Excited About D

Posted on April 07, 2015 - Subscribe - Home

I've been actively looking to replace Ruby as my general purpose language with something else. High level reasons are:

I evaluated the usual contenders like Haskell,Clojure & Go but nothing got me excited enough to write any code. At work we were green fielding a bunch of new services. A coworker mentioned he'd done a prototype in D. I never heard about it before and asked about it. He briefly described it. I made a mental note to look into it, but since the prototype never went any further the interest was generally shelved. Fast forward a bit. I had an idea for a CLI program I wanted to distribute. I did not want to ship code on an interpreted stack then I remembered that my coworker mentioned D. It was a good as time as any to investigate.

I purchased The D Programming Language and cruised though the shorter online Programming in D book. They peaked my interest. The more I read, the more it seems that D has everything I want in a programming language. Turns out I learned enough to write a simple test tool for one of the company API. It was a pleasant experience after I got over the "language X noob" problems. So in this post, I want to share with you why I'm excited about D and am looking forward to using personally & professionally.

Introducing D

First off a bit about the language itself. D is a statically typed multi paradigm language that compiles to native code. I say multi paradigm because it has first class functions, closures, as well as classical inheritance. The syntax is C like, so in general the code will appear as you expect. D also has a decent standard library so you can map and filter like a sensible language. Unlike C, D is garbage collected (however you can opt-in to raw memory management if needed). So with that in mind let's get to the good stuff!

Types

The type system is not revolutionary (ala Idris), but it cuts down on the boilerplate required in a less advanced type system (ala Go/Java/C/C++). The tl;dr here is that it does have types and writing the type is not required every time. The auto type can be used for assigning variables and for function return values. This makes it possible to almost never write a type. The compiler will infer as much type information as possible. I think 90% of types in my program are auto. Here's an example:

auto name = "Adam Hawkins";
// same as
string name = "Adam Hawkins";

// auto can also be used for functions
auto getName() {
    return "Adam Hawkins";
}

Seemed to work out well enough for me in my small program. However I did think where are the types? Java was the last strongly typed language I worked in so I had grown to assume that type systems meant type names everywhere. This is not the case.

Contract Programming & Class Invariants

D allows you to create input and output contracts for functions. The contracts are automatically checked at runtime. This is important because I want my programs to be fundamentally more correct and I want them to explode if they fail to be. Here's a made up example for a function that should execute tests. A test suite should require more than one test and return at least one result. If that doesn't happen then there is a serious problem. Here's some code:

enum TestResult { PASS, FAIL };
TestResult[] runTests(Test[] tests)
in
{
    assert(!results.empty)
}
out(result)
{
    assert(!results.empty)
}
body
{
    TestResult[] results;

    // Break contract!
    return results;
}

Note that this program would compile but explode at runtime. This same concept can be applied to classes via invariants. D will enforce the invariant holds true before and after each method call. Note that contracts can also be added to classes methods. These two constructs can go a long way to ensuring a program's correctness over its lifetime.

Built in Tests

The compiler has built in support for running tests. Every file can declare a unittest block. The block is compiled into the program and will run when the program runs. If the tests fail, the program will explode. This nice because it makes TDD easy and all the required bits are available without having to import any dependencies. Here's an example:

// my_name.d

unittest {
    assert("Adam Hawkins" = myName());
}

auto myName() {
    return "Adam Hawkins";
}

// Now at the console
// note rdmd is short for "run dmd" which is "compile & run" in
// in a single command.
$ rdmd --main -unittest

UFCS

UFCS is short of "Universal Function Call Syntax". It works like this:

// Define a function taking a string as the first argument
auto isMyName(string s) {
    return s == "Adam Hawkins";
}

auto name = "Adam";

// As you'd expect
isMyName("Adam");

// Now call the same method one or two ways
name.isMyName()

This is all done by the compiler so there's no meta programming or monkey patching involved. I like this because it gives the illusion of certain types are extended. It also allows you to write the code in whichever syntax make sense to you.

foreach/map/filter/parallel

D has a built in looping construct for ranges called foreach.

import std.stdio;

auto names = [ "Adam Hawkins", "Peter Esselius" ];

foreach(name; names) {
    writeln(name);
}

Naturally you can map as well.

import std.stdio, std.algorithm;

auto names = [ "Adam Hawkins", "Peter Esselius" ];
// Become Svensk with a lambda!
auto swedishNames = names.map!(n => n ~ "son");

foreach(name; names) {
    writeln(name);
}

Parallelization is easy as well.

import std.stdio, std.parallelism;

auto names = [ "Adam Hawkins", "Peter Esselius" ];

foreach(name; taskPool.parallel(names)) {
    writeln(name);
}

Grab Bag

Here a few things that are cool but can't easily put together a small snippet to explain them.

Wrap Up

All in all I'm quite excited about the programming language itself. The only drawback is the current community. It's very small right now. The community is actively working on ways to improve itself and get the word out. Everyone was extremely helpful on the IRC channel when I was struggling through my first program. Even if you do not chose to use D, take a look. It certainly expanded my mind and showed me there are other great languages out there. I also highly recommend The D Programming Language book. It's an easy read for experienced programmers and the author's style makes it more enjoyable.

— Adam Hawkins