Dynamic languages have become popular for scientific computing. They are generally considered highly productive, but lacking in performance. This paper presents Julia, a new dynamic language for technical computing, designed for performance from the beginning by adapting and extending modern programming language techniques. A design based on generic functions and a rich type system simultaneously enables an expressive programming model and successful type inference, leading to good performance for a wide range of programs. This makes it possible for much of the Julia library to be written in Julia itself, while also incorporating best-of-breed C and Fortran libraries.
The state of numerical computing is currently characterized by a divide between highly efficient yet typically cumbersome low-level languages such as C, C++, and Fortran and highly expressive yet typically slow high-level languages such as Python and MATLAB. This paper explores how Julia, a modern programming language for numerical computing which claims to bridge this divide by incorporating recent advances in language and compiler design (such as just-in-time compilation), can be used for implementing software and algorithms fundamental to the field of operations research, with a focus on mathematical optimization. In particular, we demonstrate algebraic modeling for linear and nonlinear optimization and a partial implementation of a practical simplex code. Extensive cross-language benchmarks suggest that Julia is capable of obtaining state-of-the-art performance.
Arrays are such a rich and fundamental data type that they tend to be built into a language, either in the compiler or in a large low-level library. Defining this functionality at the user level instead provides greater flexibility for application domains not envisioned by the language designer. Only a few languages, such as C++ and Haskell, provide the necessary power to define $n$-dimensional arrays, but these systems rely on compile-time abstraction, sacrificing some flexibility. In contrast, dynamic languages make it straightforward for the user to define any behavior they might want, but at the possible expense of performance.
As part of the Julia language project, we have developed an approach that yields a novel trade-off between flexibility and compile-time analysis. The core abstraction we use is multiple dispatch. We have come to believe that while multiple dispatch has not been especially popular in most kinds of programming, technical computing is its killer application. By expressing key functions such as array indexing using multi-method signatures, a surprising range of behaviors can be obtained, in a way that is both relatively easy to write and amenable to compiler analysis. The compact factoring of concerns provided by these methods makes it easier for user-defined types to behave consistently with types in the standard library.