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The rise and fall of High Performance Fortran: an historical object lesson


High Performance Fortran (HPF) is a high-level data-parallel programming system based on Fortran. The effort to standardize HPF began in 1991, at the Supercomputing Conference in Albuquerque, where a group of industry leaders asked Ken Kennedy to lead an effort to produce a common programming language for the emerging class of distributed-memory parallel computers. The proposed language would focus on data-parallel operations in a single thread of control, a strategy which was pioneered by some earlier commercial and research systems, including Thinking Machines' CM Fortran, Fortran D, and Vienna Fortran. The standardization group, called the High Performance Fortran Forum (HPFF), took a little over a year to produce a language definition that was published in January 1993 as a Rice technical report [50] and, later that same year, as an article in Scientific Programming [49]. The HPF project had created a great deal of excitement while it was underway and the release was initially well received in the community. However, over a period of several years, enthusiasm for the language waned in the United States, although it has continued to be used in Japan. This paper traces the origins of HPF through the programming languages on which it was based, leading up to the standardization effort. It reviews the motivation underlying technical decisions that led to the set of features incorporated into the original language and its two follow-ons: HPF 2 (extensions defined by a new series of HPFF meetings) and HPF/JA (the dialect that was used by Japanese manufacturers and runs on the Earth Simulator). A unique feature of this paper is its discussion and analysis of the technical and sociological mistakes made by both the language designers and the user community:, mistakes that led to the premature abandonment of the very promising approach employed in HPF. It concludes with some lessons for the future and an exploration of the influence of ideas from HPF on new languages emerging from the High Productivity Computing Systems program sponsored by DARPA.

DOI: 10.1145/1238844.1238851

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