Principles of Programming Language Design

September 12, 2007

I completely failed to explain to a group why I think C# 3.0’s pile of features are a poor design. Somehow people keep missing my point. Can you believe English is my first language? If anyone is reading this post, please tell me if this makes any sense to you.

Imagine how Anders, head of the C# design team, might think about the next version of C#. Ten different groups within MS propose 10 brilliant features to add to C# 4.0. Things like pattern matching, concurrency, transactional memory, assertions, categories, etc. Big, complicated, cool features. How does he decide which one to implement? Anders would think long and hard about which feature will have the biggest impact. He’ll choose 1 or 2 and the rest will get shot down. C# 4.0 introduces a few big new features, and this process repeats itself for version 5.0.

If I were running the C# team, I would resist adding any features to C# for fear of feature creep. Instead, I would tell all 10 groups to implement their features as libraries. They will grumble and complain, then they will build a prototype using some insane hackery to get around some limitations in C# and the CLR. I would study those gross hacks, not the features themselves, because that’s where they ran into a roadblock with the language. The goal of language design is to reduce the number of gross hacks needed to implement complex libraries. Because if I can fix C# so these guys can implement their 10 great features as libraries more easily, then I’ve magically enabled hundreds of groups outside MS to also implement their very complex features.

The changes I envision making to C# would be much more subtle than a giant feature like LINQ. I would tinker with some dynamic typing features, better integration with code generation tools, and maybe a way to use attributes within the body of a method (i.e. a parallel loop declaration above a foreach stmt). Small, subtle changes that would have wide impact on library writers, but not most programmers. I’m against adding feature X. Instead, I want to change C# so you can write feature X as a library. Does this make sense?

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One Response to “Principles of Programming Language Design”

  1. Jack Says:

    Thank god you’re not running the C# team.


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