Dynamic Software Updating. Michael Hicks and Scott M. Nettles. ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems (TOPLAS), 27(6):1049-1096, November 2005.

Many important applications must run continuously and without interruption, yet must be changed to fix bugs or upgrade functionality. No prior general-purpose methodology for dynamic updating achieves a practical balance between flexibility, robustness, low overhead, and ease of use.

We present an approach for C-like languages that provides type-safe dynamic updating of native code in an extremely flexible manner (code, data, and types may be updated, at programmer-determined times) and permits the use of automated tools to aid the programmer in the updating process. Our system is based on dynamic patches that contain both the updated code and the code needed to transition from the old version to the new. A novel aspect of our patches is that they consist of verifiable native code (e.g. Proof-Carrying Code or Typed Assembly Language), which is native code accompanied by annotations that allow on-line verification of the code's safety. We discuss how patches are generated mostly automatically, how they are applied using dynamic-linking technology, and how code is compiled to make it updateable.

To concretely illustrate our system, we have implemented a dynamically-updateable web server, FlashEd. We discuss our experience building and maintaining FlashEd, and generalize to present observations about updateable software development. Performance experiments show that for FlashEd, the overhead due to updating is low: typically less than 1 percent.

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@ARTICLE{HicksNettles03,
  AUTHOR = {Michael Hicks and Scott M. Nettles},
  TITLE = {Dynamic Software Updating},
  JOURNAL = {{ACM} Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems (TOPLAS)},
  YEAR = 2005,
  MONTH = {November},
  VOLUME = {27},
  NUMBER = {6},
  PAGES = {1049--1096}
}

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