ACM Breakthrough Award For JIT Compilation
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 03 May 2021

The ACM has announced that Michael Franz of the University of California, Irvine is the recipient of the 2020 Chuck Thacker Breakthrough in Computing Award in recognition of his development of just-in-time compilation techniques that enable fast and feature-rich web services on the internet.

michael franz


As we reported when it the Chuck Thacker Breakthrough in Computing Award announced in August 2018, it carries a prize of $100,000 and is financially supported by Microsoft. Awarded biennially it is for:

surprising, disruptive or leapfrog contributions in computing ideas or technologies.  

Eric Horvitz, Microsoft’s Chief Scientific Officer is quoted in the announcement:

“Microsoft is proud to fund the Breakthrough in Computing Award, named after Chuck Thacker, one of the computing field’s true visionaries. Chuck had a magical ability to transform over-the-horizon computing dreams into world-changing realities. Michael Franz’s work on just-in-time compilation is a great choice for the Breakthrough in Computing honor. His work has been transformative, enabling today’s rich web experiences by allowing websites to execute sophisticated, interactive programs nearly instantaneously. Michael Franz’s insights, and his successful application of those insights, have had tremendous real-world impact.”


Just-in-time (JIT) dynamic compilation was initially used for a statically-typed languages. Then, in the 1970s, researchers at Xerox PARC used JIT compilation for Smalltalk, a dynamically typed language and in the 1980s, researchers at Stanford and Sun explored it for Self, a dynamically typed, prototype-based language, similar to JavaScript. 

Beginning with his Ph.D. thesis completed in 1994, Franz made several important contributions that greatly increased the practicality of JIT compilation. Rather than optimizing entire functions, he introduced a technique that optimizes only the loops of a program, using a structure called a "trace tree" to represent alternative paths through a loop that are discovered and subsequently translated incrementally. In addition he developed a JIT compiler that could be applied in a variety of settings, including those with more limited CPU or memory resources. With these techniques, Franz's JIT compiler could often achieve performance improvements in JavaScript of the order of five to ten times. Given that he vast majority of websites today use JavaScript, and all browsers include a JavaScript execution engine, Franz's technology has had a huge impact.

 ACM President Gabriele Kotsis commented:

“We all use web-based applications every day and they are now so prevalent that we often forget how revolutionary they were when they were first introduced.

Michael Franz’s work certainly fits the Thacker Award’s criteria for ‘leapfrog contributions to computing ideas and technologies.’ Franz displayed foresight in working with Mozilla to implement his ideas on their browser and in making his technology open source so that it could be continually refined and adapted by developers worldwide.”


More Information

ACM Chuck Thacker Breakthrough Award Goes to Innovator Who Transformed Web Applications

ACM - Winners of Chuck Thacker Award

Michael Franz ACM page

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Last Updated ( Monday, 03 May 2021 )