The Semantics of Dataflow with Firing

Edward A. Lee and Eleftherios Matsikoudis

Chapter in From Semantics to Computer Science: Essays in memory of Gilles Kahn, Gérard Huet, Gordon Plotkin, Jean-Jacques Lévy, Yves Bertot, editors, Preprint Version, March 07, 2008, Copyright (c) Cambridge University Press, 2008.




Dataflow models of computation have intrigued computer scientists since the 1970s. They were first introduced by Jack Dennis as a basis for parallel programming languages and architectures, and by Gilles Kahn as a model of concurrency. Interest in these models of computation has been recently rekindled by the resurrection of parallel computing, due to the emergence of multicore architectures. However, Dennis and Kahn approached dataflow very differently. Dennis' approach was based on an operational notion of atomic firings driven by certain firing rules. Kahn's approach was based on a denotational notion of processes as continuous functions on infinite streams. This paper bridges the gap between these two points of view, showing that sequences of firings define a continuous Kahn process as the least fixed point of an appropriately constructed functional. The Dennis firing rules are sets of finite prefixes satisfying certain conditions that ensure determinacy. These conditions result in firing rules that are strictly more general than the blocking reads of the Kahn-MacQueen implementation of Kahn process networks, and solve some compositionality problems in the dataflow model.