October 13, 2011 § 4 Comments
A few weeks ago, the browser and web development communities started wondering about this mysterious new web language that Google was about to unveil: Dart. Part of the interrogation was technical – what would that language look like? how would a new language justify its existence? what problems would it solve? – and part was more strategic – what was Google doing preparing a web language in secret? where the leaked memos that seemed to imply a web-standards-breaking stance something that Google would indeed pursue? was Google trying to solve web-related problems, Google-related problems or Oracle-related problems?
Now, Google has unveiled the specifications of Dart, as well as library documentation. Neither will be sufficient to answer all questions, but they give us an opportunity to look at some of the technical sides of the problem. As a programming language researcher/designer and a member of the web browser community, I just had to spend some quality time with the Dart specifications.
So, how’s Dart? Well, let’s look at it.
What Dart is
Dart is a programming language and a Virtual Machine. As a programming language, Dart positions itself somewhere in the scope between scripting/web development and application development. From the world of application development, Dart brings
- clean concurrency primitives that would feel at home in Scala, Clojure or Erlang – including a level of concurrent error reporting;
- a clean module mechanism, including a notion of privacy;
- a type system offering genericity, interfaces and classes;
- compilation and a virtual machine;
- a library of data structures;
- no eval();
- data structures that do not change shape with time.
From the world of scripting/web development, Dart brings:
- usability in any standards-compliant browser, without any plug-in (although it will work better in a plug-in and/or in Chrome);
- DOM access;
- emphasis on fast start-up;
- a liberal approach to typing (i.e. types are optional and the type system is incorrect, according to the specifications);
- dynamic errors;
- closures (which are actually not scripting/web development related, but until Java 8 lands or until Scala, F# or Haskell gain popularity, most developers will believe that they are).
Where Dart might help
Web development has a number of big problems. I have
trolled written about some of them in previous posts, and Dart was definitely designed to help, at least a little.
Safety and Code Hygiene
Where Dart might hinder
The single biggest problem with Dart is, of course, its source. To get the VM in the browsers, Google will have to convince both developers and other browser vendors to either reimplement the VM by themselves or use a Google-issued VM. This is possible, but this will be difficult for Google.
The vendor controlled vehicle will be to integrate the VM in Chrome and Android and encourage developers targeting the Chrome Market and Android Market to use Dart. Some speculate that this is a manner for Google to get rid of the Java dependency on the Android Market. In this case, of course, there will be little competition.
Libraries and documentation
Doing it without Dart
Also, while classes and private fields are probably the least surprising techniques for application developers coming to the web, developers used to dynamic or functional languages know that closures and prototypes are essentially equivalent. So, this is essentially a matter of taste.
Isolates are nice. Workers are nice. Isolates are a little easier to set-up, so I would like to see an Isolate-like API for Workers. Other than that, they are essentially equivalent.
String interpolations are nice to have, but not really life-altering. If necessary, they can trivially be implemented by a pre-processor. CoffeeScript might already do it, I’m not sure. Adding this to the JS standard might be tricky, for reasons of backwards compatibility, but there is not much to it.
If we consider I my opinion, there are three ways that Google can get Dart adopted on the web:
- make it the default choice for Android & Chrome development;
- provide a set of killer libraries for the web, that work on all browsers but are truly usable only with Dart (DirectX anyone? something Cocoa-style, perhaps?);
- spend Google-sized budgets on adoption (PR, marketing, GSoC, open-source projects, etc.).
September 21, 2011 § 3 Comments
It’s an exciting time for us Computer Scientists.
Three years ago, I was an academic researcher, studying the best manner to certify binaries uploaded to clouds and ensure their security. Less than three weeks ago, I was working at MLstate, leading the R&D team and striving to change the face of web programming languages and web security. Today, I am part of Mozilla, as a proud member of the Performance team, where we take steps, each day, to make Firefox, Thunderbird and the Mozilla platform faster and more responsive.
We, at Mozilla, have considerable work ahead of us. Because the web needs to be defended, kept open and compatible with privacy, and, on some of these fronts, only Mozilla stands.
An exciting time, indeed – and an exciting way of doing my part!
I will try and blog about ongoing developments as soon as I find a minute.
Edit It seems that I misredacted some of the announces that were sent. Just to clarify, I am not the leader of the Performance team. That person is Taras Glek.
May 30, 2011 § 18 Comments
Feedback from Opa testers suggests that we can improve the syntax and make it easier for developers new to Opa to read and write code. We have spent some time both inside the Opa team and with the testers designing two possible revisions to the syntax. Feedback on both possible revisions, as well as alternative ideas, are welcome.
A few days ago, we announced the Opa platform, and I’m happy to announce that things are going very well. We have received numerous applications for the closed preview – we now have onboard people from Mozilla, Google and Twitter, to quote but a few, from many startups, and even from famous defense contractors – and I’d like to start this post by thanking all the applicants. It’s really great to have you guys & gals and your feedback. We are still accepting applications, by the way.
Speaking of feedback, we got plenty of it, too, on just about everything Opa, much of it on the syntax. This focus on syntax is only fair, as syntax is both the first thing a new developer sees of a language and something that they have to live with daily. And feedback on the syntax indicates rather clearly that our syntax, while being extremely concise, was perceived as too exotic by many developers.
Well, we aim to please, so we have spent some time with our testers working on possible syntax revisions, and we have converged on two possible syntaxes. In this post, I will walk you through syntax changes. Please keep in mind that we are very much interested in feedback, so do not hesitate to contact us, either by leaving comments on this blog, by IRC, or at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Important note: that we will continue supporting the previous syntax for some time and we will provide tools to automatically convert from the previous syntax to the revised syntax.
Let me walk you through syntax changes.
May 23, 2011 § 18 Comments
The Opa platform was created to address the problem of developing secure, scalable web applications. Opa is a commercially supported open-source programming language designed for web, concurrency, distribution, scalability and security. We have entered closed beta and the code will be released soon on http://opalang.org, as an Owasp project .
- Edit The video spawned a conversation on Reddit.
- Edit Interesting followup on Hacker News.
- Edit Reworked source code & comments for clarity. Thanks for the feedback.
- EditCome and chat with us on Freenode, channel #opalang .
If you are a true coder, sometimes, you meet a problem so irritating, or a solution so clumsy, that challenging it is a matter of engineering pride. I assume that many of the greatest technologies we have today were born from such challenges, from OpenGL to the web itself. The pain of pure LAMP-based web development begat Ruby on Rails, Django or Node.js, as well as the current NoSQL generation. Similarly, the pains of scalable large system development with raw tools begat Erlang, Map/Reduce or Project Voldemort.
Opa was born from the pains of developing scalable, secure web applications. Because, for all the merits of existing solutions, we just knew that we could do much, much better.
Unsurprisingly, getting there was quite a challenge. Between the initial idea and an actual platform lay blood, sweat and code, many experiments and failed prototypes, but finally, we got there. After years of development and real-scale testing, we are now getting ready to release the result.
May 31, 2010 § Leave a comment
MLstate est une jeune entreprise innovante en campagne depuis 2008 pour la reconquête du web. Notre objectif : réinventer les bases technologiques et scientifiques des applications web, pour une toile plus saine, plus sûre et plus sécurisée. Notre équipe R&D compte une vingtaine de passionnés, docteurs ou ingénieurs en informatique, et est sur le point de s’agrandir.
Si vous êtes informaticien de haut niveau, inspiré et ingénieux, si vous êtes doté d’une forte culture informatique et scientifique, d’une grande connaissance des langages fonctionnels et impératifs, de la compilation, des systèmes de types, contactez-nous. Le candidat idéal, docteur ou non, avec ou sans expérience industrielle, aura aussi des connaissances en distribution, parallélisme, bases de données, sera capable d’évoluer dans un environnement polyglotte et disposera de la finesse nécessaire pour construire des produits finis.
Les problèmes à résoudre sont difficiles. Pour relever le défi, contactez-nous à email@example.com .
January 7, 2010 § 2 Comments
edit Part 2 of this post was never written. I no longer work on Opa. For any question regarding Opa, please contact MLstate.
Since the initial announcement regarding OPA, we have received a number of questions regarding all the aspects of the language (including, suprisingly, a few demands for answers and documentation). Well, while we’re busy putting together documentation, benchmarks and FAQ, here’s a quick tour of one of the most fundamental pieces of the language: the type system.
November 28, 2009 § 7 Comments
Web applications are nice. They’re useful, they’re cross-platform, users need no installation, no upgrades, no maintenance, not even the computing or storage power to which they are used. As weird as it may sound, I’ve even seen announcements for web applications supposed to run your games on distant high-end computers so that you can actually play on low-end computers. Go web application!
Of course, there are a few downsides to web applications. Firstly, they require a web connexion. Secondly, they are largely composed of plumbing. Finally, ensuring their security is a constant fight.
September 22, 2008 § 1 Comment
Il y a environ un an, un de mes collègues travaillait sur un dispositif de communication pour les services d’urgence. Ce dispositif, prévu pour être utilisé lors de catastrophes naturelles ou d’attentats terroristes majeurs, devait permettre une meilleure synchronisation entre la police, les pompiers et les équipes de secouristes. Ah, et au cas où il se serait effectivement agi d’un attentat, le dispositif se devait d’être sûr. Conclusion du collègue en question : “comme Firefox est sûr, je vais faire cela sous la forme d’une extension Firefox, et ça sera sûr.”
À ce stade, j’espère que vous êtes déjà en train de vous moquer intérieurement de mon collègue. Cela dit, savez-vous effectivement quel risque vous courez en écrivant une extension ? Savez-vous quel risque vous faites courir à l’utilisateur ? Et savez-vous à quel point vous pouvez compter sur la plateforme Mozilla pour vous aider à écrire des extensions ou des applications sûres ?
À l’occasion, je tâcherai d’écrire un article détaillé sur le sujet. En attendant, pour ceux qui se posent des questions, voici les transparents (en français) de l’exposé que j’ai donné samedi dernier au Mozilla Add-Ons Workshop de Paris.
Ah, un indice : ayez peur.