Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why writing programming languages is so fun yet so damn hard

I love sitting down on a Sunday day and throwing a parser with some tree manipulation to try to create a new way of expressing computing. However, it's hard.

I'll point out some goals that I think about when I'm in a PL mood.

(1) I hate garbage collection in a non-trivial way. It's stupid. Before you curse me into madness, there are a couple of ways of dealing with it. One, ignore it and have memory leaks. It's not rocket science to manage memory, but it can be a pain in the ass when you try to pass around ownership. Two, kill the heap. This, I've tried and it works; it isn't for the feint of art. Three, have reckless memory manage in contexts that get destroyed and share state via a DB like thing (i.e. Mysql, SQlite, or a DOM). I like Three a lot.

The nice thing about having reckless memory usage with a persistence back-end is that the thing that is reckless can fail. Say, you run out of memory, ok, create, kill the context. Now, from a performance point of view, this approach is strange to say the least. This is why I'm interested in embedding transaction logic into PL for optimization.

I don't have a solution to this as my last big language attempt just used a DB.

(2) Asynchronous is full of win. I'm not a fan of threads (Threads are Hard, m'Kay), and I would like a very easy way to think synchronously yet behave asynchronously. I'd like not to have to pass around closures, nor do I feel like yielding my code with co-rountines. I want something better..

(3) Saving state is fun. My last PL had the ability to zip of a closure, put it in a queue, and then distribute the computation. I'd like to be able to pause the state of the computation and move it between computers. The difficulty here is making it play safe with a persistent data store. See (1)

(4) I don't want to write a VM nor target low level code. My primary target must be C (or C++). I'd like the code to run on the iOS. I'd like it to be vanilla C. I'd very much like it to work in JavaScript. I'd like a real "write once, run anywhere" language that targeted machine code.

(5) I need closures; just because they make my life easy

(6) I like either dynamic types or polymorphic types (ala OCaml)

(7) I like type inference

So today, I made a very basic framework for expressing some of these ideas. I have mental solutions (because I've solved them before) for (3-7), but 1 and 2 are driving me nuts. I know C# has a kinda solution to 2 using co-routines, but's only ok. I want magic.

I want real magical shit in my PL, but magic is hard.

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