Clever Things People Do In Groovy So You Have To Know About Them video

Groovy has lots of interesting syntax that can be used for domain-specific languages, such as Gradle build files, and Jenkinsfiles. I try to demystify the syntax tricks a bit so you have a chance to read and understand what the code is actually doing:

Slides and source code are available.

Ideas on how lexing will work in Pepper3

I am trying to practice documentation-driven development in Pepper3, so every time I start on an area, I will write documentation explaining how it works, and include examples that are automatically verified during the build.

I’ve started work on lexing, since you can’t do much before you do that, but in fact, of course, I need to have a command line interface before I can verify any of the examples, so I’m working on that too.

Lexing is the process that takes a stream of characters (e.g. from a file) and turns it into a stream of “tokens” that are chunks of code like a variable name, a number or a string. (There is more on lexing in my mini programming language, Cell.)

My thoughts so far about lexing are in lexing.md, and current ideas about command line interface are at command_line.md. All very much subject to change.

Headlines:

  • Ordinary programmers can write their own lexing rules.
  • Operators (functions like “+” that find their arguments on their left and right, instead of between brackets like normal functions) are defined at the lexing phase, so any symbol (e.g. “in”) can be an operator if you want.
  • Anything you might want to do with a pepper program, including running it, compiling it, packaging it for an distribution system, should be available as a sub-command of the main pepper3 command line.
  • The command is “pepper3”, never “pepper”. If a new, incompatible version comes out, it will be called “pepper4”, and they will be parallel-installable, with no confusion.

Questions and answers about Pepper3

Series: Examples, Questions

My last post Examples of Pepper3 code was a reply to my friend’s email asking what it was all about. They replied with some questions, and I thought the questions and answers might shed some more light:

Questions!

Brilliant ones, thanks.

In general though you’ve said a lot about what Pepper can do without giving design decisions.

Yep, total brain dump.

Remind me again who this language is for :)

It’s a multi-paradigm (generic, functional, OO) language aimed at application programmers who want:

  • “native” performance on their chosen platform (definitely including actual native machine code). This is inspired by C++.
  • easy deployment (preferably a single binary containing everything, with an option to link most dependencies statically), including packaging of installers for major OSes. This is inspired by C++, and the pain of C++.
  • perfect flexibility for creating types – “meta-programming” is just programming. Things you would have done using code generation (e.g. generating a class hierarchy from an XSD) are done by running arbitrary code at compile time. The powerful type system is inspired by Haskell and the book “Modern C++ Design”, and the meta-programming is inspired by Lisp.
  • Simple memory management without GC through ownership. This is inspired by modern C++, and then Rust came along and implemented it before I could, thus proving it works. However, I would remove a lot of the functionality in Rust (lifetimes) to make it much simpler.
  • Strong support for functional programming if you want it. This is inspired by Haskell.
  • The simplest possible core language, with application programmers able to expand it by giving them the same tools as the language designers – e.g. “for” is just a function, so you can make your own. I am hoping I can even make “class” a function. This is inspired by Lisp, and oppositely-inspired by Java.
  • Separation between the idea of Interfaces, which I think I will call “type specifiers” (and will allow arbitrary code execution to determine whether a type satisfies the requirements) and structs/classes, allowing us to make new Interfaces and have old code satisfy them, meaning we can do generic stuff with e.g. ints even if
    no-one declared that “class Int : public Quaternion” or whatever.
  • Lots of “nudges” towards things that are good: by default things will be functional and immutable – you will have to explicitly say if you want to use more dangerous constructs like side effects and mutable values.
  • No implicit conversions, or really anything happening without you saying so.

Can you assign floats to ints or vice versa?

Yes, but you shouldn’t.

If you’re setting types in code at the start of a file, is this only available in the main file? Are there multiple files per program? Can
you have libraries? If so, do these decide the functionality of their types in the library or does this only happen in the main file?

I haven’t totally decided – either by being enforced, or as a matter of style, you will generally do this once at the beginning of the program (and choose on the compiler command line to do it e.g. the debug way or the release way) and it will affect all of your code.

Libraries will be packaged as Pepper3 source code, so choices you make of the type of Int etc. will be reflected through the whole dependency tree. Cool, huh?

This is inspired by Python.

Can you group variables together into structs or similar?

Yes – it will be especially easy to make “value types”, and lots of default methods will be provided, that you will be strongly encouraged to use – e.g. copy and move operations. This is inspired by Elm.

Why are variables immutable by default but mutable with a special syntax? It’s the opposite of C++ const, but why that way around?

This is one of the “nudges” – immutable stuff is much easier to think about, and makes parallel stuff easier, and allows optimisations and so on, so turning it on by default means you have to choose to take the bad path, and are inclined to take the virtuous one. This is inspired by Haskell and Rust.

Why only allow assignments, function calls and operators? I’m sure you have good reasons.

To be as simple as possible, so you only have those things to learn and the rest can be understood by just reading the code. This is inspired by Python.

I wrote more of my (earlier) thoughts in this 4-post series, which is better thought through: Goodness in Programming Languages

HTML5 CSS Toolbar + zoomable workspace that is mobile-friendly and adaptive

I have been working on a prototype level editor for Rabbit Escape, and I’ve had trouble getting the layout I wanted: a toolbar at the side or top of the screen, and the rest a zoomable workspace.

Something like this is very common in many desktop applications, but not that easy to achieve in a web page, especially because we want to take care that it adapts to different screen sizes and orientations, and, for example, allows zooming the toolbar buttons in case we find ourselves on a device with different resolution from what we were expecting.

In the end I’ve gone with a grid-layout solution and accepted the fact that sometimes on mobile devices when I zoom in my toolbar will disappear off the top/side. When I scroll back to it, it stays around, so using this setup is quite natural. On the desktop, it works how you’d expect, with the toolbar staying on screen at all zoom levels.

Here’s how it looks on a landscape display:

and portrait:

Read the full source code.

As you can see from the code linked above, after much fiddling I managed to achieve this with a relatively small amount of CSS, and no JavaScript. I’m hoping it will behave well in unexpected scenarios, because the code expresses what I want fairly closely.

The important bits of the HTML are simple – a main div, a toolbar containing buttons, and a workspace containing some kind of work:

<div id="main">
    <div id="toolbar">
        <button></button><button></button><button></button><button></button><button></button><button></button><button></button><button></button>
    </div>
    <div id="workspace">
        <div id="work">
        </div>
    </div>
</div>

The keys bits of the CSS are:

/* Ensure we take up the full height of the page. */
html, body, #main
{
    height: 100%;
}

@media all and (orientation:landscape)
{
    /* On a wide screen, it's a grid with 2 columns,
       and the toolbar can scroll downwards. */
    #main
    {
        display: grid;
        grid-template-columns: 5em 1fr;
    }
    #toolbar
    {
        overflow-x: hidden;
        overflow-y: auto;
    }
}

@media all and (orientation:portrait)
{
    /* On a tall screen, it's a grid with 2 rows,
       and the toolbar can scroll right. */
    #main
    {
        display: grid;
        grid-template-rows: 5em 1fr;
    }
    #toolbar
    {
        overflow-x: auto;
        overflow-y: hidden;
        white-space: nowrap;
    }
}

That replaces an awful lot of code in my first attempt, so I’m reasonably happy. If anyone has suggestions about how to make “100%” really mean 100% of the real device width and height, let me know. If I do some JavaScript I can make Mobile Firefox fit to the real screen size, but Mobile Chrome (and, I assume, Mobile Safari) lie to me about the screen size when zoomed in.

Adding a day in Python datetimes – use timedelta, not the datetime constructor

If you want “tomorrow” in Python datetimes, don’t construct a datetime like this:

from datetime import datetime, timedelta
td = datetime.today()
tm1 = datetime(td.year, td.month, td.day + 1, 14, 0, 0)
# Don't do this!

Because it will work sometimes, but fail when today is the last day of the month:

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "./tomorrow", line 6, in 
    tm1 = datetime(td.year, td.month, td.day + 1, 14, 0, 0)
ValueError: day is out of range for month

Instead, use Python’s timedelta, which is designed for this purpose:

from datetime import datetime, timedelta

td = datetime.today()
tm2 = td + timedelta(days=1)

print("tm2=%s" % str(tm2))

And it’s easier to read too.