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PRINCIPLES    174 lines (169 with data), 10.0 kB

"In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to *Order*; and
now I am grown old and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of
it. But, on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had
been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was,
by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should
have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect
writing by imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the
wished-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the
endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible."
  -- Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography

"'Signs make humans do things,' said Nisodemus, 'or stop doing things.
So get to work, good Dorcas. Signs. Um. Signs that say *No*.'"
  -- Terry Pratchett, _Diggers_

There are some principles which I'd like to see used in the
maintenance of SBCL:
1. conforming to the standard
2. being maintainable
   a. removing stale code
   b. When practical, important properties should be made manifest in
      the code. (Putting them in the comments is a distant second best.)
      i. Perhaps most importantly, things being the same (in the strong 
         sense that if you cut X, Y should bleed) should be manifest in
	 the code. Having code in more than one place to do the same
	 thing is bad. Having a bunch of manifest constants with hidden
	 relationships to each other is inexcusable. (Some current
	 heinous offenders against this principle are the memoizing
	 caches for various functions, and the LONG-FLOAT code.)
      ii. Enforcing nontrivial invariants, e.g. by declaring the
	  types of variables, or by making assertions, can be very
	  helpful.
   c. using clearer internal representations 
      i. clearer names
	 A. more-up-to-date names, e.g. PACKAGE-DESIGNATOR instead
	    of PACKAGELIKE (in order to match terminology used in ANSI spec)
         B. more-informative names, e.g. SAVE-LISP-AND-DIE instead
	    of SAVE-LISP or WRAPPER-INVALID rather than WRAPPER-STATE
         C. families of names which correctly suggest parallelism,
	    e.g. CONS-TO-CORE instead of ALLOCATE-CONS, in order to 
	    suggest the parallelism with other FOO-TO-CORE functions
      ii. clearer encodings, e.g. it's confusing that WRAPPER-STATE in PCL
          returns T for valid and any other value for invalid; could
          be clarified by changing to WRAPPER-INVALID returning a 
          generalized boolean; or e.g. it's confusing to encode things
          as symbols and then use STRING= SYMBOL-NAME instead of EQ 
          to compare them.
      iii. clearer implementations, e.g. cached functions being
	   done with HASH-TABLE instead of hand-coded caches
   d. informative comments and other documentation
      i. documenting things like the purposes and required properties
	 of functions, objects, *FEATURES* options, memory layouts, etc.
      ii. not using terms like "new" without reference to when.
          (A smart source code control system which would let you
          find when the comment was written would help here, but
          there's no reason to write comments that require a smart
          source code control system to understand..)
   e. using functions instead of macros where appropriate
   f. maximizing the amount of stuff that's (broadly speaking) "table
      driven". I find this particularly helpful when the table describes 
      the final shape of the result (e.g. the package-data-list.lisp-expr
      file), replacing a recipe for constructing the result (e.g. various
      in-the-flow-of-control package-manipulation forms) in which the
      final shape of the result is only implicit. But it can also be very
      helpful any time the table language can be just expressive enough
      for the problem at hand. 
   g. using functional operators instead of side-effecting operators
      where practical
   h. making it easy to find things in the code
      i. defining things using constructs which can be understood by etags
   i. using the standard library where possible
      i. instead of hand-coding stuff
	 (My package-data-list.lisp-expr stuff may be a bad example as of
	 19991208, since the system has evolved to the point where it
	 might be possible to replace my hand-coded machinery with some
	 calls to DEFPACKAGE.)
   j. more-ambitious dreams..
      i. fixing the build process so that the system can be bootstrapped
         from scratch, so that the source code alone, and not bits and
         pieces inherited from the previous executable, determine the 
         properties of the new executable
      ii. making package dependencies be a DAG instead of a mess, so 
          the system could be understood (and rebuilt) in pieces
      iii. moving enough of the system into C code that the Common Lisp
           LOAD operator (and all the symbol table and FOP and other
           machinery that it depends on) is implemented entirely in C, so
           that GENESIS would become unnecessary (because all files could
           now be warm loaded)
3. being portable
   a. In this vale of tears, some tweaking may be unavoidably required
      when making software run on more than one machine. But we should
      try to minimize it, not embrace it. And to the extent that it's
      unavoidable, where possible it should be handled by making an 
      abstract value or operation which is used on all systems, then
      making separate implementations of those values and operations
      for the various systems. (This is very analogous to object-oriented
      programming, and is good for the same reasons that method dispatch
      is better than a bunch of CASE statements.)
4. making a better programming environment
   a. Declarations *are* assertions! (For function return values, too!)
   b. Making the debugger, the profiler, and TRACE work better.
   c. Making extensions more comprehensible.
      i. Making a smaller set of core extensions. IMHO the high level
         ones like ONCE-ONLY and LETF belong in a portable library
         somewhere, not in the core system.
      ii. Making more-orthogonal extensions. (e.g. removing the
          PURIFY option from SAVE-LISP-AND-DIE, on the theory that
          you can always call PURIFY yourself if you like)
      iii. If an extension must be complicated, if possible make the
	   complexity conform to some existing standard. (E.g. if SBCL
	   supplied a command-line argument parsing facility, I'd want
	   it to be as much like existing command-line parsing utilities
	   as possible.)
5. other nice things
   a. improving compiled code
      i. faster CLOS
      ii. bigger heap
      iii. better compiler optimizations
      iv. DYNAMIC-EXTENT
   b. increasing the performance of the system
      i. better GC
      ii. improved ability to compile prototype programs fast, even 
          at the expense of performance of the compiled program
   c. improving safety
      i. more graceful handling of stack overflow and memory exhaustion
      ii. improving interrupt safety by e.g. locking symbol tables
   d. decreasing the size of the SBCL executable
   e. not breaking old extensions which are likely to make it into the
      new ANSI standard
6. other maybe not-so-nice things
   a. adding whizzy new features which make it harder to maintain core 
      code. (Support for the debugger is important enough that I'll 
      cheerfully make an exception. Multithreading might also be
      sufficiently important that it's probably worth making an exception.)
      The one other class of extensions that I am particularly interested
      is CORBA or other standard interface support, so that programs can
      more easily break out of the Lisp/GC box to do things like graphics.
      ("So why did you drop all the socket support, Bill?" I hear you
      ask. Fundamentally, because I have 'way too much to maintain
      already; but also because I think it's too low-level to add much
      value. People who are prepared to work at that level of abstraction
      and non-portability could just code their own wrapper layer
      in C and talk to it through the ALIEN stuff.)
7. judgment calls
   a. Sharp, rigid tools are safer than dull or floppy tools. I'm
      inclined to avoid complicated defaulting behavior (e.g. trying
      to decide what file to LOAD when extension is not specified) or
      continuable errors, preferring functions which have simple behavior
      with no surprises (even surprises which are arguably pleasant).

CMU CL maintenance has been conservative in ways that I would prefer to 
be flexible, and flexible in ways that I'd prefer to be conservative.
CMU CL maintainers have been conservative about keeping old code and
maintaining the old structure, and flexible about allowing a bunch of 
additional stuff to be tacked onto the old structure.

There are some good things about the way that CMU CL has been
maintained that I nonetheless propose to jettison. In particular,
binary compatibility between releases. This is a very handy feature,
but it's a pain to maintain. At least for a while, I intend to just
require that programs be recompiled any time they're to be used with a
new version of the system. After a while things might settle down to
where recompiles will only be required for new major releases, so
either all 3.3.x fasl files will work with any 3.3.y runtime, or all
3.w.x fasl files will work with any 3.y.z runtime. But before trying
to achieve that kind of stability, I think it's more important to 
be able to clean up things about the internal structure of the system.
Aiming for that kind of stability would impair our ability to make 
changes like
  * cleaning up DEFUN and DEFMACRO to use EVAL-WHEN instead of IR1 magic;
  * reducing the separation between PCL classes and COMMON-LISP classes;
  * fixing bad FOPs (e.g. the CMU CL fops which interact with the *PACKAGE*
    variable)