I have to admit that I’ve been puzzled about the rise of domain-specific languages (DSLs) of late. Not resistant, just curious whether or not it was a fad due to geekish interest or a trend motivated by some unseen force at work. Joel Spolsky’s Strategy Letter VI made it click by relating it to a pattern I’d lived through (and yes, I’m that old):

The C programming language was invented with the explicit goal of making it easy to port applications from one instruction set to another. And it did a fine job, but wasn’t really 100% portable, so we got Java, which was even more portable than C. Mmmhmm.

Right now the big hole in the portability story is — tada! — client-side JavaScript, and especially the DOM in web browsers. […]

What’s going to happen? The winners are going to do what worked at Bell Labs in 1978: build a programming language, like C, that’s portable and efficient. It should compile down to “native” code (native code being JavaScript and DOMs) with different backends for different target platforms, where the compiler writers obsess about performance so you don’t have to. […]

If you don’t read Joel on Software, you should.

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03 October 2007