Typesafety versus Worse is Better - was Re: Fwd: is there any word processing software for the pdp11?

Toby Thain toby at telegraphics.com.au
Wed Dec 3 21:30:15 CST 2014

On 03/12/14 3:25 PM, Eric Smith wrote:
> On Wed, Dec 3, 2014 at 9:21 AM, Sean Caron <scaron at umich.edu> wrote:
>> But is there necessarily a win in turning a crack C programmer into a
>> novice {Smalltalk, LISP, insert your favorite language here...}
>> programmers?
> Of what use is a newborn baby?  Of *course* it's of no value if you stop
> at turning them into a novice. But if they're actually a *good* programmer,
> they'll become proficient in another language. ...
> C advocates always claim that a good programmer will write reliable code
> in C, and in a vanishingly small number of cases that's true, but the
> reality is that 99.9999% of C code has bugs that either:
> 1) could have been caught by static analysis in a language with even
>      slightly better semantics (including strong typing)
> 2) could have been caught at runtime if the language semantics could
>      reasonably support bounds checking. In this case the software would
>      still have a bug, but at worst it would result in denial of service rather
>      than privilege escalation and information leakage.  (Then there's the
>      problem of people that use runtime checking during software testing
>      to protect their valuable test data, but turn runtime checking off for
>      production, but that's an argument for another day.)
> There has been a huge amount of research into how to solve those
> problems in C, with only partial results. It's a difficult and perhaps
> intractable problem because C is a portable assembly language, with
> correspondingly low level semantics The "easy" way to solve the problem
> is not coming up with bandaids for C, or trying to better train C
> programmers; it is to abandon C for a reasonable language.

Not only that - the semantics of C can even get in the way of it being 
FAST. So there goes one of the brogrammer talking points...

> This doesn't happen at least in part due to managers seeing a huge
> glut of C programmers on the market. When all you've got is a hammer...
> Note that the same arguments apply to C++.  While C++ is no longer
> a proper superset of C, it still is close to being one. C++ advocates will point
> out that a lot of the new stuff in C++ is safer than the old C stuff, but
> unfortunately as long as the old C stuff is in there, it gets used and
> causes the same old problems. Rather than C++ being a better language
> than C, it's a worse language, because it has *all* of the C defects, plus
> additional new ones.

Definitely. And Go seems doomed to make a similar plethora of bad choices.


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