Frontier Diary #5: Values and Progress on the Language

I put the Frontier repository up on GitHub.

(The build is currently broken. This is bad discipline, but since it’s still just me, I forgive myself. Sometimes I run out of time and I just commit what I have.)

The repo has my new code and it also contains FrontierOrigFork, which is the original Frontier source with a bunch of deletions and some changes. The point is to give me 1) code to read and 2) a project that builds and runs on my 10.6.8 virtual machine.

The original code is in C, and the port is, at least so far, all in Swift. In the end it should be almost all in Swift, but I anticipate a couple places where I may need to use Objective-C.

Here’s one of the Swift wins:

Values

Since Frontier contains a database and scripting language, there’s a need for some kind of value object that could be a boolean, integer, string, date, and so on.

Original Frontier used a tyvaluedata union, with fields for the various types of values.

This is a perfectly reasonably approach in C. It’s great because you can pass the same type of value object everywhere.

Were I writing this in Objective-C, however, I’d create a Value protocol, and then create new value objects for some types and also extend existing objects (NSNumber, NSString, etc.) to conform to the Value protocol. This would still give me the upside — passing a Value type everywhere — while reducing the amount of boxing.

But: this still means I have an NSNumber when I really want a BOOL. Luckily, in Swift I can go one better: I can extend types such as Bool and Int to conform to a Value protocol.

This means passing around an actual Bool rather than a boxed boolean. I like this a ton. It feels totally right.

Other topic:

Language Progress

I’m still in architectural mode, where I’m writing just enough code to validate and refine my decisions. A couple days ago I started on the language evaluator — the thing that actually runs scripts.

It works as you expect: it takes a compiled code tree and recursively evaluates it. It’s not difficult — it’s just that it’s going to end up being a fair amount of code.

I’ve done just enough to know that I’m on the right path. (The Swift code looks a lot like the C code in OrigFrontier’s langevaluate.c. See evaluateList, for instance.)

The next step is for me to build the parser. I thought about writing a parser by hand, because it sounds like fun, and it would give me some extra control — but, really, it would slow me way down, so forget it.

OrigFrontier generated its parser by passing a grammar file — langparser.y — to MacYacc (there was such a thing!), which generated langparser.c.

I’ll do a similar thing, except using Bison (which is compatible with Yacc). Or, possibly, using the Lemon parser generator instead. Either way, I’ll want the generated code to be Objective-C. (Well, mostly C, but with Objective-C objects instead of structs.) (I don’t know of a generator that would create Swift code.)

This is completely new territory for me, and is exciting.

(Almost forgot to mention: I’ll need to write a tokenizer. This means porting langscan.c. I’ll need to do this first, since the parser generator needs it. So this is the real next step.)

25 Apr 2017

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