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Re: Lua in NetBSD

On Sat, Oct 24, 2009 at 10:48:41AM +0200, Marc Balmer wrote:
> There was some criticism, too, especially since I did not state what I  
> am going use Lua for, if it was in base;  I wanted to discuss the  
> general case first, so I was vague in this regard on purpose.
> I am currently working on a scheme to interface all kind of external  
> reference clocks to the system; not to get a timing base for  
> timecounters, but to get absolute time information. [...]
> One family of external reference clocks provides timing information  
> using bytestream protocols, the NMEA 0183 protocol used by most GPS  
> receivers is one of the best known protocols that falls into this  
> category. The decoding of the NMEA protocol has been done using a tty  
> line discipline.
> Using line disciplines for this kind of decoding comes at a price:
> [...]

Line disciplines are a legacy misfeature that probably ought to go
away in the long term. I would certainly not recommend using them for
this, or for that matter recommend adding any new ones for doing
anything whatsoever. Taking a trip through a userland daemon is a much
better alternative... provided that the latencies involved are

> And this is were Lua comes into play.  The decoders for the
> protocols are written in Lua, and new decoders can thus be added
> with ease and without requiring a kernel/userland rebuild.

But, are the latencies involved acceptable? You know a lot more about
this than I do, so if you say so I'll believe it, but it seems to me
that switching to a userland daemon written in an interpreted language
is not exactly what one wants for time synchronization.

It also doesn't seem to me that there's any particular reason to write
this code in Lua instead of in C/lex/yacc/snobol/whatever other tool
of the day. (Nor is there any particular reason not to; but we already
have C in base.)

I guess what I'd like to see is some examples or something else that
shows that we can expect some long-term advantages of some kind,
presumably in maintainability. Or alternatively, at least an argument
for Lua where doing s/Lua/SNOBOL/ doesn't yield an equally persuasive
argument for importing SNOBOL into base.

I guess I'm fundamentally not persuaded that coding in Lua offers any
substantial advantages to coding in C. Things that might persuade me
   - standard libraries for doing things easily that are a hassle in C
     (but half the point of Lua in this context is that it's small);
   - language features or syntax for concisely expressing things that
     are tedious or painful in C;
   - language features that allow the implementation to be better at
     rejecting invalid programs than a C compiler can be;
   - a clear use case where we seriously expect that end users will
     write Lua scripts to drive something, and where we seriously
     expect that this isn't workable using C (or sh);
Things that probably won't persuade me include
   - noting that Lua is memory-safe or garbage collected and C isn't,
     because these are not serious problems in practice;
   - noting that Lua interfaces to C well, because where the
     alternative is coding in C this is a nonissue;
Note that I'm not really looking for all that much, just some clear
evidence of advantage, because i haven't really seen anything very
persuasive yet. Because Lua is small and fairly inoffensive, the bar
is pretty low; but because it's small and fairly inoffensive it also
doesn't have much in the way of clear benefits.

(By contrast, for example, Haskell provides a number of substantial
advantages over coding in C, at least for certain kinds of programs
like compilers or code analysis tools; however, the cost of importing
the Haskell compiler into base is monumental and the tradeoff is
pretty strongly negative regardless.)

Also note that loadable kernel extensions in Lua is a completely
different ball of wax; since I have specific experience with this
problem I have some specific suggestions, which I'd be happy to share
on tech-kern.

> - easy to learn with a "natural" syntax, not statically typed

Lack of static typing is not an advantage.

David A. Holland

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