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Created Jan 30, 2019
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Linking Perl 6 Compiler and Programs


Currently, starting a Perl 6 programs means loading a shell script that starts a MoarVM, that loads the rakudo compiler (as bytecode) and libraries (also bytecode), before loading the user script and compiling that. This adds significantly to the startup time of perl6 programs, is fragile and nonportable (the paths of MoarVM and the rakudo compiler are hardcoded) and breaks tool support (for example, gdb perl6 foo.pl6 does not work). We want to make that better by making perl6 a direct executable, and if possible, user programs as well.

Expected outcomes

This project would have two main goals:

  • perl6 would be a single, self-contained executable, much like perl is. Thus running perf perl6, gdb perl6, valgrind perl6 should 'just work'.
  • perl6 --compile foo.pl6 would generate an executable that would be, to some reasonable degree, self-contained (for instance, could be copied to a docker container).


For MoarVM, there are several options to achieve this. One particularly interesting option is to package MoarVM bytecode in the ELF file format (on linux). This is similar to what guile scheme does and has numerous advantages:

  • ELF is well documented and has broad platform and toolchain support. (For instance, see the debug/elf package in the golang standard library). It may be possible to use the system linker.
  • ELF supports many useful features (for instance, it's possible to refer to an interpreter, avoiding the need to directly link the MoarVM executable)
  • Sections of the ELF file may be shareable between instances of the VM, reducing memory load. (This depends on the loading strategy).

A downside is that this would only work on linux/BSD etc, not on macOS or Windows. That is acceptable as a proof-of-concept.

There are certainly other options possible. For instance, another option that has been discussed it to compile the MoarVM bytecode for the rakudo compiler to a header and use that to compile a loader program in C. However, this would require the user to have a C compiler installed for perl6 --compile to work. (That may be an acceptable tradeoff).

Because this is a large and technically challenging project, a student is highly adviced to do some research and figure out what they feel confident in being able to deliver. Students are also encouraged to explore and propose other implementation options. Although this description been written with MoarVM in mind, students that would like to work on a solution for the JVM backend are also welcome to apply.

Required skills

A student is more likely to succeed having a good knowledge of C and a working knowledge of dynamic linking and loading.


medium/hard, depending on strategy

Possible mentors

Bart Wiegmans (, brrt on freenode

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