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Surprising Science

Circumventing Frozen Computers

A new tool interrupts the ‘infinite loops’ that cause computer hang-ups, letting users save data and finish tasks before restarting a stalled program.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers at M.I.T. have just presented a new tool, called Jolt, that allows users to save data even when computers freeze up. A freeze up, or infinite loop, happens when a single line of code is executed over and over again. The new tool, presented at the European Conference on Object-Oriented Programming in Lancaster, England, “interrupts infinite loops and moves on to the next line of code in the computer program. In tests, their system restored five different programs to stable enough states that data could be saved and the programs exited safely.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Loops are essential to how computers work but sometimes they get stuck, and usually at very inconvenient moments. “A commercial program might contain tens of thousands of loops, and a slight error in the code for any one of them could lead to an infinite loop, in which the computer doesn’t know when to stop repeating the same operation.” If a user suspects that the computer has entered an infinite loop, M.I.T.’s Jolt can be activated which would take a series of ‘snapshots’ of the computer’s memory after each iteration of a loop. 


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