The Rice Scalar Compiler Group

Department of Computer Science
Rice University
Houston, Texas, USA


The Scalar Compiler Group at Rice engages in research intended to improve the quality of optimization and code generation for microprocessor-based, uniprocessor systems. (We work closely with the folks at Rice who focus on compilers for parallel machines, as well. However, our focus remains uniprocessor systems.)

In the past, this group has been known as the Massively Scalar Compiler Project (MSCP).


In general, the goals of the Scalar Compiler Group are Our primary focus is on problems that arise for uniprocessor, microprocessor-based systems. We try to ensure that our techniques work equally well in multiprocessor systems.

Over time, our work has been supported by a variety of funding sources, including the US Department of Energy (through the Los Alamos Computer Science Institute), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the State of Texas Advanced Technology Program (ATP).

Problems that we attack

In general, we investigate problems that arise in compiling code for uniprocessor microprocessor-based systems. Our particular areas of interest are code improvement techniques (often misnamed "optimization") and code generation issues. A common misconception is that these problems were all solved in 1980.


Algorithm development and experimentation are integral parts of developing better compiler technology. We choose problems by looking at the reasons that compiled code does not meet the user's expectations. The first step in most of our investigations is to examine the output of the compiler and to understand what improvement is possible. The second step is to examine past work on the problem; this involves reading the literature and talking at length with people in academia and in industry. The third step is to devise a new approach to the problem; it is followed quickly by implementation and experimentation. This usually leads to a protracted cycle of refinement, reimplementation, and experimentation. We tend to recommend a technique only when we would be happy to buy a compiler that used it.

Experimentation is critical to our work. Many of the interesting problems in compilation are, in essence, resource allocation problems. Most of these are NP-Complete (register allocation, instruction scheduling). Thus, our techniques try to choose a good solution out of an exponential-sized (or larger) set. Compilers are, in general, constrained to using polynomial-time algorithms. This has two key consequences. First, compilers cannot afford to discover guaranteed optimal solutions to these problems. Second, ideas that look good at the marker-board often fall apart in practice. (We say that they "rationalize well.") Thus, experimental validation is an essential part of discovering techniques that genuinely improve run-time performance.

Our experience suggests that an effective transition from research idea to commercial implementation requires good ideas, mutual interest, and a mechanism for transmitting the detailed technical knowledge required for implementation. Often, this last issue is hardest to accomplish. We have found that the best way to transfer detailed knowledge is through a carefully written reference implementation, one that explains data structures, design decisions, and details at a level beyond what can be published in a conference or journal.


The full-time staff of the scalar compiler group consists of Keith D. Cooper, Linda Torczon, and Tim Harvey. Devika Subramanian works with us on adaptive compilation and on search-based algorithms for a variety of problems. However, she has broad interests that go far beyond compilation.

As with any successful research group, we have a cadre of fine graduate students, including Jaspon Eckhardt, Jeff Sandoval, Yi Guo, and Dave Peixotto. We give talks on our work.

We write software and make it available via the web.

Alumni and Their Whereabouts

  1. Preston Briggs, PhD 1992 Google
  2. Karim Esseghir, MS 1993, ... lost to us...
  3. Dan Grove, MS 1993 Mysterious startup company
  4. Chris Vick, MS 1994 Sun Microsystems
  5. Cliff Click, PhD 1995 Azul Systemss
  6. L. Taylor Simpson, PhD 1996 Qualcomm
  7. Nathaniel McIntosh, PhD 1997 (joint with Ken Kennedy) HP
  8. John Lu, PhD 1998 LSI Logic
  9. Edmar Wienskoski, PhD 1998 Freescale
  10. Jingsong He, MS 2000 Dell Computer
  11. Philip Schielke, PhD 2000 Texas Instruments
  12. Tim Harvey, PhD 2003 Rice
  13. Li Xu, PhD 2003, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  14. Alex Grosul, PhD 2005, nVidia
  15. Todd Waterman, PhD 2005, Texas Instruments
  16. Anshuman Das Gupta, PhD 2006, Qualcomm

This page is maintained by Keith Cooper.