GraalVM is a Multi-Language Compiler Technology to Watch

Tom Petrocelli, Amalgam Insights Contributing Analyst

Oracle Labs has recently (April 17, 2018) announced the 1.0 release of GraalVM. GraalVM is an open source language virtual machine(VM), much like the Java VM or Node.js virtual machine. What makes GraalVM interesting, is that it can execute code written in a variety of languages including Java (and Java VM based languages such as Scala, Groovy, or Kotlin), R, JavaScript, along with Ruby, R, and Python. This is a departure from mainstream VM designs. It is much more common to have separate and specific VMs for languages such as PHP or Python. In some cases, a language will byte compile to a different virtual machine, for instance Clojure compiling to the run on the Java VM. Those languages are purpose built to run on a specific VM. GraalVM, on the other hand, runs code written in languages originally built for their own VM.

This approach offers advantages over the traditional approach of one language, one VM. For example, any program that is compiled for GraalVM can share libraries with other programs that is likewise compiled. Developers can write in different languages but still maintain interoperability and code reuse across them all. This also allows developers to continue to use code written in “older languages” while migrating to a new one. Similarly, it allows the continued used of majority language, such as Java, while leveraging languages that are built for specific purposes, such as R. Another advantage of GraalVM is ubiquity. One VM for multiple needs means fewer VMs to provision and update across IT servers and containers. That can be a serious time saver and makes maintaining large and complex systems a bit easier.

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