OCaml Receives the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Software Award

by Thomas Gazagnaire on Jun 20th, 2023

OCaml has received one of the most prestigious awards in the field of programming languages, and we are very thrilled that four of the award winners are from Tarides. This represents a huge success for the language, the named maintainers, and everyone who has worked on improving OCaml. We want to thank everyone for their hard work and celebrate the award alongside the OCaml community. Here’s to many more years of hacking together!

A Significant Impact on Building Better Software

The ACM special interest group on programming languages, SIGPLAN, annually recognises significant developments in a software system and awards it with the Programming Languages Software Award. To be selected for this prestigious award, a software system must have made a significant impact on programming language research, implementation, and tools.

Previous recipients include WebAssembly, the first widely adopted language for web browsers since JavaScript; and Scala, one of the few programming languages from academia that has had a significant impact on the world as well as on programming languages research.

This year, fourteen developers in the open-source OCaml ecosystem have been recognised for their contributions to the design and implementation of the language. OCaml is a functional programming language that combines type and memory safety with powerful features like garbage collection and a type inferring compiler. Born out of extensive research into ML, OCaml was first released in 1996 by Xavier Leroy, Jérôme Vouillon, Damien Doligez, and Didier Rémy. Since then, the open-source community surrounding OCaml has grown (in parts, thanks to Tarides!) with new tools, libraries, and applications.

OCaml is unique because it occupies a sweet spot in the space of programming language designs. It provides a combination of efficiency, expressiveness and practicality that is matched by no other language. This is largely because OCaml is an elegant combination of language features developed over the last 60 years, with strong roots in academia and the industry. The language also continues to evolve and innovate, with the release of OCaml 5 last December. That release heralds a new era for OCaml by providing the infrastructure for programming efficiently and safely using multiple cores. OCaml 5 also added effect handlers to the language, which makes OCaml the first mainstream language with support with effects. Meanwhile, OCaml is now used for trading billions of dollars in global equity daily or for helping millions of daily users of Docker to access the network.

The engineers receiving this award have played a crucial role in the long-term development of the OCaml language. Their hard work has made OCaml a language that prioritises performance and expressivity while strongly focusing on security and safety. The fourteen developers named by ACM SIGPLAN are: David Allsopp, Florian Angeletti, Stephen Dolan, Damien Doligez, Alain Frisch, Jacques Garrigue, Anil Madhavapeddy, Luc Maranget, Nicolás Ojeda Bär, Gabriel Scherer, KC Sivaramakrishnan, Jérôme Vouillon, Leo White and Xavier Leroy.

It is well worth noting that Xavier Leroy already holds many prestigious awards for his work - he is a former recipient of the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement award in 2022, holds the chair of software science at Collège de France and is member of Académie des sciences. Xavier made pivotal contributions across various fields, including the design of type and module systems, bytecode verification, and verified compilation, to highlight a few. He is also the visionary architect of the CompCert C compiler, the first formally verified, high-assurance compiler for almost all of the C language. This enormous achievements generated entirely new areas of activity and research: CompCert won the 2022 ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Software award and the 2021 ACM Software Systems award. But Xavier's research contributions are not just integral to his illustrious career. They are also pivotal to OCaml's current success and widespread appeal. His active and ongoing influence is deeply embedded within OCaml, shaping it into the rigorous yet pragmatic language that it is today.

The Role of Tarides

Tarides is honoured to contribute to the development of OCaml and to be part of the vibrant ecosystem surrounding the language. Four of the developers receiving the award are affiliated with Tarides: David, KC, Jérôme and Anil!

The list of recipients comprises award-winning and internationally acclaimed academics (Inria, University of Cambridge, University of Nagoya, IIT Madras) as well as impactful and innovative industry professionals (Lexifi, Jane Street, Tarides). This list makes a compelling case for the model that guides the entire OCaml ecosystem and that we’ve adopted at Tarides. We combine the powers of academia, industry, and community hackers by collaborating for the benefit of OCaml as a whole.

Moreover, Tarides is a descendant of OCaml Labs at the University of Cambridge, a decade-long effort aiming to bring OCaml to the masses:KC, Stephen, Leo, and David all started off at the University of Cambridge, under the direction of Anil. Since then, OCaml Labs and now Tarides have dedicated much time and energy towards maintaining several parts of the OCaml ecosystem, including the compiler, platform tools, the CI infrastructure, and OCaml.org.

Finally, we want to acknowledge that this award recognises the hard work of people beyond just the list of winners. There are countless people who have contributed to OCaml, who taken together would be too numerous to formally recognise. Nevertheless, their hard work is palpable and their impact far-reaching, and we want to thank everyone who has played a role in bringing OCaml to where it is today. This achievement is one we all share with the entire community.

OCaml 5

As described in KC's keynote, OCaml 5.0 introduced much anticipated new features to OCaml, supporting shared memory parallelism and effect handlers. The team focused on making that release as backwards compatible as possible; thus, existing OCaml users could upgrade without experiencing breakage. OCaml 5 allows users to combine safety and security features with significant performance improvements, including parallel programming and improved methodologies for writing concurrent code.

If you want to learn how to use the parallelism features in OCaml 5, have a look at these tutorials on GitHub. For more details on exactly what changes OCaml 5 brought to OCaml, the changelog contains all the information you need.

Contact Tarides to see how OCaml can benefit your business and/or for support while learning OCaml. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to ensure you never miss a post, and join the OCaml discussion on Discuss!