Python, Ruby, Scripting

Starting Ruby and Python

This weekend I had a chance to start some Ruby and Python programming. My favourite scripting language to date is Perl and in terms of Java scripting I do actually like Groovy (although it has rapidly fallen out of favour with the Java crowd). Out of the two I have done currently done more complex stuff with Ruby but one thing is pretty immediate and that is that Python is very much on the back foot when it come to OOP scripting.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as actually scripting tends to be procedural and my Python script seemed to do a similar amount of work without the involvement of OO code. If I wanted something done quickly I would probably go for Python in the same way I go for Perl now. However if I thought something had legs and needed to be supported and expanded I would definitely go with Ruby.

One thing that both languages seem to have issues with is their big libraries. Most of my time with both languages was spent looking up how to perform some action. I was certain that neither of the languages required me to roll my own but I felt the situation was a lot like C and C++. C, like Perl, has the advantage of being syntactically very compact. You have to learn very little to know the language completely. Of course that means it lacks a certain power that comes from building on the capabilities of the language.

Perl answers this problem with modules which are a good idea as you only have to learn about standard libraries in little module sized chunks that match the problem you’re working on.

Python is kind of similar, in the sense there isn’t a lot in the core, but different in that, like C++ (and Java), you need to know your standard library if you are really going to get stuff done effectively.

Ruby is an altogether different beast. To get anything done you have to grapple with what feels, from my Java-centric point of view, like a very arbitrary API that is attached to every object. If you know the capabilities of a type then you have access to a lot of power. If you don’t, then you are swearing, scratching your head and reaching for the API description in the Pickaxe book.

One key thing that I feel is holding me back is the lack of variable typing. Having dynamically typed variables is cool, unless of course I know that I only want one type of variable (say an Integer). Maybe the code reflection and auto-completion features of Java are influencing me here but I do think it is helpful to be able to specify a type for a variable and then have the programmer’s editor or IDE be able to determine the API available to you.

Oh and yes, I might be making this complaint because I have already been caught out by the lack of automatic conversion between strings and numbers.

Overall my opinion at the moment is that Python is like Perl only cleaner and more legible. I think it would be really good for protoyping an application with a big team because there is a lot more consistency in the syntax and the style.

However Ruby’s object-orientation does mean that it would be an obvious choice for trying out OO Java ideas. Particularly if something like JRuby helped bring the benefits of both languages together (as well as making the most of my heavy investment in memorising huge chunks of the Java API).

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