Representing Program Objects

Certain representations have been chosen for program objects that attempt to support efficient access to those objects during the execution of a program.

Attributes

The principal means of referring to an object in a program is by using an attribute, having this name because it is the representation of an attribute in classes, instances and modules. Each attribute can hold a reference to an object, known as the value, or other kinds of data:

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Although a value indicates a specific object of interest for an attribute, if the object is callable then additional context information may be required to call the object. Such context information is not stored in an attribute record but is instead obtained from the object itself, if appropriate.

Integer Representation

The intvalue member of the attribute structure is employed instead of the value member to store integer values. Since value normally holds a pointer, and since pointers are often aligned to certain address boundaries on many modern platforms (usually four-byte boundaries on 32-bit platforms, eight-byte boundaries on 64-bit platforms, two-byte boundaries on platforms with 16-bit addressing), the lowest significant bit (bit 0) will typically be zero for a valid pointer. Consequently, by setting bit 0 to 1, other data can be stored in the remaining bits and be distinguished from pointer information. Obviously, operations on attributes first need to test whether the value member or the intvalue member is in use by testing bit 0.

Thus, integers are transformed and stored directly within attributes, and they are therefore passed around by value. When an attribute of an integer needs to be accessed, the operation usually providing the value member, thus obtaining an instance under normal circumstances, instead provides the address of a common integer instance. This instance may then provide instance attributes, whose values will be the same for all integers, or class attributes through a reference to the integer (int) class.

Each method provided by int, when called, will be given the original attribute for which the method was obtained as its context. In such methods, operations on the context via self will either involve the propagation of the attribute to other functions or methods or attribute accesses on self, yielding common instance attributes or class attributes as already described. Only native functions will attempt to interpret the attribute in a different way, decoding the representation, performing arithmetic or logical operations, and encoding the result in a new attribute.

Contexts and Wrappers

The context of an object is of significance if that object is callable. For example, an instance may permit access to a method via an attribute. Since the method will be callable, and since the method is accessed via the instance, the context of that method will be the instance. In order to retain both context and value information, a wrapper may be created.

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The context is not always the accessor of the object - in this case, the instance - because the object may already be a wrapper with its own context.

Objects

Classes, instances and modules are objects, and all of these kinds of objects provide metadata describing the type of each object, together with a collection of attributes forming the contents of such objects.

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Classes are represented by structures whose members reference class attributes and class metadata (the class table), as well as incorporating invocation metadata (the __args__ and __fn__ special attributes).

Instances are represented by structures whose members reference instance attributes (including __class__ which indicates the class instantiated by a given instance) and instance metadata (the instance table), as well as incorporating invocation metadata (the __args__ and __fn__ special attributes).

Functions are instances of a general function type that does not permit additional, general instance attributes. However, function instance structures may have extra members corresponding to default parameter values. Access to such extra members is performed using the minimum and maximum values provided via __args__ and with knowledge of the number of declared instance attributes indicated by the instance table for the function type.

Modules are represented by structures whose members reference module attributes and module metadata (the module table).

Special Members

All object representations support the following special members describing the invocation properties of each object:

__args__ the minimum number of arguments supported in an invocation and a reference to the parameter table for the object
__fn__ a reference to a native function containing the actual code run when calling the object

Classes are invoked in order to create instances of each class (instantiation). Instances may support invocation by providing a __call__ method. Functions are supported by instances of a general function class. Modules are generally not callable and will not actually provide these special members in practice.

All object representations support information about their type:

__class__ the class of the object: instances refer to their classes, classes refer to the type class, functions are instances that refer to the function class, modules refer to the module class

Certain kinds of object support other descriptive attributes:

__name__ the name of a class or a function
__parent__ the parent scope of a class or a function

Objects supported by native, system-level functionality require a means of retaining information in special attributes:

__data__ private data manipulated at the native level

Strings support special annotation attributes that permit their use in dynamically resolving attributes:

__key__ the code and position of the attribute whose name is represented by the string

Such "key" attributes provide information that can be used to inspect an object table and to test for the presence of an attribute. With such information, the getattr and hasattr functions can be supported.

Attribute Tables

In order to provide information about the attributes supported by each object, the structure of each object will reference a table containing entries describing these supported attributes. The size of this table is declared within the table structure, and for each position in the table an entry corresponding to the same position within an actual object structure describes the nature of the attribute at that position.

Parameter Tables

In order to support argument validation and keyword arguments in invocations, a structure is referenced by __args__ that indicates...

Parameter tables only need to be consulted at run-time if the nature of a callable is undetermined. By supporting a uniform interface, the arguments used in an invocation can be tested against the description provided by __args__ and the table.