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Elephants and the JavaFX Script Compiler

Posted by tball on November 10, 2007 at 4:42 PM PST

I don't know what it is about elephants, but they sure work well in analogies. Whether we are ignoring them, seeing pink ones or trying to sell white ones, elephant analogies seem to communicate ideas well. An elephant analogy came to me when I was recently grilled about exactly when the JavaFX Script compiler team will deliver our first milestone release. "I can't give you an accurate date," I said. "It's like pushing an elephant through a door*; until a critical mass makes it past the threshold you just don't know when you'll be finished. Once you pass that threshold, though, the rest happens quickly and in a manner that can be more accurately predicted." And then the tension in the room broke, as I think everyone has been in that situation sometime in their respective pasts.

In a way, this compiler project has turned out to be very similar to some of the GUI toolkit ports I've worked on in the past. We're making lots of measurable progress, which anyone can monitor in our test/features directory; for example, we recently implemented support for our "big three" language hurdles: sequences, multiple inheritance, and functional attributes (aka closures). Since the primary focus of JavaFX Script is as a domain-specific language for Rich Internet Applications, however, few people want an early access release of what we have so far -- like GUI toolkits, it doesn't get interesting until you can start working visually. So even though the JavaFX Script UI runtime needs an overhaul, we're porting it as is for the first release so those necessary GUI features are there.

Another similarity this project has to a GUI port is that most graphical toolkits have a few core components that depend upon most of the rest of the toolkit; call those classes Widget, Component, JComponent, Window, (graphic) Node, it doesn't matter -- there are so many benefits to sharing code between GUI components that these elephant-sized classes are just part of the GUI toolkit territory. So porting a GUI toolkit means that often there will an excruciating period where there is little visible progress as you work through all the dependencies, and then your first window appears, and then most of the remaining toolkit seems to just fall into place quickly. That's what happened many years ago when I was part of a team porting Presentation Manager from OS/2 to CTOS (which was about as unlike OS/2 as could be possible in those days). For several weeks, we slogged along without any visible progress (as voiced daily by our frustrated management), then we finally got the login panel showing and, in less than a week, all of the core applications were up-and-running. That login application was the critical part of our elephant, since the closure of its toolkit requirements encompassed most of the system. It wasn't really the login panel itself, of course, because whatever application is chosen first will be the hardest.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that we are really close toward delivering our first milestone release, but when the exact date will be remains unknown. If anyone is interested in monitoring our progress, check out our JIRA issue tracking system (courtesy of Atlassian), and/or subscribe to our developers alias (comments from experienced elephant pushers are welcome). Once we hit this first milestone, we'll be able to provide a much better road map for the remainder of this release.


*No elephants were hurt during the writing of this blog entry.

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