Mark Sam Miller

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Mark S Miller

Mark S. Miller is an American computer scientist. He is known for his work as one of the participants in the 1979 hypertext project known as Project Xanadu; for inventing Miller columns; as the co-creator of the Agoric Paradigm[1] of market-based distributed secure computing; and the open-source coordinator of the E programming language. He also designed the Caja programming language.

Miller earned a BS in computer science from Yale in 1980 and published his Johns Hopkins PhD thesis in 2006.[2] Previously Chief Architect with the Virus-Safe Computing Initiative at HP Labs, he is now a research scientist at Google[3] and a member of the ECMAScript (JavaScript) committee.[4] - Wikipedia


27.1 Contributions

This dissertation makes seven primary contributions:

  • The object-capability model, a new model of secure computation that is abstract enough to describe both prior object-capability languages and operating systems, and concrete enough to describe authority-manipulating behavior.
  • A novel approach to concurrency control in terms of attenuating authority, including a unified architecture in which both access control and concurrency control concerns may be addressed together.
  • A clearly framed distinction between “permission” and “authority.” We develop a taxonomy of computable bounds on eventual permission and authority, enabling us to reason about many simple access abstractions. Using this framework, we provide a unified account of access control and authority in distributed systems consisting of object-capability islands sending messages to each other over a cryptographic capability sea.
  • A system of reference states, transition rules, and message delivery properties associated with each state, that reify partial failures in a manner that permits robust application-level recovery. In E, these are coupled to language constructs that enable programmers to anticipate and handle distributed plan failures at the syntactic locus where a dependency on remote behavior is introduced. These same syntactic constructs alert the programmer of the loci where interleavings of execution may occur.
  • A generalization of prior work on promise pipelining from asymmetric client-serversystems to symmetric peer-to-peer systems. Promises enable explicit expression ofdataflow in distributed computation. Promise pipelining enables this computationalstructure to be exploited without cascading round trips.
  • An adaptation of non-signaling errors to the propagation of broken references, allowingprogrammers to consistently defer handling of reference failure when direct defense is inappropriate, and to compose chains of data-dependent computation whose referencefailure propagation has a sensible semantics. By providing a coherent error reporting behavior for promise pipelines, this mechanism provides a manageable foundation forrecovery from delayed errors in distributed dataflow computations.
  • Finally, we introduce E-ORDER, a message delivery ordering constraint that achieves an enforceable middle ground between CAUSAL and FIFO message orderings. The resulting ordering is strong enough to prevent adversaries from exploiting race conditions to obtain inappropriate access, but weak enough to be enforceable. We show how the delivery ordering may be defined in terms of an attenuation of the authority provided by passed references. This allows us to reason about the effects of messaging within our unified model of concurrency and access control.

Several programming systems described in Chapter 26 have adopted (in varying subsets) each of the contributions noted above by borrowing elements from the E system. Twisted Python, in particular, is reported to be in use in more than 50 real-world applications at the time of this writing.


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E Language an Object Capability Language

  • - E Language An ObjectCapabilityLanguage
  • Mailing list ARChives— e-lang The E capability-secure scripting language
    • Monte is a programming language inspired by the E and Python programming languages. Monte aims to be:
    • A reliable scaffold for secure distributed computing
    • An example of capability-safe programming language design
    • A model for misuse-resistant programming
  • - E Programming Language
    • kentonv

      I’m always astounded by the depth to which Mark has explored this space. On more than a few occasions, I’ve come up with an interesting idea for a new protocol or programming language feature or piece of distributed systems infrastructure and told Mark about it, only to find he had already thought of that problem and discovered and solved several issues I hadn’t even thought about yet.

      Cap’n Proto RPC is based on E’s network protocol, CapTP, e.g. utilizing The Four Tables:

      (You can think of this design as an extension of the file descriptor table concept in Unix, except that both sides may export descriptors to the other side (so that calls can flow either way), and either side can be responsible for assigning the numeric descriptor value for any particular description (which makes it easier to compensate for a high-latency transport).)

      When I first told Mark I was working on an object-oriented RPC protocol, he insisted I visit him and listen while he explained all this to me, and boy am I glad he did… would have taken a lot longer for me to figure it out myself.

      It’s crazy that most of the content of was written over 10 years ago – I think some of it goes back to the 90’s, even.

    • 7373737373

      Modern smart contract systems should learn a lesson or five from it, most importantly, (object) capability security.

      Why? Because it lets programs handle permissions like other objects, keeping them apart and thus reducing the attack surface and preventing Confused Deputy [0] attacks.

    • ghosthamlet - news.ycombinator

      The E on Common Lisp Project website is down, code on github: