The End of the Cold War Between Static and Dynamic Languages?  

By Ryan Tomayko under Languages, Then you win. on 15. July 2005

Lots of people talking about this Meijer / Drayton paper (warning: PDF, sane HTML version here) coming out of Microsoft Corporation. The paper is titled, Static Typing Where Possible, Dynamic Typing When Needed: The End of the Cold War Between Programming Languages.

We are interesting in building data-intensive three-tiered enterprise applications. Perhaps surprisingly, dynamism is probably more important for data intensive programming than for any other area where people traditionally position dynamic languages and scripting.

That’s the first part of one of many paragraphs I found intriguing and, IMO, is dead on. Unfortunately, that leads us to the sentences that are meant to support that claim:

Currently, the vast majority of digital data is not fully structured, a common rule of thumb is less then 5 percent. In many cases, the structure of data is only statically known up to some point, for example, a comma separated file, a spreadsheet, an XML document, but lacks a schema that completely describes the instances that a program is working on. Even when the structure of data is statically known, people often generate queries dynamically based on runtime information, and thus the structure of the query results is statically unknown.

I’m not sure I follow the logic here. Dynamic languages like Python, Ruby, and Perl have a more powerful set of data manipulation facilities that require less code and read easier than their statically typed analogs in Java, C#, and C++ but they’re no more aware of the data’s underlying type system. I have a bad feeling they really wanted to go down the same old SOAP/RPC and XML Schema (see: gHorribleKludge) data binding path here and figure out how we can just abstract away the entire concept of data and make everything look like nice little objects. If it didn’t work with our current languages, it must be a problem with the language, right?

Anyway, the paper received a pretty thorough beat-down over at Lambda, which is always a bad sign when you’re talking at the type/language theory level. I personally have mixed feelings on the paper - while I think anything that puts dynamic languages on equal ground with the more accepted statically typed languages is a good thing, I’m not sure that inventing a new peacefully integrated language and discarding the ones we’ve actually observed working for so long is the best way forward.

How about you guys just drop your types for now and we’ll add them back in later. :)

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Markdown: use the force, Luke.