleword arithmetic: DADO, DSUB.
Divide and other infrequent operations are relegated to a
multibyte escape opcode that extends the instruction set
beyond 256 instructions.

Simple Load and Store instructions. These instructions
move data between the evaluation stack and local or global
variables.
Load Immediate n.

LIn
LIB

a

Read and Write through pointers. These instructions read
and write data through pointers on the stack or stored in
local variables.
Read through pointer on stack plus small
offset.

Rn

Load Immediate Byte.
RB

a

Read through pointer on stack plus offset

L1wafJ

Load Immediate Word.

LLn

Load Local n; load the word at offset n
from LF.

WB a

Write through pointer on stack plus offset
a.

Load Local Byte: load the word at offset a
from LF.

RLIP a

Read Local Indirect: use pointer in local
variable a.left; add offset a.right.

WllPa

Write Local Indirect.

lLB

a

SLn

Store Local n.

SLB

Store Local Byte.

a

a.

229

RnF a

RF a

WF a

LP

Read Field using pointer on the stack plus
n: a contains starting bit and bit count as
four bit quantities.

f3
f3

RKIB a

Read Field using pointer on the stack plus
a; f3 contains starting bit and bit count as
four bit quantities.
Write Field.
Read Link Indirect; use the word at offset
a in the link space as a pointer.

There are also versions of these instructions that take long
pointers and versions that read or write doubleword
quantities.

An example. Consider the program fragment below. The
statement c ~ Q[p.f + I] means "call procedure Q, passing
the sum of I and field f of the record pointed to by local
variable p; store the result in global variable c." The
statement RETURN [a[I].c] means "return as the value of
the procedure Q field c of the Ith record of global array

a."
Prog: PROGRAM
BEGIN

Control Transfers. These instructions handle procedure call
and return. Local calls (in the same module) specify the
entry point number of the destination procedure; external
calls (to another module) specify an index of a contro/link
in the module's link space (see the section on Control
Transfers).
LFCn

Local Function Call using entry point n.

LFCB a

Local Function Call using entry point a,

EFCn

... ,

Stack Function Call; use control link from
the stack.

RET

Return. XFER using th,e return link in the
local frame as the destination; free the
frame.
Breakpoint; a distinguished one-byte
instruction that causes a trap.

Miscellalleous. These instructions are used to generate and
manipulate pointer values.

LAB a

230

BEGIN
I: INTEGER = 2;
p: POINTER TO RECORD [ ••. , f: INTEGER];

... ,

SFC

LAn

P: PROCEDURE =

External Function Call using control link
External Function Call Byte using control
link a.

Local Address n; put the address of local
variable n on'. the stack.
Local Address Byte; put the address of
,local variable a on the stack.

LAW af3

Local Address Word; put the address of
local variable af3 on the stack.

GAn

Global Address n; put the address of
global variable n on the stack.

GAB a

Global Address Byte; put the address of
global variable a on the stack.

GAwaf3

Global Address Word; put the address of
global variable af3 on the stack.

=

c: CHARACTER;
a: ARRAY INTEGER OF RECORD [
b: BOOLEAN,
c: CHARACTER,
s: INTEGER[O .. 12S),
W: CARDINAL];

n.
EFCB a

BRK

Lengthen Pointer; convert the short
pointer on the stack to a long pointer by
adding MDS; includes a check for invalid
pointers.

c ~ Q[p.f + I];

END;

Q: PROCEDURE [I: INTEGER]
RETURNS [CHARACTER]
BEGIN
RETURN [a[I].c]j
ENDj

=

END.
Below we have shown the code generated for this program
fragment in a generalized Mesa instruction set. and then in
the current optimized version of the instruction sel
Source

Mesa/Gen

p.f

LL
R
LI
ADD
LFC
SG

i
p.f+1

Q[ .. ]
n~

Q:

:m.c

RETURN

p
f
i

q
n

Mesa/O~t

RLIP

(p, f)

LII
ADD
LFCq
n
SG

11 Code Bytes
6 Instructions

7 Code Bytes
5 Instructions

SL
REC
DBL
GAB a
ADD
0,(1,8)
RF
RET

PLi

DBL
GAa
ADD
ROF
RET

11 Code Bytes
7 Instructions

7 Code Bytes
6 Instructions

(1,8)

Although this is admittedly a contrived example. it cannot
be called pathological. and it does illustrate quite well
several of the ways the Mesa instruction set achieves code
size reduction. In particular:

- Use of lhe evalualion Slack. The stack is the implicit
destination or source for load and store operations;
instructions can be smaller because they need not
specify all operand locations. Since the stack is also
used to pass parameters. no extra instructions are
needed to set up for the procedure call. Most
statements and expressions are quite simple so that
the added generality of a general register
architecture is a liability rather than an asset

- Conlrol transfer primitive. By using a single.
standard calling convention with built-in storage
allocation. almost all of the overhead associated
with a call is eliminated. There is minimal register
saving and restoring.

- Common

operations

are

single

inslructions.

Operations that occur frequently are encoded in
single instructions: Reading a word from a record
given a pointer to the record in a local variable is a
good example (RLIP). There are similar
instructions for storing values through pointers.
There are instructions that deal with partial word
quantities or that include runtime as well as
compile time offsets. Procedure calls are also given
single instructions.

- Frequently referenced variables are stored together.
Most operands are addressed with small offsets
from l()!:al or global frame pointers or from variable
pointers stored in the local or global frame. Using
small offsets means that instructions can be smaller
because fewer bits are needed to record the offset
The compiler assists by assigning variable locations
based on static frequency so that the smallest offsets
occur most often.
These last two points are the guiding principles of the
Mesa instruction set. If an operation. even a complex one
involving indirection and indexing. occurs frequently in
"real" programs. then it should be a single instruction or
family of instructions. For instruction families with
compile time constant operands such as offsets. assigning
operand values by frequency increases the payoff of
merging small operand values into the opcode or packing
multiple values into a single operand byte. There are a
small number of cases in which an infrequently used
function is provided as an"instruction because it is required
for technical reasons or for efficiency (e.g. disable
interrupts or block transfer).

Control Transrers
The Mesa architecture supports several types of transfers
of control. including procedure call and return. nested
procedure calls. coroutine transfers. traps and process
switches. using a single primitive called XFER [1]. In its
simplest form. XFER is supplied with a destination control
link in the form of a pointer to a local frame: XFER then
establishes the context associated with that frame by
loading the processor state registers: the PC and global
frame pointer GF are obtained from the local frame. and
the code base CB is obtained from the global frame. Most
control transfer instructions perform some initial setup
before invoking the XFER primitive; some specify action to
be taken after the XFER. If after the XFER we add code to
free the source frame. we have the mechanism for
performing a procedure return. On the other hand. if we
add code before the XFER to save the current context (only
the pc). we have the basic mechanism to implement a
coroutine transfer between any two existing contexts.
A process switch is little more than a coroutine transfer.
except that it may be preemptive. in which case the
evaluation stack must be saved and restored on each side
of the XFER. In the Mesa architecture. we have also added
the ability to change the main data space on a process
switch (see the next section).
The procedure call is the most interesting form of control
transfer in any architecture: it is complicated by the fact
that the destination context does not yet exist. and must be
created out of whole cloth. We represent the context of a
not-yet-executing procedure by a control link called a
procedure descriptor. It must contain enough information
to derive all of the following:
The global frame pointer of the module containing
the procedure.
The address of the code segment of the module.
The starting pc of the procedure within the code
segment, and
The size of the frame to allocate for the procedure's
local variables.
Note that in the case of a local call within the current
module. only the last two items aie needed: the first two
remain unchanged.
It is desirable to pack all of this information into a single
word, and at the same time make room for a tag bit to
distinguish between local frames and procedure
descriptors. so the two can be used interchangeably. Then.
at the Mesa source level. a program need not concern itself
with whether it is calling a procedure or a coroutine.

231

Procedure Dellcrlptor

gfi

GFT

I

I epl II

Code Segment

+~

Code BaM

I

lea

J---+-

·32

I

1.-.+

~.

Entry

vector
pc

TIsi"

l-

I
Global Frame

.....

Ipc

flags

~

code
~

baM

~

IGF

Code bytes

m

AV

I

Local Frame

I lsi
return link

Frame Heap

global link

pc

I

i.-.+-

~

ILF

tI

~

I

t-

I

I-

~

I

Figure 3. Procedure Calls

The obvious representation of a procedure descriptor
would include the global fmme address (sixteen bits). the
code segment address (thirty-two bits). the starting PC
(sixteen bits). and the local frame size (sixteen bits). for a
total of eighty bits. We use a combination of indirection.
auxiliary tables. and imposed restrictions to reduce this to
the required fifteen bits. leaving one bit for the
frame/procedure tag (refer to Figure 3).

procedures per module to a maximum of thirty-two. (By
an encoding trick, we will increase this to 128 later.)

We eliminate the code segment address by noticing that it
is available in the global frame of the destination module.
at the cost of a double word fetch.

to 32.768.

We replace the PC and frame size by a small (five bit)
entry point index into a table at"the beginning of each code
segment containing these values for each procedure. This
costs another double word fetch. and limits the number of

232

We replace the global frame pointer by a ten bit index into
an MDs-unique structure called the global frame table
(GFT): it contains a global frame pointer for each module
in the main data space. This costs one additional memory
reference per XFER and limits the number of modules in
an MDS to 1024 and the number of procedures in an MDS
We obtain our tag bit by aligning local frames to at least
even addresses; the low order bit of all procedure
descriptors is one.
To increase the maximum number of procedures per
module. we first free up two bits in each entry of the
global frame table by aligning all global frames on quad

word boundaries. We lise these two bits to indicate that
the entry point index should be increased by 0, 32, 64, or
96 before it is used to index the code segment entry vector.
Of course, this requires mUltiple entries in the global
frame table for modules with more than thirty-two
procedures.
SO, XFER'S job in the case of a procedure call is
conceptually the same as a simple frame transfer, except
that it must pick apart the procedure descriptor and
reference all the auxiliary data structures created above. It
also needs a mechanism for allocating a new local frame,
given its size.
As mentioned above, local frames are allocated from a
heap rather than a stack, so that a pool of available frames
can be shared among several processes executing in the
same MOS. We organize this pool as an array of lists of
frames of the most frequently used sizes; each list contains
frames of only one size. Rather than actual frame sizes, the
code segment entry vector contains frame size indexes into
this array, called the allocation vector, or AV (see Figure
3).
Assuming that a frame is present on the appropriate list, it
costs three memory references to remove the frame from
the list and update the list head. This scheme requires that
the frame's frame size index be kept in its overhead words,
so that it can be returned to the proper list; it therefore
requires four memory references to free a frame. Again we
take advantage of the fact that fmOles are aligned to make
use of the low order bits of the Ii!>t pointers as a tag to
indicate an empty list There is also a facility for chaining a
list to a larger frame size list
In the (rare) event that no frame of the required size (or
larger) is available, a trap to software is generated; it may
resume the operation after supplying more frame storage.
Of course, the frequency of traps depends on the initial
allocation of frames of each size, as well as the calling
patterns of the application; this is determined by the
obvious static and dynamic analysis of frame usage.
Calling a nested procedure involves additional complexity
because the new context must be able to access the local
variables of the lexically enclosing procedure. The
semantics of procedure variables in the Mesa language
dictate that the caller of a nested procedure cannot be
aware of its context or depth of nesting; all of the
complexity must be handled by the called procedure. The
implementation of this is beyond the scope of this paper.

Concurrent Processes
The Mesa architecture implements concurrent processes as
defined by the Mesa programming language for
controlling the execution of multiple processes and
guaranteeing mutual exclusion [2].

The process implementation is based on queues of small
objects called Process State Blocks (PSBS), each
representing a single process. When a process is not
running, its PSB records the st.'ne associated with the
process, incloding the process's MOS and the local frame it
was last executing. If the process was preempted, its
evaluation stack is also saved in an auxiliary data structure;
the evaluation stack is known to be empty when a process
stops running voluntarily (by waiting on a condition or
blocking on a monitor). The PSB also records the process's
priority and a few flag bits.
When a process is running, its state is contained in the
evaluation stack and in the processor registers that hold
pointers to the current local and global frames, code
segment and MOS. An MOS may be shared by more than
one process or may be restricted to a single process. All of
these processor registers are modified when a process
switch takes place.
Each PSB is a member of exactly one process queue.
There is one queue for each monitor lock, condition
variable, and fault handler in the system. A process that is
not blocked on a monitor, waiting on a condition variable,
or faulted (e.g. suspended by a page fault) is on the ready
queue and is available for execution by the processor. The
process at the head of the ready queue is the one currently
being executed.
The primary effect of the process instructions is to move
PSBS back and forth between the ready queue and a
monitor or condition queue. A process moves from the
ready to a monitor queue when it attempts to enter a
locked monitor; it moves from the monitor queue to the
ready queue when the monitor is unlocked (by some other
process). Similarly, a process moves from the ready queue
to a condition queue when it waits on a condition variable,
and it moves back to the ready queue when the condition
variable is notified, or when the process has timed out
The instruction set includes both notify and broadcast
instructions, the latter having the effect of moving all
processes waiting on a condition variable to the ready
queue.
Each time a process is requeued, the scheduler is invoked;
it saves the state of the current process in the process's
PSB, loads the state of the highest priority ready process,
and continues execution. To simplify the task of choosing
the highest priority task from a queue, all queues are kept
sorted by priority.
In addition to normal interaction with monitors and
condition variables, certain other conditions result in
process switches. Faults (e.g. page faults or write-protect
faults) cause the current process to be moved to a fault
queue (specific to the type of fault): a condition variable
associated with the fault is then notified. An interrupt

233

(from an 110 device) causes one of a set of preassigned
condition variables to be notified. Finally, a timeout causes
a waiting process to be moved to the ready queue, even
though the condition variable on which it was waiting has
not been notified by another process.
Conclusions
The Mesa architecture accomplishes its goals of supporting
the Mesa programming system and allowing significant
code size reduction. Key to this success is that the
architecture has evolved in conjunction with the language
and the operating system, and that the hardware
architecture has been driven by the software architecture,
rather than the other way around.
The Mesa architecture has been implemented on several
machines ranging from the Alto [6] to the Dorado [3], and
is the basis of the Xerox 8000 series products and the
Xerox 5700 electronic printing system. The ability to
transport almost all Mesa software (i.e. all except unusual
1/0 device drivers) among these machines while retaining
the advantages of the semantic match between the
language and the architecture has been invaluable. The
code size reduction over conventional architectures (which
averages about a factor of two) has allowed considerable
shoehorning of software function into relatively small
machines.

Acknowledgments
The first version of the Mesa architecture was designed
and implemented by the Computer Science Laboratory of
the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Butler Lampson was
responsible for much of the overall design and many of
the encoding tricks. Subsequent development and
maintenance have been done by the Systems Development
Department of the Office Products Division. Chuck
Geschke, Richard Johnsson, Butler Lampson, Roy Levin,
Jim Mitchell. Dave Redell. Jim Sandman, Ed
Satterthwaite. Dick Sweet, Chuck Thacker. and John Wick
have all made major technical contributions.

234

References
[I] Lampson, B., Mitchell, J., and Satterthwaite, E. On the
transfer of control between contexts. Lecture NOles in
Computer Science /9, (1974).

[2] Lampson, B. W. and Redell, D. D. Experience with
processes and monitors in Mesa. Comm. ACM 23, 2
(Feb. 1980). 105-117.
[3] Lampson, B. W. et. al. The Dorado: A highperformance personal computer-three papers; Tech.
Rep. CSL 81-1, Xerox Palo Alto Res. Ctr.• 1981.
[4] Mitchell, J. G., Maybury, W.• and Sweet, R. Mesa
Language Manual. Tech. Rep. CSL 79-3, Xerox Palo
Alto Res. Ctr., 1979.
[5] Sweet, R. E. and Sandman. J. G. Empirical Analysis of
the Mesa Instruction Set, ACM Symposium on
Architectural Support for Programming Languages &
Operating Systems, March 1982.

[6} Thacker. C.P. et. al. Alto: a personal computer, in
Computer Structures: Readings and Examples. Second
edition, Sieworek, Bell. and Newell, Eds.. McGrawHill, 1981. Also available as Tech. Rep. CSL 81-1,
Xerox Palo Alto Res. Ctr., 1981.

Empirical Analysis of the Mesa
Instruction Set
Richard E. Sweet
James G. Sandman, Jr.
Xerox Office Products Division
Palo Alto, California

1. Introduction
This paper describes recent work to refine the instruction
set of the Mesa processor. Mesa [8] is a high level systems
implementation language developed at Xerox PARC
during the middle 1970's. Typical systems written in Mesa
are large collections of programs running on single-user
machines. For this reason, a major design goal of the
project has been to generate compact object programs.
The computers that execute Mesa programs are
implementations of a stack architecture [5].
The
instructions of an object program are organized into a
stream of eight bit bytes. The exact complement of
instructions in the architecture has changed as the
language and machine micro architecture have evolved.
In Sections 3 and 4, we give a short history of the Mesa
instruction set and discuss the motivation for our most
recent analysis of it. In Section 5, we discuss the tools and
techniques used in this analysis. Section 6 shows the
results of this analysis as applied to a large sample of
approximately 2.5 million instruction bytes. Sections 7
and 8 give advice to others who might be contemplating
similar analyses.

2. Language Oriented Instruction Sets
There has been a recent trend toward tailoring computer
architecture to a given programming language.
Availability of machines with writeable control stores has
accelerated this trend. A recent Computer issue [2]
contains several general discussions of the subject.
There are at least two reasons for choosing a language
oriented architecture: space and time. We can get
Permission to copy without fee all or part of this material is granted
provided that the copies are not made or distributed for direct
commercial advantage, the ACM copyright notice and the title of the
publication and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by
permission of the Association for Computing Machinery. To copy
otherwise, or to republish, requires a fee and I or specific permission.

improved speed by assuring that operations done
frequently have efficient implementations. We can get
more compact object programs by using variable length
opcodes, assigning short opcodes to common operations.
The use of variable length encodings based on
probabilities is, of course, not new; see the classical papers
by Shannon[101and Huffman [4];
Both space and time optimizations rely on knowledge of
the statistical properties of programs. Static statistics are
sufficient for code compaction, while dynamic statistics
help in the area of execution speed. As most of today's
computers have some sort of virtual memory, anything
that makes programs smaller tends to speed them up by
reducing the amount of swapping.
One of the first published empirical stuaies of
programming language usage was by Knuth [6]! where he
studied FORTRAN programs. Several other studies have
also been published, including [1], [121, and [141. Similar
studies have been made of Mesa programs before each
change in the instruction set.
Basing an instruction set on statistical properties of
programs leads to an asymmetric instruction set. For
example, variables are read more often than they are
assigned, !9 it makes sense to have more short load
instructions than short store ones; certain short jump
distances are more common than others, so variable length
jump instructions can malee address assignment a rather
complicated operation. There is a misconception held by
some that a language oriented architecture is one in which
the compiler's code generators have a very easy task.
Quite the contrary, in a production environment, we are
willing to put considerable complexity into code
generation in order to generate compact object programs.
There are trade-offs between code compaction and
processor complexity. Encoding techniques such as
variable bit length opcodes and conditional encoding add
to the amount of microcode or hardware needed, and slow
down decoding. The Mesa machines use a fIXed size
opcod~ (eight bits), and have instructions with zero, one,

235

or two data bytes.
A similar architecture was
independently proposed by Tanenbaum [121.
The paper by Johnsson and Wick [5] describes the current
Mesa architecture.

3. History of the Mesa Instruction Set
Each machine that runs Mesa provides a microcoded
implementation of the Mesa architecture. Machines have
spanned more than an order of magnitude in proce~g
power, from the Alto [13] to the Dorado [7], with several
machines in between. All have a 16 bit word size.
The overall concepts of the Mesa architecture have not
changed since 1974, but the exact complement of
instructions has changed several times. New language
features. such as a larger address space, have required new
instructions. New insights into the usage of these language
features have allowed more compact encoding of common
operations.
The first implementation of Mesa was done in 1974 for the
Alto. Peter Deutsch's experience with Byte LISP [3] had
shown the feasibility of a byte code interpreter to run on
the Alto. A stack architecture was chosen to allow
"addressless" instructions. Decisions on stack size and
procedure parameter passing, etc. were partially based on
statistics gathered on programs written in MPL, a
precursor to Mesa that ran on Tenex (and partially forced
by the limitations of the Alto hardware). The MPL study
is described briefly in Sweet's thesis [11 I.
In 1976, a reasonable body of Mesa code existed and was
analyzed. A study of source programs is described in [11].
There was also a study of the object code. These analyses
lead to small changes in the instruction set; in particular to
some two byte instructions where the second (operand)
byte was divided into two four-bit fields.
It soon became clear that the small 16 bit address space of
the original Alto implementation was 100 restrictive.
There were several proposals for adding virtual memory to
the Alto, but they were rejected in favor of designing a
new machine whose microarchitec(ure was better suited
for Mesa emulation. In 1978, we had a machine with
virtual memory, and the type LONG POINTER (32 bits) was
added to the language.
This, of cours~, required
instructions for dealing with the new pointers: loading,
storing, dereferencing, etc. At the same time, 32 bit
arithmetic was also added to the language (and Mesa
architecture).

4. Experimental Sample
Today, Mesa has reached a significant level of maturity.
Our programmers are working in a development
e"lvir(lnment writt~n completel v in Mesa; there are

236

products in the field. such as the Xerox 8000 series.
including the Star workstation. that are programmed
entirely in Mesa. These are large programs that make
extensive use of the virtual memory. Since the LONG
POINTER instructions were added to the architecture before
we had any body of code using long pointers to analyze.
we were sure that lllere was room for improvement in
their encoding. We did not have the resources at this time
to completely redesign the instruction set, but we decided
that it was_worth our while to see if small changes to the
instruction set could lead to more compact object
programs.
We started with a sample of programs that was
representatiNe of all software running under Pilot [91, the
Mesa operating system. We had to decide whether to
analyze the source code or the object code generated by
the then current compiler. We chose to do both, but this
paper deals primarily with the object code analysis.
Some changes, such as increasing the stack depth. or
adding new instructions for record construction, have
significant effects on the code generating strategy in the
compiler. These were studied by instrumenting the
compiler or producing a new compiler that generated the
expanded instruction set.
Most anticipated instruction set changes were sufficiently
similar to the existing set that observing patterns in object
code was a workable plan. This certainly included
decisions about the proper mix of one, two, and three byte
instructions for a given function. In fact. the compiler
waits until the very last phase of code generation, the
peephole optimizer. to choose the exact opcodes. This
concentrates knowledge of the exact instruction set in a
single place in the compiler.

5. Experimental Plan
The general plan of attack was as follows:
1. Normalize the object code.
We converted the existing object code into a
canonical form. This included breaking the code
into straight line sequences, and undoing most
peephole optimizations. The sample resulted in 2.5
million bytes of normalized instructions.
2. Collect statistics by pattern matching.
Patterns took two general forms: compiled in
patterns that looked at things like operator pair
frequencies. and interactive patterns, where the user
could type in a pattern and have the data base
searched for that pattern.
3. Propose new instructions.
Based upon the statistics gathered in step 2, we
proposed new instructions.

4. Convert to new opcodes by peephole optimization.
We wrote a general framework for peephole
optimization that read and wrote files in a format
compatible with the pattern matching utilities. This
allowed us to write procedures that would convert
sequences of simple instructions into new fancier
instructions.

5. Repeat steps 2 through 4.
While the statistics from step 2 tell us how many of
each new instruction we will get in step 4, the
ability to partially convert the data file was helpful
for questions of the form "What local variables are
we loading when the load is not folded into another
instruction?"
N ol1'l7l1liZlltiOfl

The version of the Mesa instruction set under analysis
used 240 of the possible 256 byte values. Moreover, many
of the instructions are single byte encodings of what is
logically an operation and an operand value, e.g. "Load
Local 6" or "Jump S." Other instructions replace two or
three instruction sequences that are sufficiently common to
warrant a more compact encoding. To simplify analysis,
all code sequences were transformed into semantically
equivalent seql'ences ')f a subset of the instructions,
comprising slightly over 100 opcode values.
1. Expand out imbedded operand values.
All instructions with embedded operand values
were replaced by a corresponding two or three byte
instructions where the operand is given explicitly.
For example "Jump S", a single byte epcode was
replaced by the three byte sequence: the "Jump
word" opcode. and a two byte operand with a value
of 8.
2. Break apart multi-operation opcodes.
Most complicated instructions were replaced by
sequences of equivalent simpler instructions. For
example. "Jump Not Zero" was replaced by the
sequence "Load 0," "Jump Not Equal." Notable
exceptions were the "Doubleword" instructions.
These could often have been replaced by two single
word instructions. but a major thrust of this analysis
was finding out how doublewords were used in the
language.
The procedure Lhat did the nomialization first made a pass
over the code to fmd the targets of all jumps. These were
then sorted so that the normalizing procedure could put a
marker byte in the output ftie between each sequence of
straight line code.
The analysis software was written so that the normalization
routine could run as a coroutine with any of the pattern

matchers, converting object files to a stream of normalized
bytes. While not a. complete waste of effort. this option
was not used when the mass of data became large. The
normal mode of operation was to convert a related set of
object programs to a single output file, and then use that
data file, or a collection of such files, as the input to
pattern matching and peephole optimization.
When working. with large amounts of data, you should
plr.n fOi expansio.l. Consider the format of t:le codf.
sequence data file. The normalization step reduces the
opcodes to a set· with approximately a hundred members.
On the other hand, the peephole optimization (step 3
above) adds new opcodes. In fact, before we were done
we had more than 256 logical opcodes (some of them
became two or three byte sequences in the resulting
instruction set using an escape sequence). As we desired
to have the output of peephole acceptable to the pattern
matchers, we used two bytes for each operation "byte" of
the stream.

Pattern Matching
The collected files of normalized instructions may now be
used to answer questions about language usage. One
obvious question is "How many of each opcode do I
have?" It is easy to write a routine that reads the data file
and counts the opcodes. This was one of a class of generic
patterns that we ran on our data file. The set of generic
patterns waxed and waned throughout the several months
of analysis, but at the end, we found the following patterns
most interesting:
1. Static opcode frequency.
Count the number of occurrences of each opcode.

2. Operands values.
For each opcode, get a histogram of operand
values.
3. Opcode successors.
For each opcode. get a histogram of the set of next
opcodes in the code sequences.
4. Opcode predecessors.
For each opcode, get a histogram of the set of
previous opcodes in the code sequences.
5. Popular opcode pairs.
Consider the set of all pairs of adjacent opcodes;
sort them by frequency.
The reader will doubtless observe that patterns 3, 4, and 5
'Ill report the same information. Patterns 3 and 4 are
valuable because, even when the frequency of an opcode
pair is not especially high, the conditional probability of
one based on the other might be high. Additionally, all

237

three pattePlS provide information that can suggest
additional areas of study, as described below.
We also wrote patterns for finding popular triples, and in
fact popul!f n-tuples, where the search space is seeded
with allowed (n-l)-tuple initial strings. These weren't as
interesting as we had suspected: we got mountains of ntuples that occurred only a few times, and we tended to
ruJ} out of storage. Looking at pairs, along with a
knowledge of the language and the compiler's code
generation strategies, allowed us to generate patterns that
gave us statistics on most interesting multibyte constructs.

User Specified Patterns
For matching of longer patterns, or answering specific
questions about instruction use, we preferred not to have
to recompile the matching program for every new pattern.
We therefore wrote an interactive program where the user
typed in a pattern which was parsed, and then matched
against the data base. A pattern was a sequence of
instructions: each instruction consisted of an operator and
its operands. The operator/operands could be given
explicitly in the pattern, or a certain amount of "wild
carding'~ was allowed. For wild card slots, we provided
the option of collecting statistics on the actual values.
Consider the pattern: LLB • IN [0 .. 16), RB $. The
instruction LLB is a two byte "load local variable"
instruction where the second byte gives the offset of the
variable in the frame (procedure activation record).
Similarly, RB says "dereference the pointer on the stack,
ajding the offset ~ecified by the o!)ermd byte." This
pattern finds all occurrences of LLB followed by RB where
one of the first sixteen local variables is a pointer being
loaded. The $ is a wild card match like the ., except it
tells the pattern matcher to gather statistics on the actual
operand values for the RB instructions. The output of the
pattern matcher looked something like this:
Total data: 1289310 inst, 2653970 bytes
LLB • IN [0 .. 16). RB $
value

count

0
1

7575
3638
2838
1700
1291
823
746
577
344
328
315
283
277

2
3
4
5
6
7
13
15
10
11

14
12

'62

Peephole Optimizer
Based on the statistics gathered by pattern matching, we
proposed some new instructions. Some of these new
instructions were single byte opcodes that encoded a
common operand value of what was logically a two or
three byte operation: other new instructions were
combinations of operations thal occurred frequently in
code sequences.
Decisions about the two types of instructions were
interrelated. The question "How many single byte 'load
local' instructions should we have" is best answered by
looking at the load local statistics after any loads· have been
combined into fancier instructions.
We solved this
problem by writing a peephole optimizer to convert
normalized code sequences into sequences of new
instructions. This simplified the patterns needed for
decisions and also allowed us to look for patterns involving
the new instructions. The actual peephole conversion was
done by straightforward case analysis, but the framework
that it wasDuilt upon is worthy of some discussion.
There are several problems with operating directly on the
data files. Variable length instructions cannot be read
backward, and some instructions have two operand bytes
that are logically a single sixteen bit operand. For this
reason, the file reading procedure produced fixed sized
Mesa records containing the opcode and an array of
parameters, correctly decoding multibyte operands. These
were maintained in an array as shown in the figure below.

-2

-1

0

+1

+2

r-

o~fpD ... j _...t..----I_--L.I_-'-----'__ i~g:;;
L.

total: 22813

+

New code here

"

33.20
15.94
12.44
7.45
5.66
3.60
3.27
2.52
1.50
1.43
1.38
1.24
1.21
1.10

cum."
33.20
49.15
61. 59
69.04
74.70
78.31
81. 58
84.10
85.61
87.05
88.43
B9.67
90.89
91.99

Figure 1. Sample Pattern Matcher Output

238

These data tell us that the vast majority of ottsets are
small. If the first "." had been a "$", statistics would have
been eollected on which local variable was loaded as well.
The statistics for this field are even more skewed-over
90% of the matches are for locals at offset 0, I, or 2.

Figure 2. Peephole Optimization Framework
The optimizing procedures typically dealt with tht element
at index 0, based upon previou,s instructions (- I) and
following instructions (+ I). The range of index values
depends on how much history is required in the peephole
procedure. For all of our routines, a range from - 5 to
+ 3 was more than adequate. The framework provided
the following operations:
1. Delete i.
Any instruction not already written to the output
may be deleted

2. Output new code.
New instructions may be generated; they are
buffered 'Jntil the next ~ift, but will appear ju~ to
the right of index O.
3. Shift left.
The first new output. or the element at + 1, is
moved to index O. Deleted cells are compacted
The buffered new code is moved into the array,
possibly pushing some of the previous + i elements
into a buffer at the right. Any instruction forced
out the left is written to the output file. In the case
of no change, this reduces to a write, a block
transfer in memory, and a read; in the general case,
the operation can be rather complicated.
One useful feature of the framework was a display facility
that showed the entire array on the screen, with the
instruction given as a mnemonic and the parameter array
shown only to the extent that the given instruction had
parameters. We had several stepping modes, allowing us
to see the instructions streaming by. or allowing us to stop
and display only when an optimization was to take place.

6. Results
There is certainly not room in this paper to show the
cotnplete results of our analysis. Instead, we will show
some of the generally interesting results, and go into
considerable detail for one class of jump instructions.

Statistics o/the Normalized Instruction Data
Table 1 shows the most frequently occurring elements of
the original normalized instruction set. together with their
~tistics.

Op

count

208924
LL 156848
SL
81270
REC 64145
LLD 62950
EFC 55982
J
50726
R
42328
SLD 37747
LA
29205
ADD 28987
JNE
25499
RET 24176
JE
23335
LG
21594
LFC 21450
DADO 211652
LGD 17895
LLK 18193
LI

%

cum. %

16.90
12.68
6.57
5.18
5.09
4.52
4.10
3.42
3.05
2.36
2.34
2.06
1.95
1.88
1.74
1. 73
1.67
1.44
1.31

16.90
29.59
36.16
41.35
46.44
50.97
55.08
58.50
61.56
83.92
66.26
68.33
70.28
72.17
73.92
75.85
77.32
78.77
80.08

Load immediate
Load local variable
Store local variable
Recover previous top of stack
Load local doubleword
E"ternal function call
Unconditional jump
Dereference pointer on stack
Store local doubleword
Address oflocal variable
Add top two words of stack
Jump not equal
Return
Jump equal
Load global variable
Local function call
Doubleword add
Load global doubleword
Load link

Table 1. Frequency of normalized instructions

Table 1 contains some interesting data about language
usage. Note that the local variables of procedures are
loaded twice as often as they are stored. Doubleword (32
bit) variables are loaded and stored almost half as often as
single word ones. Over 6% of the instructions were
procedure calls (EFC+LFC), and there were statically three
times as many procedure calls as returns. Knowing that
the compiler generates a single return from a procedure to
facilitate setting breakpoints, we can conclude that
procedures are called from an average of three places.
Almost 17% of the instructions load constants (U). Table
2 shows the most popular constants. Bear in mind that
some of the loads of constants go away when then are
combined into fancier instructions. as we will see in the
section on conditional jumps.

Value

count

0
1
2
3
4
-1
5
6
8

98652
29546
8901
7094
5895
5553
3411
3198
2220
2037
1853
1841

13

9
7

%
45.83
14.01
4.22
3.36
2.79
2.63
1. 61
1. 51
1. 05
0.96
0.87
0.87

cum. %
45.83
59.84
64.06
67.42
70.22
72.85
74.47
75.99
77.04
78.01
78.88
79.76

Table 2. Distribution of values for load immediate
instructions
The distribution of local variables loaded is shown in
Table 3. The reader should be aware that the compiler
sorts the local variables by static usage before assigning
addresses in the local frame.

Offset count
0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

63152
23.151
15125
10116
7886
5837
4323
3754
2718
2096

%

cum. %

40.29
14.77
9.65
6.45
5.03
3.72
2.75
2.39
1. 73
1.33

40.29
55.07
64.72
71.17
76.21
79.93
82.69
85.08
86.82
88.16

Table 3. Distribution of offsets of local variables loaded

Analysis o/Conditional Jumps
We observe from Table 1 that approximately 4% of the
instructions are testing the top two elements of the stack
for equality (JE or JNE). It is instructive to describe in
some detail the steps that we took in deciding upon what
specific instructions to generate for the "Jump Not Equal"
class of instructions (JNE).

239

In Tanenbaum's proposed architecture [ll), he allocates 20
one byte instructions and one two byte instruction to each
of "Jump Not Equal" and "Jump Not Zero." We would
rather not use this much of our opcode space. We looked
to see if some of the conditional jumps could be combined
with other operations.
From the predecessor data, we observed that 84.7% of the
JNE instructions are preceded by a load immediate. We
next wrote a pattern that gave a distribution of the values
being tested against. Table 4 shows the most frequent
values.
Value

count

0
1
3
2
4
5
6
7
-1
15

11792
2181
1441
1032
390
314
238
232
220
198

%
54.07
10.00
6.60
4.73
1. 78
1. 43
1. 09
1. 06
1. 00
0.90

cum %
54.07
64.07
70.68
75.41
77.20
78.64
79.73
80.80
81. 81
82.72

Table 4. Constants loaded before Jump Not Equal
instructions
It comes as no surprise that 0 is the most common value,
since 1% of the pre-normalization instructions were "Jump
Not Zero, ~ and they were normalized to the sequence LI
0, JNE. We clearly needed to put back in at least the two
byte version of this instruction, "Jump Not Zero B}1e"
(JNZB), where the operand byte specifies the jump
distance. The frequency of other small constants lead us
to propose a new instrucion: "Jump Not Equal Pair," a
two byte instruction where the operand byte is treated as
two four bit fields, one a constant. and the other a jump
distance. Since jump distances are measured from the first
byte of a multibyte instruction, the first reasonable value
to jump is 3 bytes-jump over a single byte. When we
looked at the jump distances for 'JNE, however, we saw
that 3 byte jumps occur very seldom, and that 5 bytes is
the winner, followed by 4 bytes. For this reason, we
biased our distances by 4.
By using the data byte to hold a constant between 0 and
15, and a jump distance between 4 and 19, we found 4464
opponunities for the new JNEP instruction. This did not
count the situations where the constant value was 0, since
they could be encoded by the equally shon JNZB
instruction.
After the JNZB and JNEP instructions are removed from
JNE statistics, there are still over 5000 cases of LI *, JNE
left. In these, either the constant value or the jump
distance was out of range. We decided to include a "Jump
Not Equal Byte Byte" instruction-one with two operand

240

bytes: a value for comparison, and a signed jump distance.
This took care of most of the remaining cases.
Now it was time to look at the operands of the remaining
JNEB instructions to see if we should have anyone byte
JNE instructions. The distribution was fairly flat, with the
most frequent occurring around ..50 times. For this
reason, we declined to include single byte JNE
instructions.
We also looked at the operands of the JNZB instructions.
There were two values, 4 and 5, that were frequent enough
to warrant single byte instructions.
We added the
instructions JNZ3 and JNZ4 (remembering that thelump
distance counts from the first byte of the instruction).
In summary, our Not Equal testing is now supponed by
the following instructions:
bytes count % of JNE
JNEB
2
4501
18
Jump Not Equal Byte (all byte jumps are signed bytes)

Opcode

JNZB
2
8878
Jump Non-Zero Byte'

35

JNEP
2
4464
17
Jump Not Equal Pair (value in [0..15). dist in [4 .. 19])
JNEBB
3
4742
19
Jump Not Equal Byte Byte (value in [0.. 255), dist in [-128 ..127])
JNZ3
1
1029
Jump Non-Zero 3

4

JNZ4
1
1885
Jump Non-Zero 4.

7

Table 5. Jump Not Equal in the new instruction set
The then current opcode set under analysis had a two byte
JNZB instruction, a two byte JNEB instruction and eight
single byte J NE instructions. The new instruction set has
no single byte J NE instructions; most of them occurred in
situations where we could combine the jump with the
preceding instruction into a new two byte jump. The
overall net .change was a 13% decrease in code bytes used
for not-equal testing compared to the previous instruction
set, even though there are four fewer J NE instructions.
Statistics a/the Final Instruction Set
From information theory. we know that the best encoding
would haye all single byte opcodes equally probable.
While we do not meet this ideal. the distribution of opcode
frequencies is a lot flatter than that of the normalized set.
Table 6 shows the most frequently occurring instructions
in the new instruction set Note that of the twenty-two
instructions shown in Table 6, fourteen are straightforward
single operation opcodes with any operand values given
explicitly as additional bytes, six are single byte
instructions where operand values are encoded in the
opcode, and two are compound operations combined into
a single opcode.

Opcode

COUnI

%

LIO

46956

4.57

Load immediate 0

LLO

35242

3.43

J8

25587

2.49

Load local 0

Jump byte-a relathe. signed byte distance

RET

24256

2.36

19944

1.94

Return

LI8

Load immediate byte-operand is literal I'alue
LLl
18951
1. 84
Load local 1

EFCB

17074

1.66

LAB

. 16706

1.62

LII

16244

1.58

REC

15929

1.55

SLB

13977

1.36

JZB

13618

1.32

LLoO

13553

1.32

LLB

13269

1.29

13132
Load local 2
ADD
12435

1.27

SLOB

12400

1.20

LLo8

11222

1.09

LIW

11205

1.09

JW

10322

1.00

LLK8

10306

1.00

RLIP

9691

0.94

External function call byte-operand specifies a link number
Local address byte-load address of a local variable

l.oad immediate 1

Recover yalue just popped from stack

Store local byte-operand is offset in frame
Jump zero byte-pop stack, jump if I'alue = 0
Load local doubleword 0
Load local byte-operand is offset in frame

LL2

1.21

Add-adds the top two elements of the stack

Store local doubleword byte-operand is offset in frame of
first word
Load local doubleword byte-operand is offset in frame of
first word

Load immediate word-next two bytes are a 16 bit literal

Jump word-next tWO bytes are a 16 bit relatil'e jump
distance
Load link byte-operand specifies link number

Read local indirect pair-operand has four bits to specify
local yariable pointer. four bits to specify offset of word
relatil'e to that pointer.

Table 6.

Most frequent instruction of the new set

It is interesting to compare the contents of Tables 1, 2. and
3 with that of Table 6. We see that over half of the LI 0
instructions have been folded into new instructions.
Eighty percent of the LL instructions are either encoded as
single byte instructions such as LLO. or folded into more
complicated instructions such as RLIP. Several of the
most common instructions are load immediate ones (L I *).
In fact, the complete frequency data show that almost 13%
of all new instructions are some form of load immediate.
The most frequent instruction. weighted by instruction
size. is JB, a two byte unconditional jump. The most
frequent conditional jump is a test against zero. JZB;
many of these arise from tests of Boolean variables. Table
7 shows the set of one and two byte load and store local
instructions of the new instruction set

J..ol\d instructions-push local variable O'lto stack.
bytes
total
%
LLn.forn=0.1.2.3.4.
1
103402 10.1
5,6.7.8.9.10.11
LLB
LLon,mrn=O,l.2.3.4.
5.6.7.8.9
LLOB

1.3

2
1

13269
39989

3.9

2

11222

1.1'

Store instructions-pop from stack into local variable.
44598 4.3
1
SLn. forn=0.1.2.3.4.
5,B.7,B.9.10
SLB
SLon.mrn=0.1.2.3,4.
5,6.8
SLOB

2
1

13977
21829

1.4
2.1

2

12400

1.2

Put instructions-store from stack into local variable.
don·tpop.
10540 1.0
PLn.forn=O,I,Z
1
PLB
2
4195 0.4
PLon, for n=O
1
2350 0.2
PLoB
2
5238 0.5
Table 7. Distibution ofload and store local instructions
Variables outside the first 256 words of the frame are
loaded and stored so infrequently that the compiler first
generates their address on the stack and then uses the
pointer dereferencing instructions. We considered a three
byte "Load Local Word" instruction with a sixteen bit
offset. but found that "Local Address Word." which
loaded the address of a local variable. was more useful.
The compiler needs to generate the address of large
variables (larger than two words) in order to use the
';Block Transfer" instruction; if a variable is at a large
offset in the frame. it is probably a large variable as well.
We implemented fewer short instructions for storing local
variables than for loading them. Note in Table 6 that four
of the single byte load local instructions appear in the top
fifteen instructions. Table 7 says that the most frequently
referenced (and ht:nce the first in the frame) locals are
loaded over twice as often as stored. The variables that are
loaded with the two byte LLB are loaded and stored at
about the same frequency. The "put" instructions arise
primarily at statement boundaries where a variable is
stored in one statement and then immediately used in the
next; such situations are found by the peephole optimizer
of the compiler.

7. Analysis
The most useful patterns for finding sequences of
instructions to combine are succeessors. predecessors. and
popular pairs. A simple minded scheme for generating
instructions is to start down the list of popular pairs and
make a new instruction for each pair until the number of
occurrences of that pair reaches some threshold. Of

241

course, each new instruction potentially changes the
frequencies of all other pairs containing one of the
instructions.
Popular pairs will find many sequences but the data from
the successors and predecessors patterns should not be
overlooked.
For example, the WS (Write Swapped)
instruction writes a word in memory using a pointer and
value popped from the stack. The REC (Recover)
instruction recovers the value that was previously on the
stack; after a WS, it recovers the pointer. The successor
data showed that 91.4% of the WS instructions were
followed by a REC. These two instructions were combined
into the PS (Put S\\apped) instruction which left the
pointer on the stack. We could then eliminate the WS
instruction entirely and use the sequence PS, DIS
(Discard) the remaining 8.6% of the time.
It helps to know what the compiler does when analyzing
patterns. We were suprised to find no occurrences of the
pattern 1I 0, 1I O. We found them when we looked at
popular pairs-the compiler had changed that sequence
into l I 0, DUP (Duplicate). This sequence was one of the
more popular pairs, which lead us to include the new
instruction LIDO (Load Immediate Double Zero).
The pattern showing histograms of operand values is
useful for deciding when to fold an operand value into a
single byte opcode.
Remember that combining
instructions may change the operand distribution. For
example, the initial operand data for JNEB showed very
popular jump distances of 3 through 9 bytes. The original
instruction set had smgle oyte instructions for these jumps.
After the analysis, most of these short jumps had been
combined into the JNEP or JNEBB instructions. The
operand data obtained after peephole optimization did not
warrant putting the short JNE instructions back into the
instruction set

8.

Implementation Issues

One cannot blindly apply the statistical results of the
analysis to decide what instructions to have in the new
instruction set It is necessary to temper these data with
knowledge of the C';)mpiler, history and expected future
trends of language use, and details of the implementations
of the instruction set.
There are some operations that are needed in the machine,
even though they occur infrequently-the divide operation
is an example. Many sllch operations can be encoded as a
single opcode, ESC (Escape), followed by an operand byte
specifying the infrequently used operation. This makes
available more single byte opcodes for more frequently
occurring operations. Mathematically, it makes sense to
move any operation to ESC if the available opcode can
hold a new operation that gives a net savings in code size.

242

On the other hand, each new opcode adds complexity to
the implementation.
Suppose there are, two potential new instructions with the
same code size savings, one that combines two operations,
and the other that combines an operand value with an
operation. The latter often results in less complexity in the
implementation of the instn,lction set In particular, if you
already have a ll6 instruction, it typically takes only a
single microinstruction to add ll7.
There are many encoding tricks that can be used to save
space. Some of these can be decoded at virtually no cost,
others are more costly. In the analysis of JNE ab,ove, we
ended up with an instruction, JNEP, where the operand
byte was interpreted as two four bit fields, a literal value
and a jump distance. The jump distance was biased, i.e.
the microcode added 4 to the value before interpreting the
jump. The literal value, on the other hand was unbiased,
even though the compiler would not generate the
im:truction for one of the values. For one of the
microprocessors implem~nting the instruction set, biasing
the compared value would have significantly slowed down
the execution of the instruction.
In an integrated system such as Mesa, global issues must
be considered when making instruction set decisions. For
example, many procedures return a value of zero. The
statistics showed that an opcode that loads zero and
returns would be cost effective. However, the source level
debugger takes advantage of the fact that a procedure has
a single RET instruction when setting exit breakpoints (all
of the procedure's returns jump to this RET). We were
unwilling at this time to add the complexity to the
debugger of finding all possible return instructions (R ET
and the new RETZ) in order to set exit breakpoints.
Therefore we declined to add this new instruction.
Finallv be careful when analyzing data obtained about an
system. Be awar~ that some common code
sequences reflect attempts by older programs to cope with
restrictions that are no longer in the architecture. For
example, programs written to live in a small address space
use different algorithms than those written to live in a
large address space.

evol\'i~~

9. Conclusions
We began our analysis with limited goals: we had a short
time in which to make recommendations about changes to
the instruction set, we were generally happy with the old
instruction set, and we didn't have the resources to handle
the necessary rewriting of microcode and compiler that a
massive change in the instruction set would require.
Our experience showed that our chosen method, analysis
of existing object code, was a workable approach to the
problem. Normalization of the code to a canonical form

proved valuable for simplifying the subsequent pattern
matching used.
We found that simple minded analysis of n-tuples becomes
unworkable for n>2, but that informed study of opcode
pairS allowed us to postulate longer patterns for study. An
int~racti"e pattern matching progMlD was valu!lble for
answering questions about longer patterns.
Our analysis predicted an overall reduction in code. size of
12%. We converted the compiler to generate the new
instructions and realized the. expected savings on a large
sample of programs.

[9]

Redell, David D. et. al., "Pilot: An Operating
System for a Personal Computer," Communications
of the ACM, vol. 23. pp. 81-92, 1980.

(10)

Shannon. C. E.. "A ~athematical Theory of
Communication:' Bell System Technical Journal.
vol 27. pp. 379-423. 623-656. 1948.

[11]

Sweet. Richard E., Empirical Estimates of Program
Entropy. CSL-78-3. Xerox Palo Alto Research
Center, Palo Alto, California, 1978.

[12]

Tanenbaum, Andrew S.,
"Implications of
Structured
Programming
for
~achine
Architecture," Communications of the ACM, vol. 31,
pp. 237-246. 1978.

[13]

Thacker. C: P. et. al.. "Alto: A personal computer."
in Computer Structures: Readings and Examples,
Second edition, Sieworek, Bell and Newell. Eds.,
McGraw-Hill. 1981. Also in Technical Report
CSL-79-11, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. 1979.

[14]

Wade, James F.• and Stigall, Paul D., "Instruction
Design to Minimize Program Size," Proceedings of
the Second Annual Symposium on Computer
Architecture, pp. 41-44, 1975.

10. Acknowledgments
The first opcode analysis of Mesa was done by Chuck
Geschke, Richard Johnsson, Butler Lampson, and Dick
Sweet Loretta Guarino Reid helped to develop the
current analysis tools, and LeRoy Nelson helped to
produce the program sample. The analyses were run on a
Dorado, whose processing power was invaluable for
handling the large amount of data that we had.

Bibliography
[1]

Alexander, W. G .. and Wortman, D. B., "Static
and Dynamic Characteristics of XPL Programs,"
Computer, vol 8. pp. 41-46, 1975.

[2]

Chu, Yaohan, ed.• Special issue on Higher-Level
Architecture, Computer, vol. 14, no. 7. July 1981.

[3]

Deutsch, L. Peter, "A LiSp machine with very
Compact Programs,"
Third International Joint
Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Stanford
University, 1973.

[4]

Huffman, D. A., "A Method for the Construction
of Minimum Redundancy Codes," Proceedings of
the IRE. vol 40, pp. 1098-1101, September, 1952

[5]

Johnsson, Richard K., and Wick, John D.,. "An
Overview of the Mesa Processor Architecture,"
Symposium on Architectural Support for Prog. Lang.
and Operating Sys., Palo Alto, Mar. 1982.

[6]

Knuth, Donald E..
"An Empirical Study of
Programs," Software-Practice and
Experience, vol. I, pp. 105-133, 1')71

FORTRAN

[7]

Lampson, Butler W. et. al., The Dorado; A HighPerformance Personal Computer-Three papers.
CSL-81-1, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Palo
Alto, California. 1981.

[8]

Mitchell, James G., Maybury, William, and Sweet,
Richard E., Mesa Language ManuaL Version 5.0.
CSL-79-3, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Palo
Alto, California. 1979.

243

244

Pilot: A Software Engineering Case Study
Thomas R. Horsley and William C. Lynch

Xerox Corporation, Palo Alto, California
Abstract
Pilot is an operating system implemented in the strongly
typed language Mesa and prod \Iced in an environment
containing a number of sophisticated software engineering
and development tools. We report here on the strengths
and deficiencies of these tools and techniques as observed
in the Pilot project. We report on the ways that these tools
have allowed a division of labor among several
programming teams. and we examine the problems
introduced within each different kind of development
programming activity (ie. source editing. compiling.
binding. integration. and testing).

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to describe our experiences in
implementing an operating system called Pilot using a software
engineering suppon system based on the serongly typed language
Mesa [Geschke et al. 1977. Mitchell et al. 1978). a distributed
netw?rk of personal computers [Metcalfe et al. 1976). and a filing
and mdexmg system on that network designed to coordinate the
activities of a score or more of programmers. In .this paper we will
prese~t. a broad overview of our experience with this project. briefly
descnhmg our successes and the next layer of problems and issues
engendered by this approach. Most of these new problems will not
be given a comprehensive discussion in this paper. as they are
interesting and challenging enough to deserve separate treatment
That the Mesa system. coupled with our mode of usage. enabled us
to solve the organizational and communication problems usually
associated with a development team of a score of people. These
facilities allowed us to give stable and non-interactive direction to
the several sub-teams.
We developed and used a technique of incremental integration
which a\"oids the difficulties and schedule risk usuallv associated
with system integration and testing.
.
~e ~se of a Program Secretary. not unlike Harlan Mills' program
h.bra~an. proved to be quite valuable. particularly in dealing with

SItuations where our tools had weaknesses. We showed the worth
of the program librarian tool. which helped coordinate the
substantial parallel activity we sustained: and we identified the need
for so.me. additional tools. panicularly tools for scheduling consistent
compilations and for controlling incremental in~grations.
We determined that these additional tools require an integrated
data base wherein consistent and correct information about the
system as a whole can be found.

Background
Pilot is a medium-sized operating system designed and implemented
as a usable tool rather than as an object lesson in operating system
design. Its construction was subjected to the fiscal. schedule. and
performance pressures normally associated with an industrial
~nterprise.

Pilot is implemented in Mesa, a modular programming system. As
reponed in [Mitchell et al. 1978). Mesa supports both definitions
and implementing modules (see below). Pilot is comprised of some
92 definitions modules and 79 implementation modules. with an
average module size of approximately 300 lines.
Pilot consists of tens of thousands of Mesa source lines: it was
implemented and released in a few months. The team responsible
for the development of Pilot necessarily consisted of a score of
people. of which at least a dozen contributed Mesa code to the final
result The coordination of four separately managed sub, teams was
required.
There are a number of innovative features in Pilot. and it employs
some interesting operating system technology.
However. the
structure of Pilot is not particularly relevant here and wi\1 be
reponed in a series of papers to come [Redell et al. 1979).
[Lampson et al. 1979).

Deyelopment Environment and Tools
The hardware system supporting the development em'ironment is
based on the Alto. a personal interactive computer [Lampson 1979).
[Boggs. et aJ. 1979]. Each developer has his own personal machine.
leading to a potentially large amount of concurrent development
activity and the potential for a great degree of concurrent
development difficulty.
These personal computerS are linked
together by means of an Ethernet multi-access communication
system [Metcalfe e( al. 1976). As the Altos .have limited disk
storage. a tile server machine with hundreds of megabytes of
storage is also connected to the communications facility. Likewise.
high-speed printers are locally available via the same mechanism.
The accessing. indexing. and bookkeeping of the large number of
files in the project is a serious problem (see below). To deal with
this, a tile indexing facility (librarian) is also available through the
communications system..
The Alto supports a number of significant wideranging software
tools (of which the Mesa system is just one) developed over a
period of years by various contributors. As one might imagine. the
level of integration of these tools is less than perfect, which led to a
number of diffICulties and deficiencies in the Pilot project Many
of these tools were constructed as separate. almost stand-alone
systems.

245

The major software tools which we employed are described below.

The Pilot Configuralion Tree

Mesa is a modular programming language [Geschke et al. 1977].
The Mesa system consists of a compiler for the language, a Mesa
binder for connecting the separately compiled modules. and an
interactive debugger for debugging the Mesa programs. Optionally.
a sin of procedures called the Mesa run-time may be used as a base
upon which to build experimental systems.

We organized Pilot into a tree of configurations isomorphic to the
c9rresponding people tree of teams and sub-teams. The nodes of
the Pilot tree are C/Mesa configuration descriptions and the leaves
(at the boltom of the tree) are Mesa implementation modules. By
strictly controlling the scope (see below) of interfaces (through use
of the facilities of the configuration language C/Mesa), different
branches of the tree were developed independently.
The
configuration tree was three to four layers deep everywhere. The
top level configuration implements Pilot itself. Each node of the
next level down maps to each of the major Pilot development
teams, and the next lower level to sub-teams. At the lowest level.
the modules themselves were usually the responsibility of one
person. This technique of dividing the labor in correspondence
with the configuration tree proved to be a viable management
technique and was supponed effectively by Mesa.

The.language defines twO types of modules: definitions modules and
implementation modules. Both of these are compiled into binary
(object) form. A definitions module de!oCribes an interface to a
function by providing a bundle of procedure and data declarations
which can be referenced by client programs (clients). Declarations
are fully type specified so that the compiler can carry out strong
type checking between clients and implementation modules. The
relevant type information is supplied to the clients (and checked
against the implementations) by reading the object modules which
resulted from previous compilation(s) of the relevent definitions
module(s). The implementing modules contain the procedural
description of one or more of the functions defined in some
definitions module. Since an implementing module can be seen
only through some definitions mOdule. a wide variety of
implementations andlor versions is possible without their being
functionally detectable by the clients. Thus Mesa enforces a form
of information hiding [Parnas, 1972].
The Mesa binder [Mitchell et al. 1978] defines another language.
called C/Mesa, which is capable of defining configurations. These
assemble a set of modules and/or sub-configurations into a new
conglomerate entity which has the characteristics of a single
module. Configurations may be nested and used to describe a tree
of modules. Configurations were used in the Pilot project as a
management tool to precisely define the resultant output of a
contributing development sub-team.
Another software tool is the Librarian. It is designed specifically to
index and track the history of the thousands of files created during
the project. In addition to its indexing. tracking. and Status
reporting functions. the Librarian is constructed to adjudicate the
frequent conflicts arising between programmers attempting to access
and update the same module.

Organization, Division, and Control of the Development Effort
The size of the Pilot development team (itself mandated. by
schedule considerations) posed the usual organizational and
management challenges.
With 20 developers, a multi-level
management structure was necessary despite the concomitant
human communication and coordination problems.
As described below. we chose to use the modularization power of
the Mesa system to address these problems. rather than primarily
providing the capability for rapid interface change as reported in
[Mitchell. 1978]. The resultant methodology worked well for the
We believe that this methodology will
larger Pilot team.
extrapolate to organizations at least another factor of five larger and
one management level deeper. A description and evaluation of this
methodology are the topics of this section.
Another aspect of our approach was the use of a single person
called the Program Secretary, a person not unlike the program
librarian described by Harlan Mills [Mills, 1970] in his chief
programmer team approach. As we shall describe, the Secretary
performed a number of functions which would have been very
diffICult to distribute in our environment. This person allowed us to
control and make tolerable a n\lmber of problems, described below.
which for lack of time or insight we were not able to solve directly.

246

Management Of IllIerfi;lces
It quickly became apparent that the scope of an interface was an
important concept. It is important because it measures the number
of development teams that might be impacted by a change to that
interface. The scope of an interface is defined as the least
configuration within which all clients of that interface are confined.
This configuration corresponds to the lowest C/Mesa source
module which does not expon the interface to a containing
configuration. Thus the scope of a module may be inferred from
the C/Mesa sources. The impact of a change to an interface is
confined to the development organization or team that corresponds
w the node which is the scope of the interface. Thus the scope
directly identifies the impacted organization and its suborganizations.
The higher the scope of an interface, the more rigorously it must be
(and was) controlled and the less frequently it Was altered since
changes to high scope interfaces impact broader organizations.
Changing a high level interface was a management de<.ision
requiring careful project planning and longer lead times, while a
lowest-level interface could be modified at the whim of the
(usually) individual developer responsible for it.
In general,
changing an interface required project planning at the
organizational level corresponding to its scope. In particular,
misunderstandings between development sub-teams about interface
specifications were identified early at design time rather than being
discovered late at system integration time. Also obviated were
dependencies of one team on another team's volatile
implementation details. The result of all of thi~ was 1) the
elimination of schedule slips during system integration by the
elimination of nasty interface incompatibility surprises and. even
stronger, 2) the reduction of system integration to a pro-forma
exercise by the (thus enabled) introduction of incremental
inlegration (see below).
[Mitchell 1978) reponed good success with changing Mesa interface
specifications. followed by corresponding revisions in the
implementing modules and a vinually bug-free re-integration.
While we also found this to be a valid and valuable technique for
low-level interfaces (the scope of which corresponded to a three-tofive-person development sub-team), the project planning required to
change high-level interfaces affecting the entire body of developers
was obviously much greater as was the requirement for stability of
such interfaces. It should be noted that the experience reported by
[Mitchell 1978] refers to a team of less than a half dozen
developers.
Thus, we chose to use the precise interface definition capabilities
and su-ollg type checking of the Mesa system differently for the
high-level interfaces than for the low-level ones.
High-level

interfaces were changed only very reluctantly. and were frozen
several weeks prior to system integration. This methodology served
to decouple one development team from another since each team
was assured that they would not be affected by the on going
implementation changes made by another developer. Each could
be dependent only on the shared definitions modules. and these
were controlled quite carefully and kept very stable [Lauer et al.

result is integrated with the current contents of the working
directory on the file server. and the changed modules are stored
back onto the working directory.

1976).

Consistellt Update Of Files

The Alaster List
As the system grew. it became painfully obvious that we had no
single master description of what constituted the System. Instead
we had a number of overlapping descriptions. each of which had to
be maintained independently.
One such description was the working: directory on the file server.
Its subdirectory structure was a representation of the Pilot tree.
Another description of this same tree was embodied in the librarian
data base which indexed the tile server. Yet another description
was implicit in the C/Mesa configuration tiles. Early in the project
we found it necessary to create a set of command tiles for
compiling and binding the system from source: these tiles contained
still another description of the Pilot tree.
The addition of a module implied manually updating each of these
related tiles and data bases; it was a tedious and error prone
process. In fact. not until the end of the project were all of these
descriptions made consistent
We never did effect a good solution to this problem. We dealt
with it in an ad hoc fashion by establishing a rudimentary data base
caUed the Master List. This data base was fundamental in the sense
that all other descriptions and enumerations were required to
conform to it A program was wrinen to generate from the Master
List some of the above tiles and some of the required data base
changes.
A proper solution to this problem requires merging the various lists
into a single. coherent data base. This implies that each tool take
direction from such a data base and properly update the data base.
Since many of the tools were constructed apan from such a system.
they would all require modification. Thus the implementation of a
coherent and effective data base is a large task in our environment
Incidentally. this problem was one of those controlled by our
Program Secretary. It is Quite clear what chaos would have resulted
if the updating of the numerous lists described above had not been
concentrated in the hands of a single developer.

Pilot Update Cycle
In this section we will examine some of the interesting software
engineering aspects of the inner loop of Pilot development. This
inner loop occurs after design is complete and after a skeletal
system is in place. The typical event consists of making a
coordinated set of changes or additions to a small number of
modules.
In our environment. a set of modules is fetched from the working
directory on the tile server to the disk on the developers personal
machine. Measures must be taken to ensure that no one changes
these modules without coordinating these modifications with the
other developers. UsuaU)' edits are made to the source modules:
the changed modules (and perhaps some others) are recompiled;
and a trial Pilot s)'stem is built by binding the new object modules
to older object modules and configurations. The resulting system is
then debugged and tested using the symbolic Mesa debugger and
test programs which have been fetched from the working directory.
When the system is operating again (usually a few days later). the

A number of interesting problems arise during this cyclic process:

Pilot has been implemented in the context of a distributed
computing network. The master copies of the Mesa source modules
an~ object modules for Pilot are kept in directories on a tile server
on the network. In order to make a coordinated batch of changes
to a set of Pilot source files. the developer transfers the current
copies of the tiles from the file server to his local disk. edits.
compiles. integrates. and tests them. and then copies them back to
the'" file server.
This simple process has a number or risks. T\\o developers could
try to change the same file simultaneously. A de\'eloper could
forget to fetch the source. and he would then be editing an old
copy on his local disk. He could fetch the correct source but forget
to write the updated version back to the file server.
All of these risks were addressed (after the project had begun) by
the intrOduction of the program librarian sen'er. This sen"er
indexes the files in the file sen'er and adjudicates access to them \'ia
a chedin/checkout mechanism, To guarantee consistency between
local and remote copies of tiles. it pro\'ides atomic operations for
"checkout and fetch the tile" and "check in and store the file", In
the latter case. it also deletes the tile from the local disk. thus
removing the possibility of changing it without having it checked
out (n,b, check-in is prevented unless the developer has the module
currently checked out).

Consistelll Compilation
Each Mesa object file is identified by its name and the time at
which it was created; it contains a list of the identifications of all
the other object modules used in its creation (e.g.. the definitions
module it is implementing), The Mesa compiler will not compile a
module in the presence of definitions modules which are not
consistent. nor will the the binder bind a set of inconsistent object
modules. Consistent is loosely defined to mean that. in the set of
all object modules referenced directl\' or indirectlv. there is no case
of more than one version of a particular object module, Each
recompilation of a source module generates a new version.
For example. module A may use definitions modules Band C. and
definitions module B may also refer to C. It can easily happen that
we compile B using the original compilation of C. then we edit the
source for <; "slightly" and recompile. and then we attempt to
compile A using C (the new version) and using B (which utilized
the original version of Cl. The compiler has no way of knowing
whether the "slight" edit has created compatibility problems. so it
"plays safe" and announces a consistency error.
~us. editing a source module implies that it recompile not only

Itself. but also all of those modules which include either a direct or
an indirect reference to iL Correctly determining the list of
modules to be Tel.:ompiled and an order in which they are to be
recompiled is the consistent compilalioll problem.
This "problem" is. in fact. not a problem at all but rather an aid
enabled by the strong type checking of Mesa. In previous systems
the developer made the decision as to whether an incompatibility
had been introduced by a "slight" change. Subtle errors due to the
indirect implications of the change often manifested themselves
only during system integration or system testing. With Mesa,
recompilation is forced via the Mesa systems aUditing and judging
the compatability of all such changes, thus eJiminltting this source
of subtle problems.

247

A consistent compilation order for a system (such as Pilot) having a
configuration tree can be determined largely by the following
analysis:
1) As a direct consequence of the consistency requirement, twO
modules cannot reference each other. nor can any other cyclical
dependencies exist: otherwise the set cannot be compiled. This
implies the existence of a well-defined order of compilation.
Pilot implementation modules may not refer to each other"but
must refer only to definitions modules. Therefore only those
implement