Archive for the ‘EcmaScript’ Category

EcmaScript is no assembly language

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Hi!

Windows 8, Tizen – there seems to be a HTML 5 + JavaScript hype. The myriads of web developers are expected to write all their stupid apps to make a platform popular. Some may know that I really do not like EcmaScript, however, it is good to allow using it, there may be domains where it is appropriate, there may be cases where it is the best choice to reuse some EcmaScript code. But seriously, that way technical possibilities get wasted. Reusing all the high-quality desktop application code – nearly impossible. Using certain paradigms of great programming languages – nearly impossible. I know, you can translate LLVM IL to EcmaScript, but EcmaScript is really not an assembly language. That it is not its purpose and it is not suitable, do not tell me V8 would be good, it cannot transform EcmaScript to an assembly language, even Google is now propagating Nativ Client (NaCl), really cool technology, to allow any language (great developments of the past!) being ed, by reusing existing languages, suitable as universal low-level representations: x86 machine code and LLVM IL. It had taken long time until there was finally a usable version of Qt for Android (Necessitas), reimplementation of everything and Java got in the way of a quick port, although there has always been the possibility to use native object-files. How long would something usable take for Tizen? And do not forget: Qt is huge an popular, it may be unaffordable for other projects somehow relying on certain OS capabilities. Thus, why not just supplying existing API? Why not just keeping great ecosystem, being open for new innovation and new technology which is compatible with it? Why limiting everything with EcmaScript’s poor capabilities? Web developers can still be attracted, EcmaScript and even HTML 5 can perfectly be combined with Qt. Even Apple failed with its original web-apps-only strategy, why should anybody else succeed with that nonsense now, years later? Microsoft is despaired, Google wants to control everything with Chrome OS, but why the hell should MeeGo be dropped?

New HTML/JavaScript-focused architectures: you suck.

PS:
Tizen wants to allow native access, but they “anticipate” that most stuff should be written with EcmaScript. Thus it will certainly not be easier than with Android to reuse existing technology.

Regarding Dynamic Typing

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Currenty there seems to be a big hype about EcmaScript (JavaScript). Google probably wants to enslave the world with Chrome OS, where the system is not much more than an EcmaScript virtual machine provider (maybe it will support native applications through NaCl, like Android does not only allow Java…), Microsoft wants to reimplement their Windows interface, Qt invented QML, the EcmaScript extension we all know about, providing cool declarative features. Today I want to talk about a fundamental property of EcmaScript and why it just sucks: dynamic typing.

Clarification

First let us clarify the meaning of “dynamic typing”. “Dynamic typing” means that the type of expressions gets checked at runtime, expressions which may have any type are possible. It should not be confused with duck typing, e.g. many types using dynamic typing have a lot of built-in functions relying on specific types (“the frog will not get accepted”), e.g. most functions in PHP’s standard library (expecting string, integer, array or what ever). But for example C++ function templates in etc. provide duck typing (they will accept anything looking like an iterator), or the signatures in old g++ versions provided duck typing. Determining types may happen at compile time (type inference) even with dynamic typing, and of course optimising compilers/interpreters are doing that.

Impact on Development

Let us talk about an argument for dynamic typing: it makes life easier. Actually, that can be right, there are domains where you just do not want to care about such stuff, for example when writing a shell script with few lines of code or when quickly doing some calculations with a computer algebra system. But Typo3, MediaWiki, Windows, Plasma etc. are much more than that. Why do I doubt that dynamic typing makes life easier in those contexts? Because it is error-prone. It is always better when errors get detected at compile time. It is good to fulfill contracts when programming, and they should get verified at compile time, such that they can be easily found and will not annoy the user. A type of contract (not the only one, cf. design by contract) which has been used for long time is the type system. The programmer assures that a variable has a certain type. What happens in dynamically typed languages? You do not have to state the contract, the compiler (or code checker) will usually not be able to check it, it is just in your brain, but of course you will still rely on that contract, the type is something you rely on most of the time when programming, I know that x is an integer when using x for some arithmetics. But you will do mistakes and you get buggy software. That is the fundamental disadvantage when programming, but of course I have to compare it to the advantages of dynamic typing: you can write code quickly and efficiently not mentioning the type everywhere. But there are more proper ways to achieve that: use type inference. The type of a variable will be determined by the compiler when initialising it and you will get an error when you are trying to change the type. That is good because in most cases the type of a variable will not change. And you will get informed about undefined variables (a typo should not cause a runtime error, but in dynamically typed languages it does). For the case that you need a structure allowing different types at the same position there are algebraic data types. With algebraic data types you can state a contract with only few tokens (instead of a nested array/dictionary data structure with a layout which is just implicitly given by the manipulation of it, that does often happen in dynamically typed languages), for variable declaration you only need one token, maybe a single character. That minimalistic overhead in code length is definitely worth it once the software has reached a certain complexity. That threshold is probably not very high, annoying mistakes which could have been avoided with static type checking can already occur in small programs just computing some stuff or something like that.

Performance

Dynamic typing causes big overhead because instructions have to be choosen at runtime based on type information all the time. Of course it is much more complicated to optimise dynamically typed languages, there might be corner cases where the type is not the expected one, but the runtime has to care about it etc. I often read statements like “the performance critical parts are implemented natively” etc., but regarding the amount of applications running using such languages (JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Python, Lua) we have to state: it is performance critical, PHP is used for more than a preprocessor, QML is used for more than just representing the UI, JavaScript is used for drawing a lot of complex stuff in the browser, Python gets used for scientific computations, and Ruby is establishing new standards regarding overhead (that is not true, Scheme has been that slow before ;), but Ruby allows modifying a lot of stuff at runtime, too). There is reasonable overhead—for abstraction, generalisation, internationalisation etc., but dynamic typing affects nearly any operation when running the program, that is unreasonable and of course it will sum up to significant overhead, although it is simply not needed (and bad for environment ;)).

Special Issues

Regarding extreme flexibility

First of all: in 95% of applications you do not need it, you do not have to modify types at runtime, adding member functions to classes or objects and all that stuff. Sometimes it may be a good way to establish abstraction etc., but in those cases there are usually alternatives: meta-programming can be done at compile time, when manipulating all the types in Ruby they usually could have been manipulated at compile time, too, but Ruby does not support sophisticated compile time meta programming (ML and Template Haskell do, in C++ and D it is kinda limited). Regarding collection of information, debugging etc. using such features: debugging facilities should not influence the performance and cleanness, I am sure by involvement of meta programming you could implement language features allowing that when debugging without neglecting the type system. And of course a lot of flexibility at runtime can be achieved without allowing any type everywhere: dynamic dispatch (including stuff like inheritance, interfaces, signatures and even multi-dispatch), variant types at few places (e.g. QVariant, although I think it is used too often, signals can be implemented in a type safe way, and there are those type safe plugin factories as alternative to QtScript and Kross), signals and slots, aspects etc.

Regarding EcmaScript

You might say that EcmaScript is becoming fast enough because of good compilers and extensions like type safe arrays (e.g. containing only floating points). But EcmaScript will stay EcmaScript, it will keep the downsides of dynamic typing, those type safe arrays are an ugly hack to make it feasible for some specific applications. It is simply lacking a proper type system and it will not get it.

Regarding QML

Using EcmaScript for QtScript was a pragmatic choice, no awesome innovation: there were many web developers knowing about JavaScript. Unfortunately that caused yet another way to integrate scripts and certainly not the most flexible one (cf. my previous blog post), for some reason they did not want to reuse KDE’s innovation (like QtCreator and KDevelop, but that is really a different topic…). QML is based on EcmaScript because QtScript had been based on it before. Dynamic typing is definitely not an inherent property of such declarative UI, most of it could have looked the same with a native implementation based on C++, but also implementations in Ruby or whatever would be easily possible. I have to admit that C++ is not perfect, it does not provide sophisticated meta programming, algebraic types or one-letter type inference (“auto” has four letters ;)), the last one may be a small problem, but overall it is simply not simple enough ;), languages like Scala, D and OCaml have certain problems, too. Hence some of the non-declarative code in QML would have been disproportionately complicated compared to the declarative code. The general approach of declarative UI is certainly good, and now we probably have to accept that it has been implemented using EcmaScript, we can accept it, as long as it is still possible to write Plasmoids using C++ or whatever etc.—obviously that is the case. Thus QML is generally a good development in my opinion, although implementing program logic in it is often not a good idea and although dynamic typing leaves a bitter aftertaste.

I hope you have got my points about dynamic typing. Any opinions?