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Jon Howell

Jon Howell


My personal page is I can be reached at jonh(dot)msrref[at]

I am a distributed systems researcher. I am presently applying formal verification to practical systems.

I recently developed a new model of client execution called Embassies that shifts responsibility for application security and management from end users to application vendors. I also helped create Flat Datacenter Storage, a scalable high performance data center file system that claimed the 2012 Minute Sort record.

I co-developed Asirra and InkblotPasswords. I also co-developed the MapCruncher tool for importing map content onto the web; it now ships from Microsoft.

My first project at MSR was the Farsite distributed filesystem. I focused on practical techniques for managing concurrency in distributed systems programming, including using formal specification to design the distributed directory service for FARSITE, which must be simultaneously scalable, consistent, and Byzantine-fault-isolating [OSDI2006], using atomic actions as a practical technique to simplify the management of local concurrency, and clarifying the relationship between cooperative threads and event-driven code [Usenix2002].

After grad school, I spent a year at Consystant, a startup company in Kirkland, studying and modeling language semantics.

I developed my dissertation at Dartmouth working with David Kotz on distributed naming and security. I extended a formal system to model the transitive delegations of the Simple Public Key Infrastructure (SPKI). The result is a system that can reason about authorization across administrative boundaries, without a centralized notion of a domain that contains a list of people or principals. I also spent far too much time in the robotics lab, diddling with hardware and mapping algorithms.

Jon enjoys flying airplanes, bicycling, and playing puzzlehunt.


USENIX ATC 2014 program committee.
SOSP 2013 program committee.
USENIX ATC 2013 program committee.
ICDCS 2013 program committe, P2P-OS-Middleware track chair.
OSDI 2012 program committee.
USENIX ATC 2012 program committee.
WebApps 2011 program committee.
PSI ETA 2010 program committee.
OSDI 2010 program committee.
WebApps 2010 program committee.
LSAP 2009 workshop program committee, colocated with HPDC 2009.
ICDCS 2009 program committee, Operating Systems and Middleware track.
FAST 2005 program committee.

Refereed Publications


    • Craig Costello, Cedric Fournet, Jon Howell, Markulf Kohlweiss, Benjamin Kreuter, Michael Naehrig, Bryan Parno, and Samee Zahur, Geppetto: Versatile Verifiable Computation, in Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, IEEE – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 18 May 2015.




    • Edmund B. Nightingale, Jeremy Elson, Jinliang Fan, Owen Hofmann, Jon Howell, and Yutaka Suzue, Flat Datacenter Storage, in 10th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI 2012), USENIX, October 2012.


    • John R. Douceur, Jon Howell, Bryan Parno, Michael Walfish, and Xi Xiong, The Web Interface Should Be Radically Refactored, in Tenth ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks (HotNets-X), ACM SIGCOMM, November 2011.
    • John R. Douceur, Jon Howell, Bryan Parno, and Michael Walfish, Refactoring the Web Interface, in SOSP 2011 Poster Session, 24 October 2011.
    • Donald E. Porter, Silas Boyd-Wickizer, Jon Howell, Reuben Olinsky, and Galen Hunt, Rethinking the Library OS from the Top Down, in Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems (ASPLOS), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., March 2011.




    • John R. Douceur, Jeremy Elson, Jon Howell, and Jacob R. Lorch, Leveraging legacy code to deploy desktop applications on the Web, in Proceedings of the 8th USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI), USENIX, December 2008.
    • Peter Pesti, Jeremy Elson, Jon Howell, Drew Steedly, and Matt Uyttendaele, Low-Cost Orthographic Imagery, in Proceedings of the 16th ACM SIGSPATIAL International Conference on Advances in Geographic Information Systems (ACM GIS), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., November 2008.
    • Jeremy Elson and Jon Howell, Handling Flash Crowds from your Garage, in Proceedings of the 2008 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., June 2008.
    • Miguel Elias, Jeremy Elson, Danyel Fisher, and Jon Howell, “Do I Live in a Flood Basin?”: Synthesizing Ten Thousand Maps, in Proceedings of the 2008 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., April 2008.




    Unrefereed Publications