Z2C PT9.2 “Kitchen Sink” Released

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been looking at a white on black console output, checking automated unit-testing results and frantically fixing bugs every time a test failed. But the output of the text suite has been stable and promising in the last few days:

1386 out of 1386 tests have passed in a total of 330.129 seconds.

We are golden! Roll the tape with the release music…

So finally, 4 months too late, with a total of 7 months passed since the last release, a new version is finished! PT 9.2 is out! Normally, we like to keep releases smaller, having a fixed set of features and work on that until the version is stable enough. But this time we did not manage that and in the 4 months over the planned time and even in the 3 months before, a lot of non-planned features managed to receive attention. Some are in the latest release, some are not quite done (still!) and are deactivated for this release and some were so experimental that they were removed for good. So this release is more of a kitchen-sink release, hence the code-name.

Let us take a look at the main new features:

Reimplemented package system

The old design for the package system has been updated. Things are still pretty similar, but the new design is more robust, scalable and has more defined roles and rules. In addition to this conceptual and design cleanup/enhancement, the implementation has been redone pretty much from scratch.

Cache system for building

The new design for the package system needs to locate resources and this is so much more important because the entire Z2 building process is controlled by the dependency manager. So the dependency manager needs to be able to locate resources that are later used to locate other types of resources for optimal builds. All these lookups are now helped by a cache.

This cache is only one of the needed features for really fast compilation times. The goal is for Z2 to compile faster than C++, even when using the C++ backend. The second pillar of such compilation times is binary packages. Binary packages are not implemented yet, but even the cache on its own helps a lot. I will detail the results in another post.

Redesigned vectors

The existing vector design has proven to be not ideal and there has been an attempt to replace it for ages now. But vector design is really complicated and might be one of the most complicated subjects, so replacing them was no easy task.

The new design is much better and more natural to use. It is still not perfect so expect minor updates, but no more compatibility breaking major changes.

Function parameters are const

Z2 has inherited the concept of const-correctness from C++. But it does need some updates. If we can’t improve on it, maybe it is better to remove this concept from the language.

One of the improvements is the solution to the problem of mandatory const keywords in function parameters. As in C++, the de-facto standard for passing parameters to functions is by const and often forgetting to add the const is a (minor and often harmless) error. Yet the syntax for this de-facto standard is more verbose than the alternative which is rarely used.

Starting with PT9.2, all function parameters come in two flavors: const by default or reference parameters. Const parameters do not need to be decorated by a keyword and are immutable. Reference parameters are introduced by the ref keyword and they can mutate the passed-in object.

This change is experimental and at the same time quite controversial. But this is the optimal time to test its viability in practice, when the user base of the language is low.

Fancy logs

There are now new fancy HTML5 Bootstrap logs. Really fancy! With color coding, collapsible panels and navigation options.

Going over these logs can be a joy when compared to simple non-navigable logs. They are also very slow to generate and not that useful if I’m honest, so they have been deactivated for this build. It is better to compile fast rather than having Bootsrap enabled logs.

Bug fixing

While a longer development cycle can introduce more bugs, there is also more time to fix existing bugs. A ton of bugs has been fixed and Z2 has never been this stable. Probably another 4 months of bug-fixing without adding any new features and I would call the compiler production ready.

Java backend

I’m mentioning this last because the new Java backend does not work. It tries to, but it fails. But if it will work, this might add a new backend. I’m not sure if Java is a good fit for the Z2 object model and that’s putting it politely.

So what are the next steps? Well, there are two sets of plans for what will make it into PT 9.3. I can’t tell exactly which one will make it though. And after 9.3, PT 10 will come out. This should be a really major and mature version.

But until then, even with the long development cycle, PT 9.2 still has some problems:

  • Code completion. This was developed and tested in the isolating context of a code editor. It works decently in such a context. But in the context of a full IDE, it can be sometimes annoying, eating shortcut keys, popping up when not needed and so on.
  • Some const-correctness problems. The new changes to const parameters has introduced some const-correctness problems. These problems are hard to find so it shouldn’t effect potential users, but they are there.
  • Bugs. So many bugs solved, but so many new features. While beyond the 2 problems mentioned above there are no known bugs in this version (but there are of course many incomplete features we know about), I’m sure this larger release has an above average number of bugs.

In about two weeks, PT 9.2.1 will come out, addressing these and other problems!


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