Foundations of Actor Semantics

Unknown author (1981-05-01)

The actor message-passing model of concurrent computation has inspired new ideas in the areas of knowledge-based systems, programming languages and their semantics, and computer systems architecture. The model itself grew out of computer languages such as Planner, Smalltalk, and Simula, and out of the use of continuations to interpret imperative constructs within A-calculus. The mathematical content of the model has been developed by Carl Hewitt, Irene Greif, Henry Baker, and Giuseppe Attardi. This thesis extends and unifies their work through the following observations. The ordering laws postulated by Hewitt and Baker can be proved using a notion of global time. The most general ordering laws are in fact equivalent to an axiom of realizability in global time. Independence results suggest that some notion of global time is essential to any model of concurrent computation. Since nondeterministic concurrency is more fundamental than deterministic sequential computation, there may be no need to take fixed points in the underlying domain of a power domain. Power domains built from incomplete domains can solve the problem of providing a fixed point semantics for a class of nondeterministic programming languages in which a fair merge can be written. The event diagrams of Greif's behavioral semantics, augmented by Baker's pending events, form an incomplete domain. Its power domain is the semantic domain in which programs written in actor-based languages are assigned meanings. This denotational semantics is compatible with behavioral semantics. The locality laws postulated by Hewitt and Baker may be proved for the semantics of an actor-based language. Altering the semantics slightly can falsify the locality laws. The locality laws thus constrain what counts as an actor semantics.