Language Independent Shared Objects
Something that tends to sicken me is the lack of code reuse. I don't mean simple lack of reuse, like forgetting about the substring search in your library, and consequently re-implementing it. What I mean is that I see the same common code libraries and RFCs implemented over and over again in every language out there. When a new language is invented, just about all the useful code out there gets re-implemented in that language. If a new RFC is written, a library is developed for every useful language.
Now, there is an argument for purity, and I can somewhat respect that. But consider the advantages of having a single implementation in one language that can be linked to from all other languages. I will assume that language is C since most languages have support for linking in C code. Code would need to be implemented only one time, not a hundred times for every obscure language out there. The code would always work the same in every language because it is, in fact, the same code. Bugs only need to be fixed one time. New features are only added once. The code gets lots of exposure to users. If it's implemented in C, it will be about as fast as you can make it.
I can think of three possible negatives. You lose the purity and the learning experience that comes with implementing a module in the target language. A buggy module written in C could crash a high level language such as Ruby. In some cases, the code may actually run slower if the data structure translation is slow. However, I think the positives greatly outweigh the negatives in most cases.
There are a number of language independent technologies out there. I have very little familiarity with them. But what I'm imagining is something light and quick. This does not require a new language or lots of XML parsing and marshalling. The functionality would be limited but still very powerful. Essentially, I am thinking of a language independent shared object file.
Usually, you would link to a shared object file either at load time or at runtime from C. Since many languages let you link to C, you can often make the C code that you link to, itself link to a shared object (as I have done). It would be nice to remove even this step, and link directly to a shared object file. I can think of two ways to do this.
There needs to be some method of converting native data types of the calling language to a standard set of data types in C. These would need to be defined ahead of time. It may be sufficient to limit ourselves to a handful of the most common ones (hash table, lists, arrays, strings, primitives, ...). There may even be a way to allow for specialized data types for code that really requires it, but I won't consider that further. There will be an extra layer between the calling language and the code in the shared object. The extra layer will convert the data types. Where this layer occurs isn't important for the discussion.
Function Call Begin Lisp Python Java C | | | | Lisp Convert Python Convert Java Convert | | | | | -------------------Shared Object-----------------| | | | | Lisp Convert Python Convert Java Convert | | | | | Lisp Python Java C Function Call Return
Notice that there is also a convert layer after the code executes. This is because functions sometimes mutate parameters. If the parameters are constant for the duration of the function, this step can be skipped.
The second way this could be implemented is to perform actions directly on the native data structures of each language. In the first case, conversion functions must be written for each language. In this case, accessor/mutator functions must be written for each language. The only requirement is that they all have the same interface. Each method has its own advantages. The first method might be better (speed wise) if the data is small and accessed frequently. The second method would be better if the data is large and accessed infrequently.
There are issues I've completely ignored, for example how to handle things like thread safety, call backs, and more generally, invoking code from the calling language in the shared object file. However, I believe there are probably decent solutions to all these problems. And even if there aren't solutions, the vast majority of code out there does not have these issues.
I would love to be able to write some code and then publish the API in every language I work in and have it immediately available with no further work.