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Posts Tagged ‘thinking’

D, Go and LuaJIT

Although I do not use D, I always see it as one of the most attractive programming languages, smartly balancing efficiency, simplicity and extensibility. At the same time, I keep getting frustrated when I see such an elegant thing fade away gradually given that a) D has dropped out of top 20 in TIOBE Programming Community Index and b) it was not evaluated by the Computer Language Benchmarks Game any more. Most programmers know why this happens. I am simply frustrated.

D is falling while Go is rising. I do appreciate the philosophy behind the design of Go and trust Rob Pike and Ken Thompson to deliver another great product, but right now I do not see Go as a replacement of any mainstream programming languages as long as it is way slower than Java, not to speak C/C++. To me, Go’s rising is merely due to the support from Google. It is good as a research project, but it needs time to reach the critical mass in practice.

While reading the Computer Language Benchmarks Game, I am really amazed by LuaJIT. Probably I am going to try it some day.

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I came across two interviews (here and here) of Alexander Stepanov, the father of STL. There are quite a lot of interesting bits. For example, he thinks C++ is the best programming language to realize his goal, but he is also strongly against OOP at the same time. In addition, he has paid a lot of efforts on efficiency, which we can see from STL. He said: “It is silly to abstract an algorithm in such a way that when you instantiate it back it becomes inefficient”. I like these two interviews because I think in the same way. The only exception is I do not use STL, although I think it is the best generic library and I like it a lot. But why?

Two reasons. Firstly, STL is written in C++, which makes it unavailable to all C projects. It is possible to only use STL and forget all the other features in C++, but people rarely do so. At least I have not seen such a project where STL is combined with procedural programming. In addition, C++ projects are usually less portable than C projects and STL makes it worse. It puts a lot of stress on C++ compilers. Even Stepanov agreeed, by the time of the interview, that “The unfortunate reality is that a lot of code in the present implementation of STL is suboptimal because of the compiler limitations and bugs of the compilers I had to use when I was developing STL”. Secondly, using STL also means much longer compiling time. I remembered I used to compile a customized Linux kernel for my old laptop in an hour. Probably I would spend more than a day to compile if it was written using C++/STL.

A generic container library would benefit a lot of C programmers, but so far I am not aware of any efficient implementation. Glib tries to achieve so, but it uses void* and this inevitably will incur overhead and complicate interfaces. And finally, I decide to write my own one. Ideally (but probably impractically) I want to achieve four goals: a) efficiency in speed and space; b) elegance in interface; c) independency between functinality and d) simplicity in codes. However, currently I am not competent enough to achieve all these goals and I am not a professional programmer at all (and so cannot invest enough time). As I said in my About page, I mainly do this to please myself.

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Just now I got an email from a mailing list, saying that C++ helps to greatly reduce coding time in comparison to C. I have heard a lot about this argument. But is that true?

C++ can possibly accelerate development in two ways: firstly, OOP (Object-Oriented Programming) helps to organize large projects, and secondly, STL (Standard Template Library) saves time on reimplementing frequently used subroutines. However, I do not find C++ OOP greatly helps me. To me, it is not right to clearly classify a programming language as a procedure-oriented or object-oriented language. It is only right to say a development methodology is procedure-oriented or object-oriented. We can effectively mimic the fundamental OOP ideas in C, a socalled procedure-oriented language, by packaging related data in a struct and transfer the a pointer to the struct to subroutines. I know C++ programmers would argue doing in this way is far from OOP, but it has captured the essence of OOP and in practice sufficient to organize large projects with this simple and natural idea. The large amount of existing C projects, such as Linux kernel, gcc and Emacs, prove this is the truth. With OOP ideas, we can use C to organize large projects without difficulty. C++ does not provide more power except introducing more complicated concepts.

I do not use STL most of time. I have implemented most of useful subroutines in C/C++ by myself. I actually spend less time in using my own library than using STL as I am very familiar with my own codes. Of course, implementing an efficient and yet generic library by myself takes a lot of time, but I really learn a lot in this invaluable process. I can hardly imagine how a programmer who does not get a firm grasp of data structures, which can only be achieved by implementing by him/herself, can ever write good programs. To this end, I agree that for elementary programmers using STL reduces coding time; but this is achieved at the cost of weakening the ability to write better programs. And for an advanced programmer, using STL may help but probably does not save much time.

Note that I am not saying C++ is a bad language as a whole. In fact, I use C++ template functions a lot and C++ template classes at times. In this post, I just want to emphasize the importantance to focusing on the art of programming instead of on the artificial concepts or on the degree of laziness a language can provide.

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