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Understanding Smart Pascal

January 15, 2017 9 comments

One of the problems you get when working pro-bono on a project, is a constant lack of time. You have a fixed amount of hours you can spare, and every day you have to make decisions about where to invest those hours. The result is that Smart Mobile Studio has a wealth of technical resources and depth, but lacks the documentation you expect such a product to have. This has been and continues to be a problem.

Documentation really is a chicken and egg thing. It doesn’t start out that way, but once the product is launched, you get trapped in this boolean dynamics: “Few people buy it because it lacks documentation; You can’t afford to write documentation because few people buy it“. Considering the size of our codebase I don’t blame people for being a bit overwhelmed.

Despite our shortcomings Smart Mobile Studio is growing. It has a slow but steady growth as opposed to explosive growth. But all products needs periods of explosive growth to build up resources so that future evolution of the product can be financed. So this lack of solid documentation acts almost like a filter. Only those that are used to coding in Delphi or Lazarus at a certain level, writing their own classes and components, will feel comfortable using it.

It has become a kind of elite toolkit, used only by the most advanced coders.

The benefit of true OOP for JSVM is unquestionable

The benefit of true OOP for JSVM is unquestionable

Trying to explain

The other day I talked to a man who simply could not wrap his head around Smart Pascal at all. Compile for JavaScript? But.. how.. How do you get classes? He looked at me with a face of disbelief. I told him that we emit a VMT (virtual method table) in JavaScript itself. That way, you get real classes, real interfaces and real inheritance. But it was like talking to a wall.

In his defence, he understood conceptually what a VMT was, no doubt from having read about it in context with Delphi; but how it really works and that the principle is fundamental to object orientation at large, was alien to him.

var TObject={
  $ClassName: "TObject",
  $Parent: null,
  ClassName: function (s) { return s.$ClassName },
  ClassType: function (s) { return s },
  ClassParent: function (s) { return s.$Parent },
  $Init: function () {},
  Create: function (s) { return s },
  Destroy: function (s) { for (var prop in s) if (s.hasOwnProperty(prop)) delete s.prop },
  Destroy$: function(s) { return s.ClassType.Destroy(s) },
  Free: function (s) { if (s!==null) s.ClassType.Destroy(s) }
}

Above: In object orientation the methods are only compiled once while the instance is cloned. This is why methods in OOP languages are compiled with a secret first parameter that is the instance. Inheritance never duplicates the code inherited from ancestors.

In retrospect I have concluded that it had more to do with “saving face” than this guy not understanding. He had just spent months writing a project in JavaScript that he could complete in less than a day using Smart Pascal – so naturally, he would look the fool to admit that he just wasted a ton of company money. The easiest way to dismiss any ignorance on his part, was to push our tech into obscurity.

But what really baked my noodle was his lack of vision. He had failed completely in understanding what cloud is, where the market is going and what that will mean to both his skill-set, his job prospects and the future of software development.

It’s not his fault. If anything it’s my fault for not writing about it earlier. In my own defense I took it for granted that everyone understood this and knew what was coming. But that is unfair because the ability to get a good overview of the situation depends greatly on where you are.

JavaScript, the most important language in the world

It may be hard for many people to admit this, but it is none the less true. JavaScript has become the single most important language on the planet. 50% of all software written right now, regardless if it’s for the server or the browser, is written in JavaScript.

I knew this would happen as early as 2008, all the signs pointed to it. In 2010 Delphi was in a really bad place and I had a choice: drop Delphi and throw 20 years of hard-earned skills out the window and seek refuge in C++ or C#; or adapt object pascal to the new paradigm and try to save as much of our collective knowledge and skills as I could.

Even before I started on Smart I knew that something like node.js would appear. It was inevitable. Not because I am so clever, but because emerging new technology follows a pattern. Once it reaches critical mass – universal adoption and adaptation will happen. It follows logical steps of evolution that apply to all things, regardless of what the product or solution may be.

What is going to happen, regardless of what you feel

Ask yourself, what are the implication of program code being virtual? What are the logical steps when your code is 100% abstracted from hardware and the underlying, native operative system? What are the implications when script code enjoy the speed of native code (the JavaScript virtual machine uses LLVM to the point that JavaScript now runs en-par with native code), yet can be clustered, replicated, moved and even paused?

Let me say it like this: The next generation rapid application development wont deliver executable files or single platform installers. You will deliver entire eco-systems. Products that can be scaled, moved between hosts, replicated -that runs and exist in the cloud purely as virtual instances.

Norwegian developed FriendOS is just one of the purely cloud based operative systems in development

Norwegian developed FriendOS is just one of the cloud based operative systems in development right now. It will have a massive impact on the world

Where Delphi developers today drag and drop components on a form, future developers will drag and drop entire service stacks. You wont drop just a single picture on a form, but connectors to international media resource managers; services that guarantee accessibility across continents. 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You think chrome-book is where it ends? It’s just the beginning.

Right now there are 3 cloud-based operating systems in development. All of them with support for the new, distributed software model. They allow you to write both the back-end and front-end of your program, which in the new model is regarded as a single entity or eco-system. Things like storage have been distributed for well over a decade now, and you can pipe data between Dropbox, Google drive or any host that implements the REST storage interface.

Some of the most powerful companies in the world are involved in this. Now take a wild guess what language these systems want you to use.

I’m sorry, but the way we make programs today is about to go extinct.

Understanding the new software model

As a Delphi or Lazarus developer you are used to the notion of server-side applications and client side applications. The distinction between this has always clear, but that is about to change. It’s still going to be around, at least for the next decade or so, but only for legacy purposes.

To backtrack just a second: Smart introduced support for node.js applications earlier, but it was on a very low-level. In the next update we introduce a large number high-level classes that is going to change the way you look at node completely.

Two new project types will be introduced in the future, giving you a very important distinction. Namely:

  • Cloud service
  • System service

To understand these concepts, you first have to understand the software model that next generation cloud operating systems work with. Superficially it may look almost identical to the good old two-tier model, but in the new paradigm it is treated as a single, portable, scalable, cluster capable entity.

In the new paradigm this is now a single entity

In the new paradigm this is now a single entity

The thing about clustering and scaling is what tends to confuse traditional developers. Because scaling in a native language is hard work. First you have to write your program in such a way that it can be scaled (e.g work as a member in a group, or cluster). Secondly you have to write a gate-keeper or head that delegates connections between the members of the cluster. If you don’t do this from the very beginning it will be a costly affair to retrofit a project with the required mechanisms.

Node.js is just awesome because it can cluster your code without you having to program for that. How? Because JavaScript is virtual. So you can fire up 50, 100 or 10.000 instances of the same process and the only thing you need to worry about is the gate-keeper process. You just park the cluster in another IP range that is only accessible by the gatekeeper, and that’s pretty much it.

When a software eco-system is installed on a cloud host, the entire architecture described by the package is created. So the backend part of your code is moved to an instance dedicated for that, the front end is installed where it belongs, same with database and so on. Forget about visual controls and TComponent, because on this level your building blocks are whole services; and the code you write scales from low-level socket coding to piping terabytes of data between processes.

Running your Smart Pascal server as a system-level daemon is very easy once you know what to look for :)

PM2 is a node.js process manager that gives you clustering and pooled application behavior for free out of the box. You don’t even have to tailor your code for it

Services that physically move

While global accessibility is fine and good, speed is a factor. It goes without saying that having to fetch data from Asia when you are in the US is going to be less than optimal. But this is where cloud is getting smarter.

Your services will actually physically move to a host closer to where you are. So let’s say you take a business trip from the US to Hong-Kong. The service will notice this, find a host closer to where you are, and replicate itself to that server.

This is not science-fiction, it’s already implemented in Azure and Google’s APIs take height for this behavior. It’s pretty cool if you ask me.

Is node.js really that powerful?

Let me present you with a few examples. Its important to understand that these examples doesnt mean everyone have to operate on this scale. But we feel it’s important to show people just what you can achieve and what node is capable of.

netflix-amazon-cloudNetflix is an online video streaming service that has become a household name in a very short time. Cloud can often be a vague term, but no other service demonstrates the potential of cloud technology as much as Netflix. In 2015 Netflix had more than 69 million paying customers in roughly 60 countries. It streams at average 100 million media hours a day.

Netflix moved from a traditional, native software model to a 100% clustered Node.js powered model in 2014. The ability for Netflix to run nearly universally on all devices, from embedded computers to Smart TV’s is largely due to their JavaScript codebase.

PayPal is a long-standing online banking and payment service that was first established in 1998. In Q4 of 2016 PayPal had 192 million registered customers world-wide. The service’s annual mobile payment volume was 66 billion US dollars in 2016. More than triple that of the previous year. Paypal moved from a traditional, native server model to Node.js back in 2015, when their entire transaction service layer was re-written from scratch.

Uber is a world-wide taxi company that is purely cloud and web-based. Unlike traditional taxi companies Uber owns no cars and doesn’t employ drivers; Instead its a service that anyone can partake in – either as a customer or a driver. In 2016 Uber operates in 551 cities across 60 countries. It delivers more than one million rides daily and have an estimated 10 million customers.

Uber’s server technology is based purely on Node.js and exists purely as a cloud based service. Uber has several client applications for various mobile devices, the majority of these are HTML5 applications that use Cordova Phonegap (same as Smart applications).

Understanding Smart

While the RTL and full scope of the technology has been a bit of a “black box” for many people, hopefully the idea and concepts around it has matured enough for people to open up for it. We were a bit early with it, and without the context that is showing up now I do understand that it can be hard to get the full scope of it (not to mention the potential).

With the cloud and some of its potential (and no, it’s not going away), a sense of urgency should start to set in. Native programming is not going away, but it will be marginalized to the point where it goes back to its origins: as a dicipline and part of engineering.

Public software and services will move to the cloud and as such, developers will be forced to use tools and languages better suited for that line of work.

We firmly believe that object pascal is one of the best languages ever created. Smart pascal has been adapted especially for this task, and the time-saving aspects and “edge” you get by writing object pascal over vanilla JavaScript is unquestionable. Inheritance alone is helpful, but the full onslaught of high-level features Smart brings takes it to the next level.

The benefits of writing object oriented, class based code is readability, order and maintainability. The benefits of a large RTL is productivity. The most important aspect of all in the world of software development.

The benefits of writing object oriented, class based code is readability, order and maintainability. The benefits of a large RTL is productivity. The most important aspect of all in the world of software development.

Hopefully the importance of our work will be easier to understand and more aparent now that cloud is becoming more visible and people are picking up the full implications of this.

The next and obvious step is moving Smart itself to the cloud, which we are planning for now. It will mean you can code and produce applications regardless of where you are. You can be in Spain, France or Oklahoma USA – all you will need is a browser, your object pascal skills and you’re good to go.

Things like “one click” hosting, instance budgets for auto scaling; the value for both developers and investors should be fairly obvious at this point.

Starting monday we will actively look for investors.

Sincerly

Jon Lennart Aasenden