Archive for the 'PHP' Category

Java, JavaScript, PHP, Programming, Ruby

Java 6 and support for dynamic languages

Java SE 6 was released last week. How many of us are now running 2 major versions behind? :)

There are a few goodies in this release, including performance gains and better debugging and monitoring, but the one I’ve been waiting for is JSR 223, explicit support for “scripting” languages. I first got excited about this JSR when it seemed that the reference implementation would be PHP. At the time I did most of my work in PHP, and I was excited about bridging the languages. Instead Java 6 ships with Rhino, a JavaScript interpreter written in Java, but that’s just fine if not better. There’s a longer list at anyway, including PHP on the JVM.

Why does this matter? I believe that the future of Java is not so much Java-the-language as Java-the-platform. I have felt this from the day I first encountered Jython (four years ago already?). Encounters since then with JRuby, Rhino, and Scala have only made my convictions firmer. Recent actions from Sun (and the JCP) lead me to believe that more than a few people there there recognize that if the JVM is one of Java’s core strengths, then the Java platform has a future somewhat distinct from the language. Sun hired two lead JRuby developers (locals Charles Nutter and Thomas Enebo). With JSR 223 and now JSR 292 (“Supporting Dynamically Typed Languages on the Java Platform”), which I believe we can expect in Java 7, it will be taken a significant step further. As Danny Coward points out in a recent interview, JSR 292 introduces the first bytecode in the JVM that is not used by Java. To me, this is a fairly clear endorsement of non-Java languages as part of a broader Java platform.

Microsoft is doing the same thing, by the way. Sure, much was made of multiple languages running on the .NET Common Language Runtime when it was first announced, but I have the distinct impression that C# is very much the canonical language for .NET development. But a few things have happened in the past year that tell me this is changing: Microsoft hired Jim Hugunin, lead developer of IronPython, a Python implementation for .NET (Hugunin is also the creator of Jython), then released IronPython for ASP.NET They’ve also been working with Zend to make the PHP experience better on IIS, including writing FastCGI for IIS 7.

I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t written about this more here. I think I’ve avoided it because it seems so damn obvious. But it isn’t, not really. It may be obvious within the areas of the blogosphere where I spend time and in the local Ruby community. But in the real world of day-to-day Java development to which I subject myself, in which most are unaware even that Sun has open sourced Java (it’s a culture thing), much less that Java 6 has been released and what it includes, talk of languages other than Java is very strange and uncomfortable news. I still get polite nods and bemused or uncomprehending looks. Daily.

It also occurs to me that there are readers of this blog who do not live immersed in the world of Java and who have valid reasons for being unaware of recent events. :-)

A quick note. I put “scripting” in quotes above because labelling languages like Ruby and Python as “scripting languages” is unfair and indicative of the historically dismissive attitude that some programmers have held toward them. To sound au courant, you should know that the currently favored term is “dynamic” or “dynamically typed” to distinguish them from statically typed, early binding languages like Java. The wrinkle is that in JSR 223, those languages are used for scripting, playing second fiddle to Java. JSR 292 shifts this balance.

So there. Nothing earth-shattering, but now at least maybe you understand why I talk about JRuby a lot.


date_sunrise and date_sunset

Now I’m starting to get irritated. I was reviewing the syntax of PHP date functions and discovered date_sunrise and date_sunset, which do just what you expect: return the time of sunrise and sunset for a given date and location. Expect that you probably didn’t expect them to be in the language core.

As time goes on, I’m becoming more curmudgeonly about decisions like this.

Java, PHP, Programming, Ruby

If not Java EE, then…?

A prediction: if a couple years from now I am still mired in a Java monoculture, I will strangle someone. Probably myself.

As I have explained before, and with some apology for the double negative to which I am about to subject you, I do not believe that Java can never be viable for web application development, or that it is a bad language. I simply assert that it is an exceedingly poor choice for the web applications that I work on. Because it’s past 1 a.m. and my son will be waking me up in less than five hours, and maybe because despite my curmudgeonly nature I am reasonably polite after all, I will spare my employer the (mild) embarrassment of an all-out rant. Suffice it to say that working among the Convinced as I do, I am very much in the minority in my belief that Java EE — really, a Java monoculture — is the number one culprit for the project I’m working on being so very, very late. It isn’t the only problem we have, but it’s a big one.

The question I’m left with is this: what do I propose as an alternative?

.NET is out. We’d need lots of new hardware and be locked with a single, closed-source vendor. Please do not bring up Mono.

Cold Fusion? Same single-vendor problem, and I remain unconvinced.

There are Python frameworks like Django and TurboGears. I like them. They’re just not compelling enough for me to suggest using them.

Tcl? Sorry, private joke.

To my mind, it comes down to PHP (using any of a number of frameworks) or Ruby on Rails.

We would stand to benefit more from both Ruby and Rails, but I am concerned about deployment scenarios. Large-scale Rails deployments are possible, but it’s still a new enough platform that people are still working out the kinks for how to do it well. To be honest, we’d just be talking about a medium-size deployment, but the same concerns apply. Could we do it? Yes. I have faith in our system administrators and our developers. I would just feel really guilty about going to them every 3-6 months with a new way of setting up the servers to deploy Rails apps. I admit that I haven’t been following that scene for a while, but it does seem every time I poke my head in that there’s something significantly different.

On the other hand, I’m satisfied that we know how to work well with PHP, at least from a sysadmin perspective. On the development side we would certainly move a lot faster than we do with Java. As PHP becomes more Java-like, you’d think that a transition from Java would be easy. That’s the whole point, right? PHP has a low barrier to entry. On the other hand, its similarities to Java (at least in the object model) may make the transition harder, as I’ve found that Java programmers are somehow blinded to or misunderstand significant platform differences — e.g. PHP’s share-nothing architecture. We would also struggle with maintaining a large PHP codebase, much as we struggle maintaining Java code in reasonable order.

But honestly? In my gut, I hesitate to propose PHP because of the language itself. It doesn’t feel that much better to write PHP code than Java code — sometimes it’s worse, especially some of PHP 5’s Java-inspired syntax. Mostly, though, I think it’s the lack of closures and blocks, language features that I’ve come to expect and rely on. Peter Williams brings up the same point about PHP.

I first learned blocks and closures about two years ago and now find programming without them mildly painful. I think that Mark Jason Dominus got it right when he said

in another thirty years people will laugh at anyone who tries to invent a language without closures, just as they’ll laugh now at anyone who tries to invent a language without recursion.

There are just so many common classes of problem that are simply and cleanly solved by closures that not having them seems like a crime.

I think I’m holding out for JRuby on Rails.

PHP, Ruby

Sure it’s got warts, but it does the job.

What a damning title for this post.

Peter Williams has started working with PHP. He comments mostly about the syntax and with the understanding that he’s writing about PHP 4. Some of that has been improved upon in PHP 5: exceptions, for instance, to which Matt Zandstra has written a good introduction. I agree with a lot of what Peter says. DHH has a point: PHP is not pretty to look at, and sometimes it’s ugly to use. Using -> as a method invocation operator is unpleasant (Perl does the same thing, but in Perl 6 it’s a .). It’s a small thing, but small things add up. I don’t like to use PHP because I like the syntax of the language or because it’s a joy to write PHP code. I like to use PHP because it gets the job done, sometimes quite powerfully. And it’s a helluva lot better in PHP 5.

It is a joy to write Ruby code. Just want to say that. Coming from Ruby to PHP, that’s gotta be hard.

At first I thought Peter was being a bit over the top complaining about PHP’s requiring explicit statement terminators. Then I thought back to how much time I’ve spent tracking down bugs that turned out to be a misplaced or missing semicolon. He’s got a point.