New Release of Essence#: Omega-1 (Alpha Build 24)

The Omega-1 release contains bug fixes and internal improvements, and also includes preliminary support for networking using sockets. There will be a series of “Omega-N” releases, all of which will focus on implementing whatever is necessary in order to fully conform to the ANSI Smalltalk standard.

The name “Omega” is a reference to “the Alpha and the Omega,” because the builds in the Omega release series will be the final set of builds before the project status is promoted to Beta.

Download Omega-1 (Alpha Build 24)

To download the latest release, navigate to the DOWNLOADS page on CodePlex. There’s a download link in the upper left corner of the DOWNLOADS page, labeled Essence#_Omega-1_Setup.exe. Using it will get you a program that will install the Omega-1 release of Essence# to any location you choose on your computer. Please see the documentation page on the CodePlex site for more information on how to use Essence#, such as the installation instructions and instructions on how to run scripts written in Essence#.

The Omega-1 release adds classes to the Essence# Standard Library that represent the fundamental classes in the .Net Base Class Library for sending and receiving data over the IP protocol.  The Essence# Standard Library will be installed by the installer program attached to this release. It may also be obtained separately fromGitHub.

None of the utility scripts that aid in developing Essence# code were changed in this release. For more information on the scripts, please see the documentation.

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New Release of Essence Sharp: Nīsān-2 (Alpha Build 23)

The Nīsān-2 release contains only bug fixes and internal improvements.

Download Nīsān-2 (Alpha Build 23)

To download the latest release, navigate to the DOWNLOADS page on CodePlex. There’s a download link in the upper left corner of the DOWNLOADS page, labeled Essence#_Nisan-2_Setup.exe. Using it will get you a program that will install the Nīsān-2 release of Essence# to any location you choose on your computer. Please see the documentation page on the CodePlex site for more information on how to use Essence#, such as the installation instructions and instructions on how to run scripts written in Essence#.

The Nīsān-2 release makes no changes or additions to the Essence# Standard Library. The Essence# Standard Library will be installed by the installer program attached to this release. It may also be obtained separately fromGitHub.

None of the utility scripts that aid in developing Essence# code were changed in this release. For more information on the scripts, please see the documentation.

Essence# Syntax: Self Expressions

A self expression is essentially a (possibly cascaded) message sent to self, except that the pseudo-variable “self” is omitted. The value of the “invisible self” that receives the message is established by configuring the compiler to set the pseudo-variable self to the desired value during execution of the self expression.

A self expression is allowed just one message chain having just one message receiver–and the receiver must not be specified syntactically.

Conceptually, the syntactically unspecified–and therefore implied–receiver of the message(s) in the message chain of a self expression is the pseudo-variable self. That’s because the same compiler infrastructure used to set the pseudo-variable self to the correct value during the execution of a method or block is also used to set the value of the implied, unspecified receiver of the message(s) in the message chain of a self expression, and also because a self expression is parsed by the parser simply by adding an actual parse node for the pseudo-variable self as the receiver of the message(s) in the message chain of the self expression. That’s possible because the parser implements self expressions as their own “root parse node” or “grammatical start symbol.”

Any syntactically-valid expression which sends a message to an operand can be converted into a self expression simply be removing whatever syntactical construct is the receiver of the message (a.k.a, the leftmost operand in an expression.) The following examples show two pairs of expressions, where the first member of the pair uses self expression syntax and the second one does not:

Configuring a class

"Using 'self expression' syntax:"

        superclass: Object; 
        instanceVariableNames: #(red green blue)

 

"Using 'expression' syntax:"

        Color 
                superclass: Object; 
                instanceVariableNames: #(red green blue)

 

Adding methods to a class (using method literals to define the method):

"Using 'self expression' syntax:"

        protocol: #accessing 
        method:
                [## red
                        ^red
                ]

 

"Using 'expression' syntax:"

        aClass
                protocol: #accessing 
                method:
                        [## red
                                ^red
                        ]

 

Prior Art

The inspiration for self expressions comes from Tirade, a data representation language invented by Göran Krampe. The main reason that Essence# uses self expressions instead of Tirade is simply because, once you have a full parser/compiler, it is significantly simpler to implement self expressions than to implement Tirade. Given a full compiler, implementing self expressions only involves adding a few, relatively small methods to the parser and compiler. And it also technically doesn’t require adding new syntax to the language, since self expressions only use syntactical forms that would have to exist in any case; the only innovation is to permit simpler syntax that omits an otherwise-required syntactical construct. So self expressions were “the simplest thing that could possibly work.”

That said, Tirade would be a much superior solution to the problem of programming-language neutral data interchange. But that’s not the problem that self expressions are intended to solve.

Essence# Syntax: Method Declarations

method declaration is the syntactical construct used to define a method, including its name and its logic. In Essence#, the name of a method is typically referred to as its method selector; or even just its selector.

The EBNF for a method declaration:

MethodDeclaration   = [MethodHeaderToken, [ClassSpecification]], 
                      MethodHeader, ExecutableCode;
MethodHeaderToken   = OptionalWhitespace, "##", OptionalWhitespace;
MethodHeader        = UnaryMethodHeader | 
                               BinaryMethodHeader | 
                               KeywordMethodHeader;
UnaryMethodHeader   = UnaryMessageSelector;
BinaryMethodHeader  = BinaryMessageSelector, OptionalWhiteSpace, BindableIdentifier;
KeywordMethodHeader = KeywordMethodHeaderSegment, 
                      {Whitespace, KeywordMethodHeaderSegment};
ClassSpecification  = QualifiedIdentifier,OptionalWhitespace,">>", OptionalWhitespace;

 

At the beginning of a method declaration, the parser will recognize “##” (two immediately-adjacent hash characters) as a lexical token called a method header token, and will interpret the token to mean “what follows is a method header.”

Whitespace is permitted, but not required, both preceding and following the method header token.

A method header token may optionally appear as the first token of any method declaration; but it is not required if the method declaration is the root of the parse tree.

However, if a method header token occurs as the first (non-whitespace) token following a “[” token, then the parser will have no choice but to interpret what follows as the remaining tokens of a method literal (which must be terminated by a “]” token eventually.) And in that case, the “##” (method header) token may be required:

If the initial token following a “[” (BlockBegin) token is either a binary message selector or a keyword, then the source code enclosed within the “[” and “]” tokens will be parsed as a method declaration even though there is no leading method header token, and the entire construct (including the “[” and “]” tokens) will be interpreted as a method literal, and not as a block literal. So in either of those cases, no method header token is required.

However, if the first token following a “[” token is a unary message selector (which might instead just be a variable name,) and if there is no leading method header token in between the “[” token and the unary message selector, then the parser will not interpret the construct as a method literal, but will instead interpret it as a block. So, when a method declaration occurs as part of a method literal, and said method declaration has a unary method header,  the only way to get the parser to interpret the construct as a method literal, and not as a block, is to use a method header token as a prefix to the unary method header.

Note: The method header token will also be required as a prefix to a binary method header, if the binary selector is the “|” (vertical bar) token. That constraint is required in order to avoid syntactical ambiguity, due to the fact that a vertical bar token may also be the initial token of a variable declaration list.

If and only if a method header is preceded by the “##” (method header) token, the name of the class which is to be used as the environment for binding variable references when compiling the method may be specified preceding the method header. But in that case, the token “>>” must then be used as a separator between the class name and the method header.

Whitespace is permitted but not required in between the class name and the “>>” token, and in between the “>>” token and the method header.

Following the method header there must be an executable code construct. An executable code construct defines the method’s logic.  Colloquially, an executable code construct is referred to as a method body. A method bodyhas the same exact syntactical structure as a block body.

There are three different types of method header: A unary method header, a binary method header and akeyword method header.

A method declaration with a unary method header must be invoked using a unary message.

A method declaration with a binary method header must be invoked using a binary message.

A method declaration with a keyword method header must be invoked using a keyword message.

Examples of method declarations using all three types of method header are shown below (none of which have a method header token as a prefix):

Method declaration using a unary method header:

printString
        | stream |
        stream := String new writeStream.
        self printOn: stream.
        ^stream contents

 

Method declaration using a binary method header:

@ y
        ^Point x: self y: y

 

Method declaration using a keyword method header:

displayOn: aGraphicsContext at: aPoint
        aGraphicsContext displayString: self at: aPoint

 

If a method header token (“##”) precedes it, then a class specification construct may optionally precede any of the three types of method header. If present, the class specified by the class specification will be used by the compiler as the behavioral context in which the method will be compiled. In other words, the instance variables defined by the specified class, the class variables defined by the specified class and the global variables imported by the specified class will be used to bind any variables referenced by the method that aren’t either method parameters or local variables.

Here are the same three method declarations constructed to have an optional method header token and class specification construct as a prefix to the method header:

Method declaration using a unary method header and an optional class specification:

## Object>>printString
        | stream |
        stream := String new writeStream.
        self printOn: stream.
        ^stream contents
 

 

Method declaration using a binary method header and an optional class specification:

## Number>> @ y
        ^Point x: self y: y

 

Method declaration using a keyword method header and an optional class specification:

## String>>displayOn: aGraphicsContext at: aPoint
        aGraphicsContext displayString: self at: aPoint

 

Any method declaration (whether it uses a unary method header, a binary method header or a keyword method header, and whether or not it uses an optional class specification) may optionally begin with a method header token. The reason the method header token is optional is because its purpose is either to separate one method declaration from another in a sequence of method declarations, or else to distinguish a method literal from ablock. Outside of those two cases, it has no purpose, function or meaning. Its presence or absence has no effect on the semantics of the method.

Here’s an example showing two method declarations separated by an intervening method header token:

Duration>>asDays
        ^self ticks / TicksPerDay

## 

Duration>>asHours 
        ^self ticks / TicksPerHour

Essence# Syntax: Method Literals

A method literal is a method declaration surrounded by enclosing syntax so that it can be embedded as a literal value in an Essence# expression.

The EBNF for method literals:

MethodLiteral       = "[", MethodDeclaration, "]";

 

A method literal must be enclosed between a single beginning “[” character and a single ending “]” character, making its syntax rather similar to that of a block. The key difference between the syntax of a block and the syntax of a method literal is that the construct that immediately follows the beginning “[” character must be unambiguously a method header. And that, in fact, is one of the reasons that the “##” (method header) tokenexists, and is required in some cases, but optional in others: When the “##” token is required, it’s because its absence would create syntactical ambiguity, such that it would not be possible for the parser to distinguish ablock from a method literal.

For more information on the syntax of a method declaration, please see the article on that topic.

Methods defined in Essence# class libraries declare methods as method literals, instead of as method declarations that are the root of their respective parse trees. Using method literals for that purpose obviates any need to encode method names as filenames; or alternatively, it obviates any need to define a special syntax for dealing with sequences of method declarations, or for syntactically embedding method declarations inside of class declarations. So there’s no need for a special “file in” syntax, nor any need for a special parser that can consume a special “file in format.”.

That said, the ANSI standard does require that a conforming implementation support the Smalltalk Interchange Format. Essence# does not currently support that format, but will do so before it leaves beta.

Using Class Specifications

A method declaration may optionally use a class specification construct–but only if a method header token is also used. That means a method literal may also use a class specification construct, since its syntax is defined as an embedding of a method declaration enclosed in between the tokens “[” and “]”.

The presence or absence of the class specification construct may change the behavior of the compiler:

If there is no class specification in the method header, then whether or not the compiler will attempt to bind non-local variable references depends upon how the compiler is invoked. If the compiler is not provided with a binding context for non-local variables when it’s invoked, and if there is no class specification in the method header to provide one, then the compiler won’t check whether any references to non-local variables might be undeclared (however, that check is always performed whenever a method is added to a class or trait.)

On the other hand, if the method header includes a class specification, then the compiler will always attempt to bind references to non-local variables, using whichever class is specified by the class specification construct as the binding context. In that case, any undeclared variables will be treated as compilation errors.

In other words, the compiler interprets the presence of a class specification construct in a method header as a command to verify that there would be no undeclared variables referenced by the method it’s compiling, if that method were to be added to the specified class. Conversely, it interprets the absence of a class specification as a command to defer any such checks until the method is actually added to a class or trait.

When compiling either self expressions or “do its” (initializers or scripts,) the compiler is not configured to provide any default binding context for method declarations–and therefore is also not configured to do so formethod literals. That’s because there’s no way to know a priori what the “right” binding context might be in such cases.

Since methods are checked for any references to undeclared variables when they are added to a class or to a trait (which is usually the proper time, because that’s when the right binding context is known absolutely,) there are no system integrity issues raised by this binding paradigm. And that’s why the method literals in “methods.instance” and “methods.class” files don’t use class specification constructs in their method headers. There’s no need, really.

However, there are compilation use cases other than compiling “methods.instance” and “methods.class” files. And some of those use cases do require that the compiler bind all variable references during initial compilation–which is why class specification syntax is present as on option for method headers.

New Release Of Essence#: Nīsān (Alpha Build 22)

The Nīsān release introduces full support for ANSI-Standard Dates and Times into Essence#. It also fixes some important bugs.

Nīsān is the name of the first month of the eccelesiastical Hebrew Calendar (the name of the first month of the secular Hebrew Calendar is Tishri.) [We’re still using a Biblical naming scheme, because we’re still in alpha. However, we’re (hopefully) only 2-3 releases away from going to beta, which will happen after we achieve full compliance with the ANSI Standard.]

In addition to what’s required by the ANSI Standard with respect to times, dates and durations of time, convenience methods were added to class Number that enable the creation of Durations by sending messages such as #days, #hours, #minutes, #seconds, #milliseconds and #microseconds to numbers.

As you may or may not be aware, I’m not only the author Essence#, I’m also the author of the Chronos Date/Time Library. In spite of that, I’ve added very little time/date functionality in this release that wasn’t either required by the ANSI Standard or provided by the relevant classes and methods in the .Net Base Class Library.

About 80% of the users of a programming language just don’t need anything more in the way of time/date support beyond what is required by the ANSI Standard. And those who do only need it about 20% of the time. So it doesn’t make good sense to include anything like the Chronos Date/Time Library in the “standard library” for any programming language: It’s overkill for most people, most of the time.

But it does make sense to include the Chronos Date/Time Library as an extension library. But the time for that is not yet.

Download Nīsān (Alpha Build 22)

To download the latest release, navigate to the DOWNLOADS page on CodePlex. There’s a download link in the upper left corner of the DOWNLOADS page, labeled Essence#_Nisan_Setup.exe. Using it will get you a program that will install the Nīsān release of Essence# to any location you choose on your computer. Please see the documentation page on the CodePlex site for more information on how to use Essence#, such as the installation instructions and instructions on how to run scripts written in Essence#.

The Nīsān release includes changes and additions to the Essence# Standard Library–which will be installed by the installer program attached to this release, or which may be obtained separately from GitHub.

One of the utility scripts that aid in developing Essence# code was changed in this release, and a bug in one of the example scripts was fixed. Other that that, there were no other changes to any of of the scripts, and no new scripts were added. For more information on the scripts, please see the documentation.