comparative programming linguistics

Posted in Hacking, programmer productivity, Technology trends at 8:26 pm by ducky

I have seen a lot of discussion over the years of the relative strengths (or weaknesses) of specific languages. People talk about why they use this language or that language, and they seem to always talk about specific linguistic constructs of their favored language.

“Mine has generics!” “Mine has macro expansion!” “Mine has closures!”

Sometimes the various devotees will give a nod to the richness of their language’s libraries, or to the robustness of their compiler, but rarely.

Recently, I’ve been working on a hobby project in PHP while reading up on tools like odb, JML, Daikon, Esc/Java2, javaspider, and EmmaECL. The contrast is stark.

PHP is stable enough, and seems to have plenty of libraries, but PHPEclipse quite downrev compared to Eclipse, the debugger doesn’t work at all for me (and I don’t now where to start troubleshooting), and there are essentially no additional tools. I feel like a starving dieter writing reviews for a gourmet food magazine: shackled to PHP and pining for the abundance of the Java tools.

Java’s advantages in the tool arena aren’t accidental.

  • Its static typing and no pointers makes a lot of tools easier to write.
  • Having no pointers makes it easier to teach, so undergraduate classes are now usually taught in Java, which means that the grad students tend to use Java when they research new tools.
  • The Eclipse IDE, being both open source and supported by IBM, makes it a great platform for tool development.

I am just about ready to swear fealty to Java, purely because of the richness of the third-party programming toolset.


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