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4 points by soegaard 5767 days ago | link | parent

Never mind the example. What troubles me with the the-code-is-the-spec approach, is that for an outsider, it is impossible to tell which decisions where made deliberately and which were accidental.

Just for the record, I find it is fair game to say there is no specification, while the experimentation phase is still going on.

5 points by pg 5767 days ago | link

It doesn't matter whether features are deliberate or not. It's very common in math for someone to discover something that has interesting properties they never imagined. In fact, it's probably closer to the truth to say that if a mathematical concept doesn't have properties the discoverer never imagined, it's not a very interesting one.

Lisp itself is an example of this phenomenon. JMC didn't expect to use s-expressions in the real language, but they turned out to be way more useful than he envisioned.

I'm not just splitting hairs here, or trying to defend myself. In design (or math), questions of deliberateness are not binary. I'll often decide on the design of an operator based on what looks elegant in the source, rather than to meet some spec, just as Kelly Johnson used beauty as a heuristic in designing aircraft that flew well.


1 point by shiro 5767 days ago | link

It's a good argument in general sense, but I doubt it is applicable in library API.

If you're delivering a final product, users don't care if some design is deliberate or not; they care it is good or bad. If you're deriving mathematic proof, others don't care if some choice is deliberate or not; they care if it is correct, beautiful, or useful to prove other theorems. That's because changing your choice afterwards won't break existing products or proofs that relied on the previous choices.

In the case of library API, changing your choice does break existing software relying on the library. In the current Arc case it is forewarned so it's perfectly fine, but at some point (50years from now, maybe?) you have to let more people write software on it; by that moment it should be clear that what they can rely on and what they cannot.


2 points by pg 5766 days ago | link

by that moment it should be clear that what they can rely on and what they cannot

The only difference if the implementation is the spec is how they know what they can rely on. If the implementation is the spec, they decide by reading the source; if it's a document writen in English, they decide by reading that.


4 points by shiro 5766 days ago | link

Implementation can be, and will be, changed, inevitably. Then does the language change as well, or the languages remains the same but just implementation is improved? How can you tell the difference purely from the source?

Some Scheme implementation evaluates arguments left to right. You can see that by reading the source. In future, it may switch it right to left, maybe for better optimization. The spec in natural language, or more formal and abstract form like in Appendix A of R6RS, can explicitly say the order of evaluation is unspecified. How you tell your users that they should not rely on the evaluation order purely by the source code, given the state of most programming languages?

Ideally I like to think the source only describes the spec and the compiler and runtime figure out the details, so maybe spec-by-source and spec-by-other-notation will converge in future. Is that what you are talking?

(Please don't argue that unspecified evaluation order is bad or not; I just use that example to illustrate the point. And incidentally, since Arc is defined in terms of Scheme, the order of argument evaluation order is just unspecified as well. But it's just delegating the spec to a lower level.)


1 point by soegaard 5766 days ago | link

Actually PLT Scheme guarantees left-to-right order, but that doesn't change your point.


2 points by akkartik 5766 days ago | link

One point everybody else is missing: since arc explicitly makes no claims of backwards compatibility, the notion of a spec is meaningless.

If the goal of a language is to be readable there's nothing wrong in the implementation being the spec. Consider it a form of self-hosting, or of eating your own dogfood.


An implementation in a reasonably high-level declarative language is a more reasonable 'spec' than one in C. More features are amenable to checking just by reading rather than by execution.

When something is obviously a bug it doesn't matter if it's a bug in the spec or the implementation.

Those two categories -- obvious bugs, and questions about what is or is not in the language that should be answered by reading the code rather than executing it -- seem to cover all the objections people have raised.


1 point by shiro 5766 days ago | link

At least I'm talking about the attitude of spec-by-source in general, not particularly about Arc, FYI.

Edit: I agree that more abstract, declarative language is closer to spec-by-source. If somebody says Prelude.hs is the spec of Haskell's standard library I agree. But the core language semantics is still not in Haskell itself, is it? (I'm still learning. Correct me if I'm wrong.)


1 point by almkglor 5766 days ago | link

Right. And nobody needs comments in source code, ever.


1 point by akkartik 5766 days ago | link


FWIW, here's how I think comments in source code can be improved, especially in exploratory programming:


1 point by almkglor 5766 days ago | link

Oh come on. What are comments but prose descriptions of the code?

Anyway please reparse my post with <sarcastic>...</sarcastic> around it.


1 point by akkartik 5766 days ago | link

I did get the sarcasm, but not how you extrapolate from my comment.

"There's nothing wrong with a code spec in this case" != "prose specs suck"


1 point by almkglor 5766 days ago | link

Hmm. Must be a bug in my reader ^^


2 points by oconnor0 5767 days ago | link

The problem is that as people learn the language they will build mental maps of what works and what doesn't and in the process will write code that depends on things that could legitimately be considered bugs or arbitrary side effects of the current implementation.

Whether or not this matters to you or even should matter is another concern, but this has been a spot of contention for languages like Python and OCaml whose spec is the code.