Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Developing From Console

In my previous post I promised to explain how I developed an application while (mostly) avoiding bloated development tools, so here it comes...

First, a brief explanation of the app itself: It is a genetic algorithm application implemented in Clojure, whose goal is to solve a mathematical game. Game solver (my program) gets one target number and six more numbers. The goal is to use these six numbers to create an equation which evaluates to the target number. In this article I will focus on development environment, rather than on domain problem or the program itself, so you can see more details about the game and get the source on project page: http://code.google.com/p/genetic-my-number (In case you got to this blog from there, just continue reading, and see how it was made :))

Ok, I briefly explained the problem which my application solved, now to get to the post title. Yeah, most of the tools I used to develop it are command line based. Well, actually all but two. Unix-like environments offer a great deal of useful command line tools, so it was a piece of cake to find and install all of them, however most are (as far as I know) available on Windows platform as well.

So, let's see those tools:

Editor - Vim, with limited Clojure plugin meaning that I only used syntax colouring feature and rainbow parens, not the nailgun or any other automatic runner. (I also could've used an easier editor like nano, I just like vim more)

Source Versioning - since I hosted my source on Mercurial, the best and simplest client turned out to be default console based Mercurial client hg.

Build Management and Running - Maven2, default console based (I'm sure leiningen is great, and sure will try it out, but I really don't see anything wrong with maven either). Clojure plugin for Maven offers a clojure:repl command, which creates a REPL with all the maven dependencies set up on the classpath without trouble.

Diff tool - Meld (a GUI app!) - simple, lightweight, intuitive, and looks nice... Much easier to work with than default diff, vimdiff and (personal opinion) aesthetically more appealing than kdiff. It also serves the purpose to show that choosing console tools over graphical ones shouldn't be just for geekness sake, but based on their actual usefulness.

Web Browser - Chrome and Firefox, obvious choice for both testing web applications and reading online documentation (also add whatever browser you wish to test against)...

Music Player (C'mon, who doesn't occasionally need music while programming :)) - Moc, Music On Console (the geekest of them all) a command line based music player that does exactly what it says, plays music - no lyrics plugin, no funky visualisations, no music store support - it just plays the damn music... :-)

These tools (and the command line terminal itself) were the only toolset I used while writing the genetic algorithm application, and I wrote it in a remarkably short time. Why is that? First, we shouldn't forget the choice of programming language and platform. Clojure is a modern Lisp, which means that it gives a huge flexibility and the possibility to write great functionality for brief time and in small number of code lines. Second, the tools I chose are all lightweight, they load in a millisecond, store file in the same time, writing a file doesn't cause rebuild... so I just got rid of all these annoying seconds waiting for Eclipse to finish some automatic task, not to mention time needed to setup all the plugins. There were many times when I had more trouble integrating a tool with Eclipse, than setting up the tool itself, i.e. trying to use a Google Web Toolkit, with both Maven GWT plugin and Eclipse GWT plugin. So, my solution is quite simple - use editor for editing. Period. Use build tool for building, version tool for versioning, etc... "Write (or in my case: Use) programs that do one thing and do it well" This principle isn't anything new, it's been known as a key part of the Unix philosophy, so it isn't really a surprise that most development tools that satisfy it come from Unix world.

Also, as I mentioned in my previous post, there is a tendency in IDE design to encompass the functionality of system's window manager within IDE window, so basically we have to switch between working on different files, REPL, web browser etc. both within IDE and within system window manager. With toolkit I used, only switching I had to do was between terminal windows and a browser. Even the meld tool would pop out and launch from console, and then after seeing diff and merging changes I would simply close it.


Of course, there are drawbacks to this aproach. Some technologies, especially proprietary ones or those that have enterprisey approach (or both!), simply demand some specific enviroment. But, whenever I have the luxury of choosing what to work with it will be whatever is comfortable and makes me most productive.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative blog. I wanted to update my mobile apps so, my friend suggested me this blog. it really helped me in the updation. Thanks

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