Walnut/Distributed Computing/Eventually Operator

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Eventually Operator

All distributed computing in E starts with the eventually operator, "<-":

 # E syntax
 car <- moveTo(2,3)
 println("car will eventually move to 2,3. But not yet.")

The first statement can be read as, "car, eventually, please moveTo(2,3)". As soon as this eventual send has been made to the car, the program immediately moves on to the next sequential statement. The program does not wait for the car to move. Indeed, as discussed further under Game Turns below, it is guaranteed that the following statement (println in this case) will execute before the car moves, even if the car is in fact running on the same computer as this code. The request to move the car has been entered on a to-do list (actually sent to the appropriate event queue, for those already familiar with event loops).

Since the program does not wait around for the eventual send, an eventual send is very different from a traditional object-oriented method call (referred to here as an immediate call to distinguish it from an eventual send; the statement "car.moveTo(2,3)" is an immediate call). In general, you do not know, and cannot know, exactly when the car will move; indeed, if the car is on a remote computer, and the communication link is lost, the car may never move at all (and creates a broken promise that you can catch and process, described later).

This brings us to the most interesting feature of an eventual send: just as you do not know when the operation will complete, you also do not know, and do not need to know, which computer in your distributed system is executing the car's code. The car could be a local object running on the same machine with the program... or it could be on a computer a thousand miles away across the Internet. Regardless, E keeps track of the car's Universal Resource Identifier (URI) and delivers the message for you. Moreover, if the car is indeed remote, E sets up a secure communication link between the program and the car; and since the URI for the car includes an unguessable random string of characters, no one can send a message to the car or extract information from the car except someone who has explicitly and intentionally received a reference to it from someone who already has the reference. Thus a computation running on five computers scattered across five continents, all publicly accessible by the whole world of the Web, can be as secure as a computation running on a box locked in your basement.

Another very interesting feature of the eventual send: because the program continues on to the next statement immediately, without waiting for the eventual send to finish, deadlock can never occur.

Finally, note that the eventual send invoked an ordinary object method ("moveTo(x,y)") in the car. The programmer who created the makeCar constructor defines the cars to have ordinary methods, with ordinary returns of values. He does not know and does not care whether objects that invoke those methods use calls or sends, and neither knows nor cares whether those invoking objects are local or remote.

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