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TurtleScript runtime in PHP
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php-turtle is an implementation of TurtleScript in PHP. TurtleScript is a syntactic (but not semantic) subset of JavaScript, originally created for the One Laptop per Child project.

Install, and Run

Installation with composer install, as usual.

To run a TurtleScript REPL:

$ bin/phpturtle
>>> 2+3
>>> var fact = function(x) { return (x<2) ? x : (x * fact(x-1)) ; };
>>> fact(42)

Use Control-D (or Control-C) to exit the REPL. You can also evaluate entire TurtleScript scripts by passing the name on the command line:

$ bin/phpturtle foo.js


There are quite a few unit tests built into php-turtle (although never enough!). You can build and run them with composer test. See tests/InterpreterTest.php for a set of script-based tests, which you could manually reproduce in the REPL (if you were so inclined).


php-turtle is a simple interpreter for the bytecode emitted by bcompile.js from the TurtleScript project. It is heavily based on binterp.js from that project, which is a TurtleScript interpreter written in TurtleScript. The src/Startup.php file contains the bytecode for the TurtleScript standard library implementation (from binterp.js) as well as the tokenizer, parser, and bytecode compiler itself (emitted by write-php-bytecode.js in the TurtleScript project). This allows the php-turtle REPL to parse and compile the expressions you type at it into bytecode modules which it can interpret.

Currently bytecode is interpreted; a logical next step would be to compile directly to PHP code and eliminate the overhead of the interpretation loop. The goal of the JavaScript object model implementation is to try to map JavaScript operations onto PHP operations as nearly as possible, to keep JavaScript execution speed comparable to PHP execution. For example, property accesses in JavaScript map directly to property accesses in PHP. It wouldn't be too hard to allow the JavaScript code to directly interrogate a 'native' PHP object. The vice-versa case is interesting as well: PHP can very easily access properties of native JavaScript objects. Cross-realm function invocation is a little harder, but not much.

Future performance improvements

The representation of arrays at present leaves much to be desired -- they are just objects with keys which are numeric strings. These should be replaced by "real" PHP arrays, although that complicates some of the type dispatch code.

Strings are generally represented as UTF-16, which is "native" for JavaScript, although property names and literals are UTF-8. This seems to strike a good balance between fluent property access in PHP using mostly-ASCII strings, and efficient string manipulation in JavaScript. It may however be interesting to allow strings to switch representations on the fly.

Compiling the bytecode could make use of type information, perhaps propagated from variable initialization and the types of arguments when a function is invoked, in order to reduce the amount of dynamic type dispatch. A small number of specialized versions of any given function could be compiled, falling back to the present bytecode interpreter if the function turns out to be polyvariant.

Future research

I would like to explore multilingual JavaScript using this platform. There are some thoughts in Wikimedia phabricator; Babylscript also appears very interesting.


TurtleScript and php-turtle are (c) 2020 C. Scott Ananian and licensed under the terms of the GNU GPL v2.

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