[TYPES] Types in distributed systems

Andrew Myers andru at cs.cornell.edu
Fri Aug 29 22:41:34 EDT 2014

The notion that you can't trust types in distributed computations shows 
up in some prior work in a fairly explicit way. Riely and Hennessey's 
paper "Trust and Partial Typing in Open Systems of Mobile Agents" 
captures this idea with their notion of partial typing. Security type 
systems with a notion of integrity, such as that in Jif, can also 
protect against agents that lie about types. We have used that approach 
in our Fabric system for distributed computation, which also deals with 
untrusted mobile code (see our Oakland'12 paper).

-- Andrew

On 28 Aug 2014, at 22:24, Ionuț G. Stan wrote:

> [ The Types Forum, 
> http://lists.seas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/types-list ]
> Hello,
> First, let me acknowledge upfront that I'm a complete dilettante when 
> it comes to type theory (I'm still working through the first chapters 
> of TaPL). That means that what I'm about to ask will be either stupid 
> or extremely inexact. Nevertheless, I'm curious.
> Now, onto my question...
> The TL;DR version is: how does one specify types in a distributed 
> programming model, like actors? And how much can we trust these types?
> I was debating today, on Twitter [1], how to type the sets of messages 
> two actors can exchange; a producer (P) and a consumer (C).
> Let's say that the possible set of messages produced by P is M. We 
> would like, by means of a type system, to know that C can handle: 1) 
> just messages of type M and 2) all possible messages of type M.
> M could be represented by a sum type. Let's consider this particular 
> one:
> M1 = A | B | C
> In a closed world this makes complete sense (to me, at least) and it's 
> easy to verify statically. But in an open world setting, like a 
> distributed system, where P and C are on different machines that may 
> be upgraded separately, things look harder to me. You may guarantee 
> statically that the two properties are met, but at runtime there may 
> appear race conditions that violate the second property.
> For example, we deploy P1 and C1, both agreeing on M1. Next, we add a 
> new variant to M1:
> M2 = A | B | C | D
> P1 and C1 are updated accordingly and we get P2 and C2, which we try 
> to deploy, but a race condition appears and P2 send message D to C1. 
> Obviously, C1 does not understand it. Even though the type system told 
> us that C1 can handle all variants of M, it can't actually.
> A similar scenario appears when removing one of the variants of M1.
> Is there any typing approach to this kind of problem?
> It looks to me that types would have to include a version as well and 
> all runtime communication between different versions should be 
> prohibited by having versioned communication channels.
> Does anyone have any insights or pointers to articles, papers or books 
> that discuss this sort of problem?
> Thank you for reading this!
> [1]: https://twitter.com/shajra/status/504568858967953408
> -- 
> Ionuț G. Stan  |  http://igstan.ro

-- Andrew

Andrew Myers
Professor, Department of Computer Science
Cornell University

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