Reindeer All The Way Down

by Ingy döt Net | | 3 min read

Santa is in charge of Christmas. He's the one who makes sure that all the children get presents. But who is in charge of getting Santa his presents? That's where the reindeer come in. They are the ones who make sure that Santa gets his presents. But who is in charge of getting the reindeer their presents? More reindeer! But who is in charge of getting the reindeer's reindeer their presents? More reindeer! It's reindeer all the way down.

Welcome to Day 19 of the YAMLScript Advent Calendar

YAMLScript is a new programming language that is based on Clojure. It's written in Clojure and compiles to Clojure. In effect YAMLScript is Clojure. So if YAMLScript is written in Clojure, why not just use YAMLScript to write YAMLScript?

Isn't there a chicken and egg problem here? Sure, but that's easy to solve.

Once you have a stable version of YAMLScript, you can rewrite YAMLScript in YAMLScript. You just need to use a previously compiled version of YAMLScript to compile the new YAMLScript-in-YAMLScript with.

This is called self-hosting and it's a common practice in the programming language world. Clojure itself is written in Clojure. Not all of it. It's also written in Java, since it runs on the JVM. But all the core libraries are written in Clojure.

YAMLScript isn't quite ready to be self-hosted yet. But I was able to convert the ys::std library to YAMLScript and then build YAMLScript with it!

Have a look at this gist.

It has 3 files:

  • orig-std.clj — The original Clojure version of ys::std as of today.
  • std.clj — The compiled version of YAMLScript port of ys::std.
  • std.ys — The YAMLScript port of ys::std.

I don't know about you but I find the YAMLScript version much easier to read than the Clojure version.

However since there's still a lot of work left to do on YAMLScript, before the first stable release, some of the YAMLScript code is a bit ugly.

Let's look at a few ugly forms and think about how to make them better.

Let's start with the ns declaration at the top of the file:

ns ys::std:
(:refer-clojure :exclude [print])

Soon we'll have a YAMLScript macro system for making certain calls look better than they do with the base syntax. The future ns declaration might look like this:

ns ys::std:
clojure::pprint: pp
exclude: print

That looks pretty nice!

How about this ugly multi-arity defn:

defn toMap:
.[]: .{}
apply: hash-map x
.[k v & xs]:
apply: hash-map k v xs

Here we needed to dot-escape the [] keys. I'd rather see like:

defn toMap:
(): hash-map()
apply: hash-map x
(k v & xs):
apply: hash-map k v xs

Parentheses are just normal characters in YAML so we don't need to escape them. And we already use parens in defn foo(bar): baz so it's consistent.

One of the more problematic forms in this file is the macro definition:

defmacro each [bindings & body]:
(for [~@bindings] (do ~@body)))

I pretty much had to leave the original Clojure syntax alone here. The backtick is a reserved character in YAML so we had to dot-escape it.

There's actually quite a few problems that macros cause for YAMLScript. I won't bore you with the details. We'll figure out a good way to code macros in YAMLScript but I can't say that I have it figured out yet.

At this point I'd say that about 80% of Clojure code ports nicely to YAMLScript. The other 20% is a bit of a struggle. But that's stuff I want to improve before the first stable release.

I hope you enjoyed today's post. It was a little shorter than usual. But YAMLScript is keeping me very busy and I was a little short on time today.

I have something really special planned for tomorrow. But I need to make it work first! Fingers crossed.

Come back tomorrow for Day 20 of the YAMLScript Advent Calendar.