Finding good tools to make greater tools

Programming is usually something fun, but there is two types of situation that always made me mad:

  • Spending too much time finding a stupid syntax error because the compiler gives me a very weird error message and pointing to the wrong place in the code.
  • Having to hack my way out to trace a bug because the debugger doesn’t give me the information I need (or worse, gives me a false answer).

Mostly, as programmers, we want to spend our time creating, and not fighting against our tools.c3wifeinternalerror1

My husband was using XCode until recently. Having only mac at home, this was the obvious choice. But as the codebase continue to grow, he was getting more and more of those two things. Then the search for an alternative started. Codewarrior doesn’t support mac anymore. Anyway we already made an overdose of it in the past, back when we were mac game programmers! Then came Eclipse, he’s testing it now. Will he stick to it? Will he go back to XCode? Will something new arise? Or will he simply buy a PC and go back to Visual Studio and it’s comfortable Visual Assist. Eclipse debugger seems to be a little better, probably because it uses GDB/MI instead of directly parsing GDB’s output (more info). I expect support for C++ to grow very slowly for XCode, Apple’s attention being focused on C and Objective-C (a very similar fate to OpenGL because games weren’t a priority for Apple until recently).

No matter how good the tools are, the root of the problem is in the language grammar. The more hacks there is in your parser, the more difficult it will be to give clear error messages or debug correctly. Leaving retro-compatibility behind open the door to a design that would minimize those problems. In order to do that, my husband always keeps in the KISS motto in mind. A nice lean grammar implemented in a simple yet elegant way shall have lots of good influence in the future. This is a big part of why he didn’t go for YARD; sure he loves templates, but sometimes they are just too much for the needs.

Clear error messages and precise debugging tools are part of the big dream. It won’t prevent us from making stupid mistakes, but will sure save time when we do.

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