Aug 15

Optional typing and dynamic languages

JavaScript, Tech with tags: , , 16 Comments »

After listening to Brendan talk about typing on the latest Open Web Podcast episode on ECMAScript Harmony it got me thinking again about optional typing.

It has always bugged me a little to think of type information in my nice clean dynamic languages (Ruby, JavaScript, Python, Perl, etc.).

Looking at even the simplest of code like this (taken from Mike Chamber’s XMPP server in ActionScript 3)

var room:Room = new Room(connection);

It irks me. Just work out that it is a room already won’t you? I know you can do it? You CAN do it. So, leave it out in this case.

Although the type information is optional, it seems that a lot of the code that I have seen in AS3 puts types in all over the place. I somewhat like the idea of using types when you really need them, such as for clear documentation of a core library, or some performance issue that you find is an issue (note: that becomes an issue, not one that is assumed!)

Once you open the door though, can people play that way? Is giving the programmer a bit switch of “shall I put the type in here?” every few seconds a good thing? Especially when the tools try to put the type in all the time?

I also found it very interesting when Brendan talked about how adding type information can actually hurt performance, sharing an example of when var foo:int doesn’t do what you actually need. For me, performance is pretty much out of the window, now, and definitely in the future.

So, I lean towards not needing it. But then I flip over the cards and see stuff like this (note: a mock example):

 * @type Room
var room = new Room(connection);

Ugh. Now we have the worst of all words. We are documenting the code out of band. This is often done for some jsdoc-like tool that will generate docs for you. The problems are:

  • The language itself has no idea about this information. The compiler. Nor, runtime. If there was something that could be done for performance, it couldn’t be
  • How easy would it be to get this out of date. If you change the type no one is going to complain. There is no validation here.
  • Way more verbose!

This alone makes me think that I would rather have optional types just to avoid any hacks like this.


Aug 08

JavaScript 2: A Perl 6 disaster, that matters so much more, but wait…

Ajax, JavaScript, Tech with tags: 10 Comments »

I had a post in my queue relating JavaScript 2 to Perl 6. They are both in very rough spots indeed, yet JavaScript 2 has a couple of features that have me a lot more worried than I am about Perl 6:

  • No offense to Perl (a language I really love, and I have code in CPAN) but JavaScript is an immensely important tool on the Web
  • Unlike Perl, there are no dictator groups who can clean up. The politics are politics. If a certain someone doesn’t implement, you are in big trouble.

I have been hacking more and more on JavaScript (1.0, Brendans toy!) recently, and the more I do so, the more I like it. I worked out some years ago that it was the DOM and cross browser issues that I didn’t like, not the language.

I do wish that there was a standard library for JavaScript (Dojo does a good job). I do find myself reinventing the wheel a lot when it comes to the Object world. This week I will be in a Class.create() kinda mood. Other times I would fancy some new function() magic, and other times a bit of (function() { functions; return { ... } })(). Now I try to use the right tool for the job, but the problem is reading other peoples code.

Take a peek at the Firebug source and you will see the following at the top of each module:

FBL.ns(function() { with (FBL) {

Joe Hewitt likes with() :)

This is where it starts to feel a lot like Perl. Many ways to do one thing, and when that one thing is so core as packaging and modularization, it shows through. This is also a reason why we are in pain with components. If someone writes a great component for Dojo but you are using Prototype, you curse. What is the real difference? The darn packaging! dojo.hitch() versus function.bind(). These changes go so deep though, that it would be quicker to write from scratch.

I would love an import/include statement. Finding myself dynamically creating script elements to do a script src is starting to get a little silly. The language itself should just support that.

JavaScript 2 is helping us with packaging, but in my opinion, it used to have too much in it. Programming units, packages, namespaces, that is just too much to wrap your head around.

I am also not a fan of the optional static typing. That is fine for ActionScript, but I don’t think JavaScript needs it. This is a scripting language, something that can fit in a onclick="..." and I think the world is moving more towards the dynamic world (there is still a place for static). How about just allowing ActionScript to be written in the browser? Why try to boil the ocean with JavaScript, as Java has tried to do in the past. Work on the runtime, and allow multiple languages. This is already being done with IronMonkey and the like…. and Microsoft is doing a great job with that tactic in Silverlight. Work on an object model that can be shared, and then we can all go to town.

var self = this;

I see that too much too, even with the binders and the hitchers. The magic of var foo jumping to the top of the scope is weird too. But, all in all, JavaScript is pretty damn good! In fact, JavaScript 1.8, and what I hear about 1.9 is really nice too. I am all for cleaning up what needs to be cleaned up, and working on other stuff.

At this point in my draft I sat in the corner and cried, as I thought JS2 was in epic trouble, and that the walls were going to fall down. I didn’t know what to do. We had Brendan++ on one side, and Doug/Microsoft on the other (simplified version). I sit in between. Without some Harmony, what would happen to the Web?

Well, the reason that I can post this is because I heard that the ECMAScript meeting in Oslo was very promising indeed, and some Harmony may come out of it. Hopefully the news will get through the official process, and out in public as soon as possible, as there is new hope for us. I am sure there is still a long road, but with great people working together, we’ll get ‘er done.