Oracle 'winding down' Fortress open source HPC language project
Started by Sun Microsystems, DARPA-funded Project Fortress produced 'beautiful code' over 10 years
By Chris Kanaracus | Published: 10:29, 24 July 2012
Oracle researchers are "winding down" development of the Fortress programming language for high-performance computing, an effort started nearly 10 years ago by Sun Microsystems.
Fortress was meant to provide a superior alternative to the well-established Fortran language for supercomputers. It is also among a number of languages that received financial support from the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) High Productivity Computing Systems program.
"Ten years is a remarkably long run for an industrial research project (one to three years is much more typical), but we feel that our extended effort has been worthwhile," well-known computer scientist and Fortress project architect Guy Steele said. "Many aspects of the Fortress design were novel, and we learned a great deal from building an interpreter and an initial set of libraries."
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However, the project faced "severe technical challenges" during the past few years, according to Steele. The issues revolved around "the mismatch between the (rather ambitious) Fortress type system and a virtual machine not designed to support it (that would be every currently available VM, not just the Java VM," he said.
Team members decided there wasn't enough research value in finishing an implementation of Fortress compatible with the JVM, he added.
"We also note that, over the last ten years, other languages (Chapel, X10, Clojure, and Scala, among others) have explored some of the same issues that Fortress has addressed, and we have very much enjoyed conversations, collaboration, and friendly competition with those who have explored these ideas in alternative contexts," Steele said.
Work on Fortress is going to be gradually stopped over the next few months as team members get "the code and language specification into the best shape that we can," Steele added. The codebase will still be open source and Oracle's Programming Language Research Group will answer queries about it.
The writing may have been on the wall for Fortress as far back as November 2006, when DARPA stopped funding its development. But work on the language continued at Sun and Oracle, which completed the acquisition of Sun in early 2010.