Wandering Thoughts archives


The question of language longevity for new languages

Every so often I feel a temptation to rewrite DWiki (the engine behind this blog) in Go. While there are all sorts of reasons not to (so many that it's at best a passing whimsy), one concern that immediately surfaces is the question of Go's likely longevity. I'd like the blog to still be here in, say, ten years, and if the engine is written in Go that needs Go to be a viable language in ten years (and on whatever platform I want to host the blog on).

Of course this isn't just a concern for Go; it's a concern for any new language and there's a number of aspects to it. To start with there's the issue of the base language. There are lots of languages that have come and gone, or come and not really caught on very much so that they're still around but not really more than a relatively niche language (even though people often love them very much and are very passionate about them). Even when a language is still reasonably popular there's the question of whether it's popular enough to be well supported on anything besides the leading few OS platforms.

(Of course the leading few OS platforms are exactly the ones that I'm most likely to be using. But that's not always the case; this blog is currently hosted on FreeBSD, for example, not Linux, and until recently it was on a relatively old FreeBSD.)

But you'd really like more than just the base language to still be around, because these days the base language is an increasingly small part of the big picture of packages and libraries and modules that you can use. We also want a healthy ecology of addons for the language, so that if you need support for, say, a new protocol or a new database binding or whatever you probably don't have to write it yourself. The less you have to do to evolve your program the more likely it is to evolve.

Finally there's a personal question: will the language catch on with you so that you'll still be working with it in ten years? Speaking from my own experience I can say that it's no fun to be stuck with a program in a language that you've basically walked away from, even if the language and its ecology is perfectly healthy.

Of course, all of this is much easier if you're writing things that you know will be superseded and replaced before they get anywhere near ten years old. Alternately you could be writing an implementation of a standard so that you could easily swap it out for something written in another language. In this sense a dynamically rendered blog with a custom wikitext dialect is kind of a worst case.

(For Go specifically I think it's pretty likely to be around and fully viable in ten years, although I have less of a sense of my own interest in programming in it. Of course ten years can be long time in computing and some other language could take over from it. I suspect that Rust would like to, for example.)

programming/NewLanguageLongevity written at 23:45:05; Add Comment

Thinking about how to split logging up in multiple categories et al

I've used programs that do logging (both well and badly) and I've also written programs that did logging (also both reasonably well and badly) and the whole experience has given me some views on how I like logging split up to make it more controllable.

It's tempting to say that controlling logging is only for exceptional cases, like debugging programs. This is not quite true. Certainly this is the dominant case, but there are times when people have different interests about what to log even in routine circumstances. For example, on this blog I log detailed information about conditional GETs for syndication feeds because I like tracking down why (or why not) feed fetchers succeed at this. However this information isn't necessarily of interest to someone else running a DWiki instance so it shouldn't be part of the always-on mandatory logging; you should be able to control it.

The basic breakdown of full featured logging in a large system is to give all messages both a category and a level. The category is generally going to be the subsystem that they involve, while the level is the general sort of information that they have (informational, warnings, progress information, debugging details, whatever). You should be able to control the two together and separately, to say that you want only progress reports from all systems or almost everything from only one system and all the way through.

My personal view is that this breakdown is not quite sufficient by itself and there are a bunch of cases where you'll also want a verbosity level. Even if verbosity could in theory be represented by adding more categories and levels, in practice it's much easier for people to crank up the verbosity (or crank it down) rather than try to do more complex manipulations of categories and levels. As part of making life easier on people, I'd also have a single option that means 'turn on all logging options and log all debugging information (and possibly everything)'; this gives people a simple big stick to hit a problem with when they're desperate.

If your language and programming environment doesn't already have a log system that makes at least the category plus level breakdown easy to do, I wouldn't worry about this for relatively small programs. It's only fairly large and complex programs with a lot of subsystems where you start to really want this sort of control.

Sidebar: the two purposes of specific control

There are two reasons to offer people specific control over logging. The first is what I mentioned: sometimes not all information is interesting to a particular setup. I may want information on syndication feed conditional GETs while you may want 'time taken' information for all requests. Control over logging allows the program to support both of us (and the person who doesn't care about either) without cluttering up logs with stuff that we don't want. This is log control for routine logs, stuff that you're going to use during normal program operation.

The second reason is that a big system can produce too much information at full logging flow when you're trying to troubleshoot it, so much that useful problem indicators are lost in the overall noise. Here categorization and levels are a way of cutting down on the log volume so that people can see the important things. This is log control for debugging messages.

(There is an overlap between these two categories. You might log all SQL queries that a system does and the time they take for routine metrics, even though this was originally designed for debugging purposes.)

programming/SplittingLogging written at 02:39:55; Add Comment

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