We have just released the first version of the Futhark compiler, version 0.1.0 (source tarballs here). Of course, nothing much has changed, given that the compiler source code has been freely available for over three years, and is not particularly hard to compile. Also, nightly binary builds have been available for a good while.
There are several reasons: One is the real reason, and the others a collection of justifications. The real reason is that I always wanted to do a release to mark the conclusion of my PhD studies. Since I handed in my thesis on the 31st of August (defense scheduled for mid-November), the time had come. A collection of secondary reasons contributed to the feeling that the stars were right:
- Futhark has matured. There are no large-scale language changes on the near horizon, and the compiler is fairly stable and generates decent code. We have not added major new optimisations recently, so no significant bugs should lie undiscovered.
- We want to emphasize that Futhark is a practically oriented tool intended for real usage. Since established software projects make releases, so do we.
- Version numbers are a good yardstick when communicating with the world. It is nicer to talk what changed “between version 0.1.0 and 0.2.0”, than “from early October to mid-March” (or whenever the next release will be).
- We are about to embark on developing significant new language features (higher-order functions) and compiler capabilities (gradual flattening and memory block merging). These clearly deserve a version bump, but we can’t very well do that if we don’t have version numbers.
As alluded to above, we will bump the version number to mark major changes or additions, but it is not yet clear how often we will perform releases. We will follow semantic versioning, and given that Futhark is still an experimental research language, we are certainly likely to make backwards-incompatible changes from time to time - at least until we hit version 1.0. It is unlikely that we will make actual bugfix releases, unless they are particularly dire, but you never know.
Most likely, releases will coincide with major publications, or perhaps uses of Futhark in academic courses (actually, the 0.1.0 release coincides with a course in Parallel Functional Programming that will take place at DIKU in a few weeks). If (as is the hope and goal) Futhark starts seeing use outside of academia, probably we will have to think a little more about a release schedule.