Building a toy for my children suggested an analogy with programming. Many toys come knocked down, requiring assembly, with instructions of the form “insert peg A into hole A, slide tab B into slot B, …”. This is just like the way we use names in programming languages, indicating parts that need to be attached by labelling them with the same name. The function call A is to be attached to the function definition A. Programming with names is like creating a program as a big pile of pieces with labels attached, and leaving it to the compiler/interpreter to assemble the pieces into something that works. Textual programs are knocked down.
The problem is that this approach boggles the mind when used with thousands or even millions of pieces. Modern IDE’s like Eclipse strive valiantly to help us imagine how things will plug together, but this is an impossible task. Even my kids know that all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put Humpty together again.
The goal of Subtext is to fabricate programs as working wholes. No assembly required.
Here is a review of some research on managing the explosion of information in an IDE. Note that all of these are based on Eclipse, which appears to have become the dominant platform for IDE research.
Mylar is an experimental Eclipse plugin that tracks what program elements you are interested in, by watching your editing/browsing behavior. It alters the standard views such as the Package Explorer, Outline, and Type Hierarchy to focus in on what you have expressed interest in. Uninteresting things are filtered out, and the interest-level of the remaining things is indicated by different shades of highlighting. You can manually establish “landmarks” on program elements, which drive certain views to automatically display related elements, such as a type hierarchy filtered down to show only the inheritance structure of the landmarks.
Relo takes a different approach: instead of filtering the system down, it lets you build up a diagrammatic view of just the parts you are interested in as your explore.
JQuery lets you build a custom broswer by writting queries over your program. The results are shown in tree form, and you can expand any leaf with another sub-query, either custom or standard.
Dynamic Aspects has released some white papers and demos of their planned development tools. Their initial product is a Java IDE where the language becomes the tool. They seem to share many of my goals, and I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Their headline feature is micro-refactoring. Continue reading “Dynamic Aspects”
Lambda the Ultimate posted an item on Subtext. I waded into the ensuing discussion to try to clarify things.
I didn’t notice it for a few days though, and the attention span of blog discussions seems to be only a day or two. What I need is something like the old clipping services for newspapers, that would email me whenever anyone blogs me. I thought that was what pingbacks were for, but I have never received one (nor a trackback).
Here is the paper I am submitting to OOPSLA Onward! [PDF] [WORD]
Comments are welcome, especially by the deadline Friday March 18.