Descend: A Safe GPU Systems Programming Language

Bastian Köpcke, Sergei Gorlatch, Michel Steuwer
University of Münster
arXiv:2305.03448 [cs.PL], (5 May 2023)


   title={Descend: A Safe GPU Systems Programming Language},

   author={Bastian Köpcke and Sergei Gorlatch and Michel Steuwer},






Graphics Processing Units (GPU) offer tremendous computational power by following a throughput oriented computing paradigm where many thousand computational units operate in parallel. Programming this massively parallel hardware is challenging. Programmers must correctly and efficiently coordinate thousands of threads and their accesses to various shared memory spaces. Existing mainstream GPU programming languages, such as CUDA and OpenCL, are based on C/C++ inheriting their fundamentally unsafe ways to access memory via raw pointers. This facilitates easy to make, but hard to detect bugs such as data races and deadlocks. In this paper, we present Descend: a safe GPU systems programming language. In the spirit of Rust, Descend’s type system enforces safe CPU and GPU memory management by tracking Ownership and Lifetimes. Descend introduces a new holistic GPU programming model where computations are hierarchically scheduled over the GPU’s execution resources: grid, blocks, and threads. Descend’s extended Borrow checking ensures that execution resources safely access memory regions without introducing data races. For this, we introduced views describing safe parallel access patterns of memory regions. We discuss the memory safety guarantees offered by Descend’s type system and evaluate our implementation of Descend using a number of benchmarks, showing that no significant runtime overhead is introduced compared to manually written CUDA programs lacking Descend’s safety guarantees.
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