Wandering Thoughts archives


Why a netcat-like program is a good test of a language

When I talked about my first Go experience, I mentioned in passing that a netcat-like program is actually not a bad test program for a language (or for certain sorts of libraries in, eg C). Today I feel like explaining that.

To start with, it's not an empty and artificial challenge; a netcat-like program does something meaningful and practical (although it may not be necessary if you already have netcat). The problem itself touches many levels of a language and its library, since it has to interact with standard input and output, deal with command line arguments, look up hostnames and ports, make network connections and talk over them, and deal with buffering and byte input and output. It also involves some level of network concurrency, either through real concurrency (as in Go) or through the equivalent with select(), poll(), or the like. There are also some subtle and taxing aspects to the problem, such as shutdown(), that test whether the language (and library) designers were paying attention or thought it worthwhile to expose the entire underlying system API.

(In a low-level language like C you'll also wind up exploring things like memory allocation and any safe buffer handling libraries that are available. If you're working with select() et al you can also extend the problem to playing around with nonblocking IO, again if the language gives you access to this.)

Of course there are many aspects to a language and its libraries beyond relatively low level networking, so this problem doesn't come anywhere near to exploring all of a language and its libraries. Still, I've found that it covers a lot of ground that's interesting to me personally and the whole experience is a good way of seeing what the language feels like.

Some people will want to write HTTP-based test programs instead because that's more directly relevant to them. I'm the kind of cynical person who wants to see the low-level plumbing in action too, partly because I think it's more revealing of the language's core attitudes. Since the web is so pervasive and important, my feeling is that everyone doing a new language environment is going to make sure they have good HTTP support (assuming they care about such usability at all). And if a language doesn't have either high-level HTTP support or good low-level networking support, well, that tells me a lot about its priorities.

programming/NetcatGoodTest written at 23:03:16; Add Comment

Go: when I'd extend an interface versus making a new one

One of the reddit suggestions in response to my entry on using type assertions to reach through interfaces noted that you could embed one interface inside another one, effectively extending the interface that you embed, so my Closer interface could have been:

type ConnCloser interface {
    CloseWrite() error

When I saw this my instinctive reaction was that this was wrong for my situation; since then I've spent some time thinking about why I feel that way. My conclusion is that I think I have good reasons but I may be wrong.

Simplifying, the dividing point for me is whether all of the values I'm dealing with would be instances of the new interface, for example if I was writing code that only dealt with TCP and Unix stream sockets. In that situation my life would be simpler if I immediately converted the net.Conn values into ConnCloser values and then had the rest of my code deal with the latter (freely calling .CloseWrite() when it wanted to). What I'm doing is converting net.Conn values into what they really are, which is values that have a wider interface.

But if not all of the values I'm dealing with are convertible and if I'm only doing the conversion in one spot (and only once), extending net.Conn doesn't feel like an accurate description of what I'm doing. I'm just fishing through it to see if I can call another routine and then immediately calling that routine. Using just an interface with CloseWrite() makes my actual intentions clear.

I'd feel different if I was passing the converted values around between functions or storing them in something. The issue here is that such functions don't really want to accept anything that simply has a CloseWrite() method with the right signature; they want to deal specifically with net.Conn values that also have that method. A bare Closer interface that only specifies a CloseWrite() method is too broad an allowance for what I actually mean and thus would be the wrong approach. (At this point I start waving my hands vaguely.)

The more I think about it the less I'm sure what proper Go style should be here, and I have to admit that part of my feelings against ConnCloser are based purely on it having another line that doesn't do anything in my original situation (I'm often a terseness person).

programming/GoEmbeddingInterfacesWhen written at 01:55:16; Add Comment

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