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The state of the scripting universe

Lynn Greiner | Sept. 1, 2008
With the rise of Web 2.0, scripting languages are now often considered important tools in a developer's arsenal.

Tools companies, including Eclipse and ActiveState, are offering more and better products for working with dynamic languages.

A segment of Java programmers seem to be embracing Ruby (and Rails) in particular. A new dynamic language, Groovy, is capitalizing on this trend by providing a dynamic language on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) that incorporates elements of both Java and Ruby.

Support for independent software vendors (ISVs) with dynamic languages is also improving. The Linux Foundation's recently-released LSB 3.2 spec includes Perl and Python as first-class supported languages within the spec, so ISVs who target this spec for their software can depend on Perl and Python being present in regularized configurations.

Hobbs: The dynamic languages are becoming more accepted. This is in part through more acceptance of open-source software, which all the dominant dynamic languages are (versus Java and .Net, which are questionably open in their process and/or sources). It is also due to good frameworks being developed using newer languages such as Ruby on Rails. You also see larger organizations fostering support for the languages, such as Google's support of Python, which was made their primary development language for Google App Engine.

Holden: People seem more positive towards scripting languages. They have, over time, come to realize that their performance is such that they work for most problems and have also learned that the compilation step can be heavy-handed and a huge time sink in the development cycle.

There is now a more general appreciation of the advantages of dynamic languages, whose characteristics are well-suited to Agile test-driven development techniques that have also become more popular in the same time frame.

The last three years have seen increased uptake in dynamic languages in many application areas. For Python in particular, the IronPython (now a Microsoft open-source project) and Jython (whose primary developer was recently hired by Sun Microsystems) implementations have had a positive impact.

Lam: Compilation is orthogonal to static/dynamic. IronRuby is a compiled language (and an interpreted one too- we offer both options), yet it is clearly a dynamic language. So it's better to say that there are changes in attitude between static versus dynamic languages.

There is a "polyglot programmer" meme going around which roughly says that future systems will be built on a statically typed library foundation (e.g. BCL in .Net) with a dynamically typed language used in a dual role to both script those static types as well as define a domain-specific language (DSL) which will be used to implement the high level app logic.

Pall: For a large number of applications, when deciding what technology to use, it is no longer the case that the debate centers around dynamic languages versus compiled languages. Scripting is now considered real programming, and indeed most people don't even use the word "scripting" when describing what they do, but instead call it "programming." These days, it boils down to which dynamic programming language to use, not if you should use one.


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