I know it has been a long time since my last post. I am sorry about that, but life has it’s complications every now and then (as you know)… Well, on to the article.
Recently I had to reimplement in C a prefork server I wrote in Ruby for an internal project at Propus. Not that the Ruby version wasn’t enough (after all, although being in Ruby, I was using Unix plumbing, much in the fashion Ryan tell us about in the – now famous – I like Unicorn because it’s Unix article)… The problem is that, in one of our clients, the only version available for Ruby was 1.8.1.
Yeah… I know… But we were not allowed to upgrade and, although it didn’t seem at first, the same server presented a nasty memory leak in 1.8.1 that was not present in 1.8.7 and 1.9.1. I still don’t know where the problem is… I suspect some of the C-to-Ruby glues around TCP sockets might be blamed, but after a couple of days trying to figure it out, I decided it was easier just to reimplement it using C.
It actually took less than a day to get the C version going… nothing fancy and, apart from memory footprint, just the same functionality and about the same speed of the Ruby version. But it was enough to remind me I really don’t like all the scaffolding one has to raise in order to make something useful in C. It’s not just a matter of SLOC (of course, C version was more than 3 times longer than Ruby one)… I am talking about all the manual memory management, pointer operations and the disgusting experience of dealing with strings in C. I know some people are addicted to that sort of thing like heroin, but to me it just slows development.
This experience made me think about learning a second compiled programming language. I do some Perl, a lot of Python and (of course) most of my work in Ruby, but those are all interpreted languages. For compiled languages I always resorted to C… So I am officially looking for a language to learn.
So far, the best candidates are OCaml (I got a little excited about JoCaml a few months ago, now I might get serious about it), Haskell, Lisp, Objective-C, Ada, and Vala. Of these, I’ve been reading a lot about OCaml… It seems a fine and expressive language, with decent foundations, object-oriented extension, broad standard library and (with JoCaml) concurrency… Also it might give me the proper excuse to finally wrap my mind around a functional language!
People keep me pointing to Java and Erlang… Well… for using Java I would much prefer using JRuby. Erlang, ITOH, has a weird syntax (at least to me) and it seems much of what makes it great will, eventually, be part of Ruby (or already is using libraries) – either that or I’ll just wait for Reia to be ready. Besides, neither can be compiled to native code (ok, that argument can be stretched both ways, so just ignore it).
So, what do you think? Any advice?