Original post

tl:dr star is a (ish) environment that lets you call library functions. click down to the repl if you’d just like to play around

Starlark is Google’s custom subset of Python that it uses as a configuration language with Bazel. I started looking into it a little because it has some interesting characteristics. It’s not turing complete (no unbounded loops), it doesn’t have classes or higher level abstractions, it’s also deterministic and is somewhat safe to run untrusted user input.

Although somewhat limited it felt like it might make a good candidate for a serverless function runtime that could be added to embly. Easier to sandbox, could mock out pieces of the python standard library, maybe provide just enough functionality for it to be useful. I also thought you might be able to identify the deterministic blocks of code and replace them with the static result on subsequent runs. Potentially exciting stuff!

I used starlark-go to get started and pretty quickly had this demo up and running:

def hello(w, req):
    w.write("nHello Worldn" + str([x for x in range(10)]) + "n")


The server parses the file, starts a web server, takes the hello function and passes the http.ResponseWriter and http.Request over to the python starlark side of things on every http request. From there I could add attributes to pass over things like the path and content_type.

Starlark doesn’t have exception handling, so I add a Go error type and passed that over as well. This ends up being almost as verbose as Go, but without typed functions it does allow for a little more flexibility:

def handle_err(args):
    for a in args:
        if type(a) == "error" and a:
            print(a, a.stacktrace())
    return args

foo, err = handle_err(function_call())

At this point I got a little more interested in continuing to cram Go functionality into this scripting language. The starlark-go implementation is really wonderful and it was quite easy to extend.

In talking to my coworker I wondered if you could pull in lots of Go functionality, we sketched up something like this:

import time
from net import http
from star import chan, go

def foo(c):

def main():
    resp, err = http.get("https://www.embly.run/hello/")
    if err:
        return print(err)

    c = chan(1)
    go(foo, c)

From a syntax standpoint it seems like this would be possible. Starlark also has first-class support for running separate chunks of code in parallel (globals are immutable, which helps), so leveraging Go’s concurrency model didn’t seem too difficult either.

After a little more messing around, most of that sketch has been implemented: https://github.com/embly/star

star is a python(ish) programming environment that lets you call Go library functions. It is very fragile and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but it’s very fun to play with.

Here’s what that sketch ended up looking like:

http = require("net/http")
ioutil = require("io/ioutil")
sync = require("sync")
star = require("star")
time = require("time")

def get_url(url, wg):
    resp, err = http.Get(url)
    if err:
        return print(err)
    b, err = ioutil.ReadAll(resp.Body)
    if err:
        return print(err)
    body, err = star.bytes_to_string(b)
    if err:
        return print(err)
    time.Sleep(time.Second * 2)

def main():
    wg = sync.WaitGroup()
    urls = [
    for url in urls:
        star.go(get_url, url, wg)

Really trippy to look at if you’ve written python and Go. A few notes:

  • starlark doesn’t support python’s import syntax, so I went with a require function
  • star.go spawns a goroutine and it works! adding channels wouldn’t be too hard either
  • star.bytes_to_string shows some of the cracks, I wasn’t too sure how to add type conversion

I’ve only converted a small subset of the Go stdlib, you can see the list of available components here: https://github.com/embly/star/blob/master/src/packages.go

I also got a callback function working so that go/python servers work as well:

http = require("net/http")

def hello(w, req):
    w.Write("hello worldn")

http.HandleFunc("/hello", hello)

http.ListenAndServe(":8080", http.Handler)

The coolest part is that this is all pure Go, so we can also run all of it in webassembly. Here’s a repl, script away:

Or install with go get github.com/embly/star/cmd/star

Closing notes

I originally though I could generate wrappers for the entire standard library. There has been a very small amount of work made toward this effort and the wrapper functions have been written with generation in mind. In an optimistic case you can see how you could crawl the stdlib AST and generate the necessary code. From there you just populate the mappings and you’re off. I thought it would be cool if you could chose what libraries and functions to include with star and generate your own binary so that you don’t have to compile things you don’t need.

Sadly, the current implementation is full of edge cases, so either the wrappers need a rewrite (probably true), or the generation code would need to be quite complex (maybe also true).

I’ve also left out a lot of important things, the idea of a pointer isn’t really tracked, some values are pointers and some are not, this would need to be surfaced in star on some level.

No work has been done to soften the edge cases of passing things into Go, but conceivably this could be very nice. Star could make the best effort to convert any starlark/python type into the correct input type for a function. For the moment it will just crash.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, please open an issue: https://github.com/embly/star/issues