Design Patterns 15 Years Later: An Interview with Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, and Ralph Johnson

Larry O'Brien recently interviewed three of the Gang of Four about their seminal work on patterns. Larry teased the interview's readers for awhile, but he eventually asked the pressing question that most language designers ask and debate about patterns ;) Here it is:

Larry: GoF came out relatively early in the ascent of OOP as the mainstream paradigm and, for better or worse, "patterns" seem to be associated with OO approaches. You even hear functional and dynamic advocates boasting that their languages "don't need" patterns. How do you respond to that?

Erich: Just as an aside, it is also easy to forget that we wrote design patterns before there was Java or C#.

Ralph: Some of those languages don't need some of the patterns in Design Patterns because their languages provide alternative ways of solving the problems. Our patterns are for languages between C++ and Smalltalk, which includes just about everything called "object-oriented," but they certainly are not for every programming language. I don't think anybody actually says that programmers in other languages don't need patterns; they just have a different set of patterns.

Erich: Design patterns eventually emerge for any language. Design déjà-vu is language neutral. While these experiences are not always captured as patterns, they do exist. The design principles for Erlang come to mind.

Larry: Where would a person go to learn about patterns for dynamic and functional languages? Who's making good contributions?

Ralph: If by "dynamic" you mean dynamic object-oriented languages like Smalltalk, Ruby or Python, then our patterns are applicable. Functional languages require different patterns, but I don't know who is working on them.

Note: At the end of the interview, Erich says that they tried refactoring the patterns into new categories in 2005. The draft breakdown he provides (accidentally???) takes out Memento, Chain of Responsibility, Bridge, Adapter, and Observer.

As I said above these are just notes in a draft state. Doing a refactoring without test cases is always dangerous...

UPDATE: The Gang of Four have an accompanying article for the interview that they wrote as a group. See A Look Back: Why We Wrote Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software.

Objects as Modules in Newspeak

In Objects as Modules in Newspeak, Gilad Bracha et al. describe a way to avoid the coupling in inherent constructs found in many OO languages such as a global namespace, "static" stateful variables, globally accessible object constructors, etc.

We describe support for modularity in Newspeak, a new programming language descended from Smalltalk and Self. Like Self, all computation — even an object’s own access to its internal structure — is performed by invoking methods on objects. However, like Smalltalk, Newspeak is class-based. Classes can be nested arbitrarily, as in Beta. Since all names denote method invocations, all classes are virtual; in particular, superclasses are virtual, so all classes act as mixins. Unlike its predecessors, there is no static state in Newspeak, nor is there a global namespace. Top level classes act as module definitions, which are independent, immutable, self-contained parametric namespaces. They can be instantiated into modules which may be stateful and mutually recursive. Naturally, like its predecessors, Newspeak is reflective: a mirror library allows structured access to the program meta-level.

There's a lot in here that should be of interest to LtUers interested in object capability based security.

Iterators Must Go

Andrei Alexandrescu: Iterators Must Go, BoostCon 2009 keynote.

Presents a simple yet far-reaching replacement for iterators, called ranges, and interesting "D" libraries built on it: std.algorithm and std.range.

Ranges pervade D: algorithms, lazy evaluation, random numbers, higher-order functions, foreach statement...

(Related: SERIES, enumerators, SRFI 1, and The Case For D by the same author)

Concepts Get Voted Off The C++0x Island

On Monday, July 13th the C++ standards committee voted "Concepts" out of consideration for C++0x.

First, skepticism regarding the feasibility and usefulness of concepts intensified the antipathy towards this proposal. Some people expressed concerns about compile-time and runtime overhead. Second, the creators of the Concepts proposal tried desperately to improve and patch Concepts. The last nail in the coffin was Bjarne Stroustrup's paper "Simplifying the Use of Concepts" from June. It's a masterpiece in terms of presenting Concepts but it also scared folks. The general sense was that concepts were broken, the committee was not sure what the correct direction was to fix them, and it would probably take several more years to come up with a reasonable fix that would achieve consensus. Considering that Concepts were originally designed to simplify C++, a critical mass of committee members agreed in July 2009 that it was time to bid Concepts goodbye.


For more on the meeting see "The View (or trip report) from the July 2009 C++ Standard Meeting" part 1 and part 2

Edit 2:

Bjarne Stroustrup on The C++0x "Remove Concepts" Decision.

Factor: an extensible interactive language

Factor: an extensible interactive language, Google Tech Talk by Slava Pestov.

Factor is a general-purpose programming language which has been in development for a little over five years and is influenced by Forth, Lisp, and Smalltalk. Factor takes the best ideas from Forth -- simplicity, succinct code, emphasis on interactive testing, meta-programming -- and brings modern high-level language features such as garbage collection, object orientation, and functional programming familiar to users of languages such as Python and JavaScript. Recognizing that no programming language is an island, Factor is portable, ships with a full-featured standard library, deploys stand-alone binaries, and interoperates with C and Objective-C.

In this talk, I will give the rationale for Factor's creation, present an overview of the language, and show how Factor can be used to solve real-world problems with a minimum of fuss. At the same time, I will emphasize Factor's extensible syntax, meta-programming and reflection capabilities, and show that these features, which are unheard of in the world of mainstream programming languages, make programs easier to write, more robust, and fun.

Verifiable Functional Purity in Java

Verifiable Functional Purity in Java. Matthew Finifter, Adrian Mettler, Naveen Sastry, and David Wagner. To appear at 15th ACM Conference on Computer and Communication Security (CCS 2008).

Proving that particular methods within a code base are functionally pure - deterministic and side-effect free - would aid verification of security properties including function invertibility, reproducibility of computation, and safety of untrusted code execution. Until now it has not been possible to automatically prove a method is functionally pure within a high-level imperative language in wide use such as Java. We discuss a technique to prove that methods are functionally pure by writing programs in a subset of Java called Joe-E; a static verifier ensures that programs fall within the subset. In Joe-E, pure methods can be trivially recognized from their method signature.

The paper includes a nice discussion of security benefits that can stem from being able to identify pure functions (of course, it is not obvious that guarantees at the programming language level are maintained at the run time level). I am sure many here have opinions about whether it makes more sense to try to graft purity on an imperative language, exposing it as an added feature, or to move programmers to functional languages..

UpgradeJ: Incremental Typechecking for Class Upgrades

UpgradeJ: Incremental Typechecking for Class Upgrades, Gavin Bierman, Matthew Parkinson and James Noble.

One of the problems facing developers is the constant evolution of components that are used to build applications. This evolution is typical of any multi-person or multi-site software project. How can we program in this environment? More precisely, how can language design address such evolution? In this paper we attack two significant issues that arise from constant component evolution: we propose language-level extensions that permit multiple, co-existing versions of classes and the ability to dynamically upgrade from one version of a class to another, whilst still maintaining type safety guarantees and requiring only lightweight extensions to the runtime infrastructure. We show how our extensions, whilst intuitive, provide a great deal of power by giving a number of examples. Given the subtlety of the problem, we formalize a core fragment of our language and prove a number of important safety properties.

There has been an energetic discussion of API evolution in the forum, so when I saw this paper I thought it might be of interest to LtU readers.

Programming -- Principles and Practice Using C++

I just noticed Stroustrup is about to publish this introductory book.

I am stunned on many levels, so I will keep my comments short.

In general, this seems like HTDP for C++, that is it is not a comprehensive text about C++ or about CS in general, but rather one aimed at teaching the basics of software construction. This is a good idea, and many have written books with similar goals in the past, of course.

I wonder what are the chances that any university not employing Stroustrup will switch to C++ for their introductory course (if they are not using it already). It seems to me everyone is teaching Java...

My second observation is that a large fraction of the book is devoted to STL. Which a good thing on many levels. Some of the topics may even be explained functionally.

My third observation is that even given the intended audience and goals the ToC seems really sparse. I wonder if that's all the book is going to contain.

Eriskay: a Programming Language Based on Game Semantics

Eriskay: a Programming Language Based on Game Semantics. John Longley and Nicholas Wolverson. GaLoP 2008.

We report on an ongoing project to design a strongly typed, class-based object-oriented language based around ideas from game semantics. Part of our goal is to create a powerful modern programming language whose clean semantic basis renders it amenable to work in program verification; however, we argue that our semantically inspired approach also yields benefits of more immediate relevance to programmers, such as expressive new language constructs and novel type systems for enforcing security properties of the language. We describe a simple-minded game model with a rich mathematical structure, and explain how this model may be used to guide the design of our language. We then focus on three specific areas where our approach appears to offer something new: linear types and continuations; observational equivalence for class types; and static control of the use of higher-order store.

In a substantial appendix, we present the formal definition of a fragment of our language which embodies many of the innovative features of the full language.

It's always interesting to see a new programming language strongly based on some mathematical formalism, because a language gives you a concrete example to match the abstract semantic definitions to, and game semantics is something that I've been curious about for a while.

One particularly interesting feature is that the core language has a restricted model of the heap, which controls the use of higher-order store in such a way that cycles are prohibited. This is enforced with a notion called "argument safety", which essentially prohibits storing values of higher type into fields which come from "outside" the object. This is somewhat reminiscent of the ownership disciplines found in OO verification systems like Boogie, which enforce a tree structure on the ownership hierarchy. It would be very interesting to find out whether this resemblance is a coincidence or not.

(Samson Abramsky has some lecture notes on game semantics for the very curious.)

Jumbala : An Action Language for UML State Machines

Jumbala : An Action Language for UML State Machines, Juro Dubrovin, Master's Thesis.

UML 2.0 is a language for modeling complex software systems. A UML model may describe the dynamic aspects of software as well as the static structure. We concentrate on models of reactive systems, such as embedded controllers or telecommunications switches. The behavior of such systems is modeled using UML state machines. Although UML defines the structure of state machines, it leaves open the choice of an action language,which is the language used to specify how the transitions of a state machine affect the configuration of the underlying model.

A UML action language named Jumbala is introduced. The language has been designed as part of a project where the goal is to formally analyze behavioral UML models. Jumbala is based on the Java programming language. It has nearly the same syntax and semantics for statements and expressions as Java. Some new programming constructs have been added to facilitate state machine modeling. Jumbala also supports object-oriented programming with classes and inheritance.

An interpreter that parses and executes Jumbala programs has been developed. The interpreter will be part of a prototype tool set for analyzing the behavior of reactive computer systems modeled in UML.

This is interesting because it is another example of efforts from the modeling community towards combining models and programming languages to provide a single compilable specification of software. Some of these efforts are being coordinated using the term model-driven architecture (MDA).

[edit: fixed formatting issues]

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