It's hard out here for a programmer! Should programmers be allowed to add personalized bling to their languages of choice? Programming language experts debate to what degree developers should be able to tweak standardized languages.
Should high-end programmers be allowed to modify or add extensions to the
programming languages they use?
That issue was among the points up for debate by a panel
of programming language experts at the Microsoft PDC (Professional Developers
in October. The issue was whether programmers should be allowed
to extend a language to get around constraints or to do things they typically
might not be able to do with the language in its standard form.
"You should be able to extend the syntax [of a language] as a
programmer," said Jeremy Siek, an assistant professor at the University
Adding syntax or tweaking the syntax of a language could be somewhat akin to
the idea of DSLs (domain-specific languages), in that a programmer could
customize a language for specific tasks. There has always been tension between
general-purpose language design and specific application requirements-usually
developers have to compromise or work around language features. Adding syntax
may be like adding macros in Excel, allowing a way to use language to represent
common routines or to group multiple steps.
Erik Meijer, a Microsoft
software architect and language expert who
moderated the panel, asked, "But isn't it dangerous to have amateurs
'pimping' the language?"
Meijer was referring to the slang for glamorizing an object, as in the MTV
show "Pimp My Ride," on which the goal is to find a car in poor
condition and restore it, adding glitz and ostentation to the vehicle. Thus the
"pimp" reference. In this case, Meijer wondered whether developers
should be allowed to add "bling" to their programming language of
Siek responded to Meijer by saying his question represented "fear,
uncertainty and doubt. As humans we're coming up with new mutations and
languages all the time ... and it's wrong to limit that." So programming
languages should allow adding syntax extensions, Siek said.
think it was a good idea, however. And Gilad Bracha, the creator of the
Newspeak programming language and a distinguished engineer at Cadence Design
Systems, said, "What will come out of inexperienced people making syntax
extensions is that you probably won't be happy with the results."
Wolfram Schulte, a senior researcher at Microsoft, said, "One of the
funny things is that we struggle with DSLs because of our inability to do
parsing very well." However, "we could allow extensions to a limited
degree," he said.
Bracha added that "having a less noisy syntax makes it easier to make a
language that is like a DSL."