Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Can Your Programming Language Do This... Or That...

Just wanted to point out this "Joel On Software" article, Can Your Programming Language Do This?. It's a nice concise opinion that summarizes why, given an arbitrary algorithmic problem, I'm personally more likely to turn to Javascript (or Perl or another scripting language with the same feel) than Java.

The key for me with Java is this statement from Joel:

Java required you to create a whole object with a single method called a functor if you wanted to treat a function like a first class object. Combine that with the fact that many OO languages want you to create a whole file for each class, and it gets really klunky fast.

I think of Java's OO nature as "hard" object orientation, in that choices are relatively set in stone based on how class files are organized and how the code flows. You can make variants of a class that do whatever you want, but you might have to do a lot of advance planning.

Conversely, in Perl, you can do like so:

sub something
...one set of code...

sub something
...another set of code...

You can call something(), and it picks up the last definition. Which makes it very easy to change the behavior of a program by overriding a method right before you call it, or by swapping the order of 'require' lines, or what have you. I think of this as "soft" object orientation, because it may be less amenable to mathematical proof of correctness, but it requires less planning and is less likely to produce cascades of syntax errors. Define it, call it, redefine it, call the new thing.

Most languages have some sort of dynamic execution facility. For example, with PL/SQL it's the EXECUTE IMMEDIATE statement and the OPEN-FOR statement. Any time you see a language concatenating strings and executing the result, you need to watch out for potential security problems. Who gets to enter that string, could it be rigged to execute multiple statements instead of one, could different names be substituted so it operated on some object you didn't expect. PL/SQL has the USING clause to guard against such problems by using bind values. Still, the Javascript approach of passing around functions as parameters feels comfortable, because all the variations of those functions are defined in your own source code rather than combined from arbitrary strings.


Severin said...

I agree that the overhead involved in creating java objects can quickly decrease the speed at which you solve small, one shot, coding problems.

Do you think that OO has been widely adopted and utilized? Or has it failed to fullfill its promise?

Igor said...


Just to note, that is not true.
You can create file dynamically, compile it and load it...

In new JDK version, it seems that there is even simpler way using Compiler API (haven't tried it yet)...