jeremynealbrown jeremynealbrown - 7 months ago 12
Python Question

What programming language features are well suited for developing a live coding framework?

I would like to build a "live coding framework".

I should explain what is meant by "live coding framework". I'll do so by comparing live coding to traditional coding.

Generally put, in traditional programming you write code, sometimes compile it, then launch an executable or open a script in some sort of interpreter. If you want to modify your application you must repeat this process. A live coding framework enables code to be updated while the application is running and reloaded on demand. Perhaps this reloading happens each time a file containing code is changed or by some other action. Changes in the code are then reflected in the application as it is running. There is no need to close the program and to recompile and relaunch it.

In this case, the application is a windowed app that has an update/draw loop, is most likely using OpenGL for graphics, an audio library for sound processing ( SuperCollider? ) and ideally a networking lib.

Of course I have preferred languages, though I'm not certain that any of them would be well suited for this kind of architecture. Ideally I would use Python, Lua, Ruby or another higher level language. However, a friend recently suggested Clojure as a possibility, so I am considering it as well.

I would like to know not only what languages would be suitable for this kind of framework but, generally, what language features would make a framework such as this possible.

Answer

Clojure has pretty much everything you are likely to want as a live coding language. Main highlights:

  • Interactive REPL - so you can interact directly with your running program. Even when I'm doing "traditional programming" I tend to write code interactively and copy the bits I like into a source file later. Clojure is just designed to work this way - pretty much everything in your program is inspectable, modifiable and replaceable at runtime.
  • Great concurrency support - you can kick off concurrent background tasks trivially with code like (future (some-function)). More importantly, Clojure's STM and emphasis on high performance immutable data structures will take care of the more subtle concurrency aspects (e.g. what happens if I update a live data structure while it is in the middle of being rendered??)
  • Library availability - it's a JVM language so you can pull in all the audio, visual, IO or computational tools you require from the Java ecosystem. It's easy to wrap these in a line or two of Clojure so that you get a concise interface to the functions that you need
  • Macros - as Clojure is a homoiconic language you can take advantage of the Lisp ability to write powerful macros that extend the language. You can effectively build the exact syntax that you want to use in the live environment, and let the compiler do all the hard work of creating the complete code behind the scenes.
  • Dynamic typing - the benefits of this can be argued both ways, but it's certainly a huge benefit when trying to write code quickly and concisely.
  • Active community with a lot of cool projects - you're likely to find a lot of people interested in similar live coding techniques in the Clojure community.

A couple of links you might find interesting: