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Re: Notes from Monday's meeting with TC39 folks

From: Maciej Stachowiak <mjs@apple.com>
Date: Wed, 07 Oct 2009 22:50:45 -0700
Cc: public-script-coord@w3.org
Message-id: <FAB8E1C4-05A1-428E-892A-F89669C3C673@apple.com>
To: Cameron McCormack <cam@mcc.id.au>

On Oct 7, 2009, at 9:57 PM, Cameron McCormack wrote:

> On Monday, Brendan, Allen, Mark, Jonas had a second ad hoc meeting to
> discuss Web IDL.

Are these meetings getting announced in advance anywhere?

>  Below are some rambling notes.
> I didn’t agree with the part of Allen’s analysis of overloading  
> that
> claimed that it currently requires expensive overload resolution
> whenever a function is called (the implementation should know ahead of
> time exactly what set of ES types correspond to which overloaded
> operation).

Yes, the current approach should not be any more expensive than an  
approach with union types. Either way you do some type checks and  
dispatch to the proper piece of code.

> There was agreement though about the “impedence mismatch”
> when considering ES as the most important language binding, and using
> union types seemed like a plausible way of doing this.  Specs  
> currently
> tend to consider them in prose as the same operation/function anyway.
> Moving to union types would help discourage certain poor designs, such
> as canvas’ createImageData(), where certain arguments change their
> meaning depending on how many are passed.  If we restrict ourselves to
> union types plus the current way of specifying optional arguments,  
> then
> it does make some patterns more difficult to specify.  In  
> particular, if
> with the current overload mechanism we had
>  void f(in DOMString s);
>  void f(in DOMString s, in float x, in float y);
>  void f(in Element e);
>  void f(in Element e, in float x, in float y);
> then we’d need need to write this as
>  void f(in DOMString | Element a,
>         in optional float x,
>         in optional float y);
> thus allowing two arguments to be passed, if you just look at the IDL,
> and then prose would be required to disallow the two argument call.   
> We
> could go back to the way [Optional] used to be specified, which meant
> that that argument and all following could be omitted, but I found  
> that
> to be a bit unclear.  (Currently, overloading is required in the  
> spec to
> handle this case.)
> Another thing I just noticed is that it doesn’t allow you to  
> specialise
> the return type depending on which overload is invoked.  I can’t
> remember seeing any web API that currently has different return  
> types on
> overloaded operations.

How would you specify canvas's getImageData() with this approach? Or  
drawImage()? Seems like it is impossible to specify the interface  
correctly with the union type mechanism. It's one thing to  
"discourage", but if IDL can't specify the behavior of existing  
interfaces, then it will fail in its purpose.

> With this union types model, Null would become a built-in type in the
> IDL.  As in the current spec, the string type (DOMString; maybe we can
> reconsider renaming it again) would not have null as one of its  
> values.
> A union type would be needed to allow null as a distinct value, e.g.:
>  attribute (DOMString | Null) x;
> and the ‘?’ suffix currently used to denote a nullable type could  
> be
> syntactic sugar for that:
>  attribute DOMString? x;
> (And of course typedefs could be used to make union types more  
> usable.)
> We talked about having an Undefined type in the IDL, too, but I’m  
> not
> sure whether we came to an agreement on that.  If we did have it, then
> we should distinguish the case where the Undefined type is accepted as
> an argument value with the case where the argument is omitted.
> The thought is that there are few APIs where it makes sense to
> distinguish null and "" when accepting a DOMString (getAttribute  
> being a
> notable one).  But we will need to check.  There are two possibilities
> on how ES values are coerced to DOMString by default:
>  A) null is converted to ""
>     anything else is converted using the String constructor
>  B) everything is converted using the String constructor
> If an analysis shows that the former covers most cases (majority?
> plurality?) then we would go with that and also not allow overriding
> this in the IDL as you can do with [Null] (or [TreatNullAs], as it
> became).

I think the default should be (A) but it should be possible to  
override for specific APIs, if needed for legacy behavior. This is my  
biggest problem with nullability as it exists in the current spec. The  
common case ("DOMString?") is longer and more funny-looking than the  
rare case ("DOMString").

> With regards to how the undefined value should be coerced to a string,
> Jonas said (paraphrasing):
>  A lot of people have argued that we should always use the String
>  constructor so undefined gets converted to "undefined" (and similarly
>  for null).  I see logic in that too.  What makes the least amount of
>  sense is what we do in Gecko, where null comes "" and undefined
>  becomes "undefined".  I think we should recommend converting both to
>  the empty string and seeing what people say.  We can use union types
>  to handled undefined differently if necessary.  I think IE generally
>  stringifies both null and undefined.

Many of the DOM Core and DOM Events interfaces specifically mandate  
treating null the same as the empty string, and in at least some cases  
this works interoperably.

I think changing the behavior for undefined could be a compatibility  

> And Mark said:
>  We shouldn’t be considering converting null to "" but undefined to
>  "undefined".

But that's what most browsers do for most existing DOM APIs (with  
quirky exceptions). So we must consider it.

> Later discussion, assuming that there was no Undefined type in the  
> IDL,
> suggested that the Null IDL type could be specified as either null or
> undefined in ES, but when returned from the implementation to ES would
> always be denoted using null.

Since null and undefined are often treated differently, this seems  
like a bad idea.

> We also discussed removing the null value from interface types, which
> would require IDL writers then to use union types to explicitly allow
> null.  For example:
>  attribute Node? firstChild;   /* or (Node | Null) */
>  void appendChild(in Node n);
> where firstChild can be null, but the value passed to appendChild
> cannot.  We’d define a TypeError (or something) to be thrown if  
> null was
> passed to appendChild here.

Yuck. Many DOM APIs can return null, having to annotate all of them  
seems like a lot of work for low return.

> Due to trouble with catchalls clashing with properties that exist on  
> an
> object, we agreed that new APIs shouldn’t (mustn’t?) use these.   
> Name
> getters would need to remain in the spec to handle current APIs that  
> use
> them, such as localStorage.  We would change them back to extended
> attributes ([NameGetter] and so on) since they wouldn’t be part of  
> the
> IDL language proper.  Similarly for callers, which seem to be an anti-
> pattern.
> We came up with five (or four) categories for Web IDL features to be
> classified as being members of, in order to manage functionality  
> that we
> don’t want to perpetuate:
>  1. Web IDL “the good parts”
>    Features that aren’t controversial.  Mark wanted to ensure that  
> this
>    set of features was implementable in ES5 strict code.  Brendan
>    thought that array-like objects (i.e., the use of index getters)
>    should fall in this category too, even though it is not possible to
>    write array-like objects in ES5 currently.
>  2. De jure parts of the spec required for legacy support
>    This would include catchalls (i.e., name getters).  New APIs must
>    not use features in this set, but must implement them as specified.
>  3. “Deprecated”
>    Same as category 2, but that it’s expected that the features  
> could
>    be removed from the platform (and Web IDL) at some point in the
>    future.  (This category might be empty, and might as well be  
> removed
>    since they can just be category 2 features that are removed in a
>    future revision of the spec.)

I'm not sure anything is really in this category. If features can be  
removed now, they should be removed now. If they can't be removed now,  
it seems impossible to predict.

>  4. Something like ES5’s Appendix B
>    Not normative.  These would be advisory notes about things
>    implementations might want to do for compatibility, but it would be
>    up to the implementor to determine whether it was required.  If
>    deemed required, then the implementor would follow the definitions
>    in this section (that is, it’s defined how to do it, but optional
>    whether it is required).  document.all falsey-ness was considered
>    to be in this category, although currently that behaviour is
>    specified in HTML5, not by virtue of any Web IDL feature.

I don't like the idea of a non-normative appendix. Optional behaviors  
lead to interoperability problems and cause trouble for authors and  
implementors alike. I think it's a giant failure that ES5 takes this  
approach to anything - it's just a cheap way to maintain a smug sense  
of purity without actually serving interoperability of the Web  
platform. Interoperability is more important than wrinkling our noses  
at distasteful legacy.

In the specific case of document falsey-ness, I think it should be  
mandatory, not optional (even though it is spec'd in HTML5, so this  
discussion doesn't really apply).

>  5. Things considered for standardisation but rejected, and why
>    Also not normative, and requirements wouldn’t be listed at all.
>    (Not sure if any features were deemed to be in this category.)

Anything rejected for standardization shouldn't be mentioned in the  

> Mark wondered whether there should be both [Supplemental] and the
> ‘implements’ statement, since both effectively augment the type  
> being
> supplemented (or the type on the LHS of the ‘implements’), and  
> might
> cause the same changes to an interface’s prototype object (under a
> certain design of flattening multiple inheritance to single  
> inheritance
> prototype chains).

But the direction of relation is different. "implements" makes a new  
interface incorporate a pre-existing interface's methods and  
attributes. [Supplemental] allows an existing interface to be extended  
with new methods and attributes. When creating a new interface, you  
don't always have control of both ends of the relationship, as the two  
interfaces that you need to relate may be in different specs. It's  
useful to be able to do this in both directions.

> I had some issues with [Supplemental] effectively allowing an  
> interface
> to lose members depending on which set of specs you consider when
> generating a Java interface, which would cause binary compatibility
> problems.  (You want to only allow methods to be added to an  
> interface.)
> In Java you handle these cases with mixin interfaces, as is currently
> done with various DOM specs (e.g. DocumentCSS, DocumentView).  I think
> it might be better to allow these to have unique interface names, like
> DocumentCSS, but with an extended attribute that indicates explicitly
> what prototype object is being supplemented with new properties —  
> maybe:
>  [Supplemental]
>  Document implements DocumentCSS;
> or so.

Does retroactively adding a mixin preserve Java binary compatibility?

> Those of us who were able to stay until the end of the meeting (all  
> but
> Allen) were happy with a few initial recommendations, but I
> unfortunately don’t have a note of them.  I believe they included:
>  * Not allowing callable objects in future APIs

If it's allowed, it's allowed - at best we can say it SHOULD NOT be  
used in new APIs. I don't think it would be appropriate to grandfather  
in specific interfaces from other specs by name, and a requirement  
that doesn't name the specific interfaces would have no teeth.

>  * Not allowing inheritance DAGs (only trees)

Good idea in principle - do the IDL interfaces of SVG satisfy this  

> and possibly also not allowing catchalls in future APIs, but I still
> need slightly more convincing for that; despite problems of clashing
> namespaces, it seems like a handy pattern for script authors.

I think a fact-based discouragement would be ok, but I am not sure a  
requirement to absolutely rule them out would be respected.


> Those who attended: please chime in with clarifications/corrections.
> Thanks,
> Cameron
> [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LOTE
> -- 
> Cameron McCormack ≝ http://mcc.id.au/
Received on Thursday, 8 October 2009 05:51:27 UTC

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