PROPOSAL: Language Escape Operator

Reinier Zwitserloot reinier at
Sat Mar 28 00:10:03 PDT 2009

Can you give me a use-case that used a back-tick? I found the property  
keyword one to be very un-compelling (in fact, I would use it as proof  
that we don't need it, and that even if it was available, it wouldn't  
even be used. If I was designing an AST view language, I wouldn't do  
that, and if I had to pick one, I'd count the need to type a backtick  
as a major con). I think we're misunderstanding each other on some  
topics because of a lack of examples. I understand the point of this  
operator is for there to be NO actual use-cases yet, but nevertheless,  
gazing into the future should give some possible examples, no matter  
how esoteric.

NB: Loved your slides on the topic. I have comments because I care :P

  --Reinier Zwitserloot

On Mar 27, 2009, at 23:45, Bruce Chapman wrote:

> Comments inline
> thanks
> Bruce
> Reinier Zwitserloot wrote:
>> The backtick, on a standard US 101, needs to be typed by awkwardly
>> bending your left pinky, traditionally the least flexible typing
>> finger. At least, for 10-fingers on the home row kind of typer. As
>> Stefan pointed out, on international keyboards its akin to using the
>> umlaut (without any characters under it) as a symbol.
>> However, that's not really my issue with this proposal, this is:
>> Who ever types or sees that backtick?
>> 1. The source file - but, no. It doesn't even end in .java, there is
>> no way that source could possibly be mistaken for java code.
>> 2. The programmer - but, no. I would never use a new language (even  
>> if
>> its folding sugar on vanilla java) if it requires me to type a
>> gazillion backticks. I wouldn't do it even if it were a nice, easily
>> typed symbol like, say, semi-colon. Turning my code into perl cartoon
>> swearing surely cannot be the point. Even if I never see them  
>> (because
>> the folder folds them away!), I don't want to hit a special 'I want
>> sugar' modifier key, that breaks the flow just as much as a cmd-key
>> combo. Also, You hit shift routinely as you are 'just typing', so
>> what's the problem with hitting CMD+X or whatever key such a folding
>> IDE comes up with?
>> 3. The parser - but, no. A code-folding view on the AST would never  
>> be
>> in a position to parse such a thing.
> The proposal doesn't say how the language escape operator should be
> used. If you are talking about the example use case then here is the
> logic for why I think it is a good idea.
> 1. Syntactic sugar is good because it increases the signal to noise
> ratio when humans read or write the code.
> 2. Syntactic sugar in the language has a few problems
>    - It takes years to get it in there
>    - Only a few very select and very universal ones get in the  
> language
>    - If it is done wrong then you have to live with it (no rollback)
>    - Its existence constrains the way in which new language features
> are implemented
> 3. So if you do syntactic sugar as a view in the IDE and say you use a
> single character language escape operator then
>    - You get almost all the benefits of having it in the language - at
> the cost of typing one more character
>    - you can choose whether you want each one separately
>    - If you use one, it doesn't affect anyone else looking at the code
>    - you completely avoid all the negatives.
> 4. Thats a pretty big nett gain in my book
> If you don't find any use compelling, you are under no obligation to  
> use it.
>> other problem:
>> Many non-java languages already need the backtick, such as scala,
>> which uses it to mean: The contents of the backticks are an
>> identifier, even if it looks like a keyword. This allows you to call
>> Thread.yield() in scala like so : Thread.`yield`(), because 'yield'  
>> in
>> scala is a keyword, and therefore Thread.yield() would not invoke the
>> method (it is instead a syntax error). Java has only 2 common  
>> keyboard
>> symbols left, the backtick and the hash, and taking one of them is a
>> big deal. I am not convinced its worth it, mostly because of the  
>> above
>> problems.
> Right, and so when choosing the character we need to allow for how  
> Java
> will implement that feature of specifying names of API elements
> generated in other languages that are not valid Java identifiers. That
> work is underway as far as I know.
>> The only benefit I can see is that, IF the code-folding AST view
>> editor does use the backtick as some kind of escaping key, that any
>> future java expansions do not all of a sudden make previous syntax
>> sugar legal actual java. But this really doesn't sound very good
>> either, because:
>> 1. The backtick really really needs to be in the source, so that if I
>> copy and paste, it sticks around.
> For the example use case, I would imagine that copying and pasting  
> would
> copy and paste the desugared form. IF you pasted it into another  
> source
> file in the same IDE with the sugar loaded, then it would get folded
> back into the sugared form. IF you posted into a blog entry, the
> desugared form would get pasted. I just don't see a problem here.
>> A view on the AST could dynamically
>> add it to the text buffer when you copy and paste, but this is
>> introducing rather a lot of voodoo. There's also no way for different
>> AST node view tools t
>> 2. Odds are that a very useful and often used desugaring in a popular
>> AST view editor (which we don't have yet, but hopefully someone will
>> take the time to write one someday), will end up in java itself.
>> Except it can't, by definition: That backtick is in the way.
> You are presupposing how a possible use of this proposal might work.  
> If
> there was a really popular IDE based syntactic sugar that became so
> ubiquitous that it made sense to put it in the language, then  
> migration
> could be considered at that point. However, if it was good enough in a
> fit for purpose sense that this scenario came about, then one could  
> ask
> what would actually be gained by putting it in the language. I don't
> know what would happen, it is at this stage very hypothetical. I do
> however want to make sure that we at least have the opportunity to get
> to that point. IF all the easily type characters got used for other
> things, then we have lost the opportunity.
>> 3. If, other than the backtick, the syntax is the same, or at least  
>> so
>> similar that a key-by-key parsing is going to have issues, as a real
>> java syntax, than the AST view desugaring syntax *needs to go away*.
>> That point I made before but you haven't answered it yet:
> Sorry I missed that. Could you please restate your question in and  
> I'll
> have a go at answering it.
>> One of the
>> points of ast views is that you can just change everything without
>> breaking backwards compatibility. The only compatibility you're
>> breaking is training your programmers to use a different syntax -
>> which they have to do anyway, because they're learning to use a new
>> java version which shipped with at least 1 non-trivial language  
>> change
>> (after all, something that used to be illegal in java but legal as an
>> AST view syntax, is now legal java!) - I consider the penalty for not
>> having a language escape operator very low as is, in other words.
>> Take that last point, and combine it with the notion that I  
>> thoroughly
>> do not look forward to hitting ` all the time, and you see why I  
>> don't
>> like this proposal.
>> This is what I would type in an AST view language:
>> private     property int foo;
>> and this is what it should write to disk
>> @TypedDifferently(original="private    property int foo;")
>> private int foo;
>> @GeneratedBy("#foo") public Constructor(int foo) {
>> = foo;
>> }
>> @GeneratedBy("#foo") public int getFoo() {
>> return foo;
>> }
>> @GeneratedBy("#foo") public void setFoo(int foo) { = foo;}
>> @GeneratedBy("#foo") public void addFooListener(.....
>> (you get the point)
>> but if I load this file, -with or without annotations in it-, I want
>> to see:
>> private     property int foo;
>> -though- I'll accept that it might give me:
>> property private int foo;
>> If the @OriginallyTyped annotation is no longer there.
>> I don't want to type backticks. I don't want to see backticks.
>> A proposal to make *THIS* work well would be great.
> I would really like to work on that too. Yes it is hard and a
> significant amount of work, but I think we are at a point in history
> where it has become feasible.
> It would be a shame if those of us interested in pursuing this later
> found that we really needed a language escape operator to make it all
> work from a technical and aesthetic view and while we had been
> progressing, a couple of esoteric language changes had come along and
> used up all the viable escape characters.  (I think coin has other
> proposals or comments for using all of them) I just want to "stake the
> claim" on such a character now before it is too late because I  
> honestly
> believe this is the most valuable way we could use one of these  
> characters.
>> I actually tried
>> to write up the specs for an AST node editing language, and it's very
>> very difficult. One of the issues you run into is that you can not
>> save layout at all - you need to save the code to a java file, in a
>> different structure, so it becomes almost impossible to preserve the
>> whitespace, or things like order between keywords, or ordering  
>> between
>> methods, when you read it back in. I thought of magic comments that
>> keep the original syntax around, but that makes the java code ugly  
>> and
>> not very accessible for people who are not using your particular AST
>> desugaring engine.
>> Something standardized there that links code to the originally typed
>> stuff (as a comment or string literal) would allow vanilla java IDEs
>> to not render that comment at all (their own little AST node view :P)
>> and to notice that a user is editing a generated block, and e.g. show
>> a little warning, or alternatively offer a view of the originally
>> typed code, which a vanilla java editor may not understand, though
>> likely the raw english text in the source would carry some meaning of
>> intent, probably moreso than the generated code.
>> Such a proposal wouldn't neccessarily fit in the JLS, it's just a
>> standardized format that is also legal vanilla java (by using magic
>> comments, probably), which all IDEs agree on as something they'll
>> eventually detect. If you want special syntax for this, that would be
>> fine too, but its okay if its verbose. You could introduce a keyword
>> such as 'ast-node-view', which is so rare that I really doubt  
>> anyone's
>> going to run into an issue with that no longer being a legal
>> identifier. There's so much you can do - the backtick seems like one
>> of the worst choices.
> I could comment on that, but it is getting way off topic. Maybe we  
> could
> collaborate with other interested parties to explore this further in a
> different  forum.
>>  --Reinier Zwitserloot
> Bruce

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