[Vm-dev] RE: To FFI or not to FFI

Juan Vuletich juan at jvuletich.org
Mon Oct 4 23:46:27 UTC 2010

Hi Colin,

Colin Putney wrote:
> On Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 11:56 AM, Andreas Raab <andreas.raab at gmx.de> wrote:
>> In practice, there is a *huge* advantage for porting if all you need is a C
>> compiler and a bit of knowledge about the underlying OS support.
> This brings up a question that I've been wondering about for a while.
> How useful is Slang these days?

I almost never use the simulator. I've only used it to fix 2 rounds of 
BitBlt bugs some time ago.

However, I do plugins for numerical stuff, image processing, graphics 
and audio processing all the time. Being able to experiment, code and 
debug in Smalltalk, and later have C speed almost for free is absolutely 
wonderful. For these kinds of problems, Slang is way more productive 
than C or ASM. And the "barrier for the uninitiated" is much lower than 
for working on the VM itself.

I say "almost for free" because in these kinds of problems it is quite 
natural to code in a rather "low level" Smalltalk, that is almost Slang.

> I can totally see how it would have been faster to get the new VM up
> and running in Apple Smalltalk in the first place, but I'm wondering
> if these days it's more trouble than it's worth. Most dynamic
> languages (eg, Ruby, Python, Perl, Javascript) are implemented in
> straight, idiomatic C and benefit a lot from the fact that many, many
> people already have the skills needed to work with the language and
> toolchain.
> In contrast, the Squeak VM is written in a language that almost nobody
> knows, using tools that almost nobody understands. Outside of the
> current maintainers it's a very short list, and many of the people on
> it aren't active in the community anymore. "Implemented in its self"
> is kind of neat, but as a practical matter, Slang is not Smalltalk,
> and a developer skilled in both C and Smalltalk still has a lot to
> learn before he can contribute to the VM.
> So here's a question to the folks that are actively hacking on the VM:
> is Slang still beneficial in your day-to-day work? Do you write and
> debug using the simulator? Is it worth the high barriers to entry for
> the uninitiated?
> Colin

As I said above, Slang is not only useful for building the VM (I let the 
VM experts talk about this application of Slang). It is also wonderful 
for writing plugins.

Juan Vuletich

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