5. C Porting Guide

This short document contains a collection of tips and tricks for porting simple numerical C code to futhark. Futhark’s sequential fragment is powerful enough to permit a rather straightforward translation of sequential C code that does not rely on pointer mutation. Additionally, we provide hints on how to recognise C coding patterns that are symptoms of C’s weak type system, and how better to organise it in Futhark.

One intended audience of this document is a programmer who needs to translate a benchmark application written in C, or needs to use a simple numerical algorithm that is already available in the form of C source code.

5.1. Where This Guide Falls Short

Some C code makes use of unstructured returns and nonlocal exits (return inside loops, for example). These are not easy to express in Futhark, and will require massaging the control flow a bit. C code that uses goto is likewise not easy to port.

5.2. Types

Futhark provides scalar types that match the ones commonly used in C: u8/u16/u32/u64 for the unsigned integers, i8/i16/i32/i64 for the signed, and f32/f64 for float and double respectively. In contrast to C, Futhark does not automatically promote types in expressions - you will have to manually make sure that both operands to e.g. a multiplication are of the exact same type. This means that you will need to understand exactly which types a given expression in original C program operates on, which generally boils down to converting the type of the (type-wise) smaller operand to that of the larger. Note that the Futhark bool type is not considered a number.

5.3. Operators

Most of the C operators can be found in Futhark with their usual names. Note however that the Futhark / and % operators for integers round towards negative infinity, whereas their counterparts in C round towards zero. You can write // and %% if you want the C behaviour. There is no difference if both operands are non-zero, but // and %% may be slightly faster. For unsigned numbers, they are exactly the same.

5.4. Variable Mutation

As a sequential language, most C programs quite obviously rely heavily on mutating variables. However, in many programs, this is done in a static manner without indirection through pointers (except for arrays; see below), which is conceptually similar to just declaring a new variable of the same name that shadows the old one. If this is the case, a C assignment can generally be translated to just a let-binding. As an example, let us consider the following function for computing the modular multiplicative inverse of a 16-bit unsigned integer (part of the IDEA encryption algorithm):

static uint16_t ideaInv(uint16_t a) {
  uint32_t b;
  uint32_t q;
  uint32_t r;
  int32_t t;
  int32_t u;
  int32_t v;

  b = 0x10001;
  u = 0;
  v = 1;

  while(a > 0)
      q = b / a;
      r = b % a;

      b = a;
      a = r;

      t = v;
      v = u - q * v;
      u = t;

  if(u < 0)
    u += 0x10001;

  return u;

Each iteration of the loop mutates the variables a, b, v, and u in ways that are visible to the following iteration. Conversely, the “mutations” of q, r, and t are not truly mutations, and the variable declarations could be moved inside the loop if we wished. Presumably, the C programmer left them outside for aesthetic reasons. When translating such code, it is important to determine exactly how much true mutation is going on, and how much is just reuse of variable space. This can usually be done by checking whether a variable is read before it is written in any given iteration - if not, then it is not true mutation. The variables that change value from one iteration of the loop to the next will need to be maintained as merge parameters of the Futhark do-loop.

The Futhark program resulting from a straightforward port looks as follows:

let main(a: u16): u16 =
  let b = 0x10001u32
  let u = 0i32
  let v = 1i32
  loop ((a,b,u,v)) = while a > 0u16 do
    let q = b / u32(a)
    let r = b % u32(a)

    let b = u32(a)
    let a = u16(r)

    let t = v
    let v = u - i32(q) * v
    let u = t
    in (a,b,u,v)

  in u16(if u < 0 then u + 0x10001 else u)

Note the heavy use of type conversion and type suffixes for constants. This is necessary due to Futhark’s lack of implicit conversions. Note also the conspicuous way in which the do-loop is written - the result of a loop iteration consists of variables whose names are identical to those of the merge parameters.

This program can still be massaged to make it more idiomatic Futhark - for example, the variable t only serves to store the old value of v that is otherwise clobbered. This can be written more elegantly by simply inlining the expressions in the result part of the loop body.

5.5. Arrays

Dynamically sized multidimensional arrays are somewhat awkward in C, and are often simulated via single-dimensional arrays with explicitly calculated indices:

a[i * M + j] = foo;

This indicates a two-dimensional array a whose inner dimension is of size M. We can usually look at where a is allocated to figure out what the size of the outer dimension must be:

a = malloc(N * M * sizeof(int));

We see clearly that a is a two-dimensional integer array of size N times M - or of type [N][M]i32 in Futhark. Thus, the update expression above would be translated as:

let a[i,j] = foo in

C programs usually first allocate an array, then enter a loop to provide its initial values. This is not possible in Futhark - consider whether you can write it as a replicate, an iota, or a map. In the worst case, use replicate to obtain an array of the desired size, then use a do-loop with in-place updates to initialise it (but note that this will run stricly sequentially).