One language to rule them all?

Is the polyglot programming phase over? A cry for simpler Java

Chris Mayer
Choices-Polyglot-1

Do we need a change of direction away from multi-paradigm languages, returning to simpler Java approach in development?

Over the past few years, many have advocated a polyglot approach
to application development – a concoction of different programming
languages (each with their own set job), all melding together to
form a cohesive piece of software.

The craze seems to have been spreading like wildfire in the
middle of the last decade – we’ve seen Groovy and Scala arrive on
the JVM and receive praise from all quarters for their different
approach to problem solving. Even Google stepped up to the oche and
launch their own encompassing Web application support recently,
aiming to hit a bullseye with Dart.

In turn, we saw new theories regarding multi-paradigm
programming languages pop up such as Martin Fowler’s coining of the
term  ‘Language
Orientated Programming’
– prophesying a new breed of
programming and tools, or ‘Language Workbench’ for the job, that
married all languages under one roof. Neal Ford’s proposition of
Polyglot
Programming
looked like a sensible one – advocating the
combination of languages within development so you could call upon
the best when needed

Whilst it’s great to have an array of options for a job, the
embarassment of riches can often lead to crossed wires. Many
bloggers have, metaphorically speaking, been at each other’s
throats often in recent months engaging in bitter arguments over
the benefits of one language over another. So the question is – is
it time to return to a simpler universal langauge development
environment after flirting with a multi-paradigm approach?

It’s an argument raised by Lofi Dewanto who cites a number of
reasons in his blogpost  ’Why “Polyglot Programming” or
Do
It Yourself Programming Languages” or “Language Oriented
Programming” sucks?

such as

  • the difficulty to be fully proficient in one language, let
    alone three or four
  • Project complexity increase with the addition of languages- the
    example of a Struts web application contains:

Action and Form files, Struts XML configuration files,
JavaScript files with JSON and also HTML or JSP files. Can you
imagine to add Groovy, Scala, Dart additionally into that web
app?

  • Various programming languages don’t have strong enough material
    or infrastructure to support it to enable others to learn –
    Groovy is an example Lofi uses here to back up his case. Early
    Eclipse editors weren’t up to scratch and updates nullified old
    versions of code when you had to update.
  • The risks involved when creating your own Domain Specific
    Language (DSL) -

Before you discuss with them don’t ever create your own DSL.
Especially if you are working for SME (Small and Medium sized
Enterprise). With a small team and small budget you will never ever
maintain your own language decently. 

Unlike some, he does offer a solution to the pitfalls of
polyglot programming, wanting to see ‘one language for all
aspects in one application’ created in the next year or
so.

My best solution sofar is
Java + XML, that’s it, no
more, no less
.
No mixing
with Groovy, Dart, Ruby, Scala, << name your DSL
here >>
in one application.
Especially if you are working as contractor, please don’t try to
use all those languages just for a small Java web application. I
don’t say that you should not use the other languages at all. The
only thing which is important is
not to mix those
languages in one application
. In SME you maybe also
want to use
just one programming language for all your
applications
.

The conclusion of a pure and plan Java caused a
split reaction between those who commented. Pierluigi Vernetto
offered the following:

I agree BUT…an application should be written in only 1
language, for sake of simplicity, agreed, but often accessory tasks
like scripting the configuration of WebLogic domains need to be
written in Python or Groovy… and honestly introducing the
opportunity to learn a new “hot” language like Scala can attract on
the project the best programmers…. surely the risk is that people
lose focus and play with the technology…

anyway this is not a perfect world… it will never
be…

This appears to be the main stumbling block. With so many
languages now on the JVM, it becomes ever more difficult to keep up
to date with every single one. A developer can’t possibly be
expected to be efficient or able to work at their full capacity.
But with barely any project being pure Java, as Christoph Adamek
notes, this appears to be the best compromise:

What you can do is to use a flexible language which
allows for internal DSLs. You can adapt the language to your
problem by in fact creating several variants of the base language.
Classic example is Lisp but you can do it with Ruby and Scala, too.
Certainly not with Java.

 A solution to this long debate doesn’t appear to be
near, but we’d love you to offer your thoughts and share your
polyglot programming experiences below…

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