DSLs

Domain-Specific Languages (DSLs) are programming languages designed to define, in a more accurate and expressive way, particular domains, whether technical or business domains.

They are named like this as opposed to General Purpose Languages (GPLs – Java, C #, C + +, etc.), providing a narrower but more accurate approach. Their goal is: covering only the domain for which are designed, but with the most suitable grammatical structures and / or graphic abstractions .

Those languages can be analysed under the point of view of two different perspectives: as an evolution from code generation or as an evolution from GPLs.

From Code Generation to DSLs
There are different ways, more or less sophisticated, to generate code: macros, table-structured data, dynamic generation, parsing, CASE tools, etc, but none of them as powerful as a language (textual or graphical), which define, in a formal way, linguistic structures, human readable representations and semantics .

Therefore, we can see DSLs as the most powerful way of Code Generation.

From GPLs to DSLs
GPLs are powerful because they can be used to solve all the problems (Turing Complete) but in many cases are poorly expressive due to the big gap between the problem domain (real world) and the solution domain (source code). In those cases programming and maintenance is difficult because it’s not easy to understand (read and write) what the program tries to solve. For instance, we can compare the definition of a Web UI and its HTML code: the expressive gap is huge.

DSLs bridge those gaps.

Features and benefits of the DSLs

  • Higher level of abstraction. They define more complex concepts, more abstract and therefore more intentional, more expressive.
  • Less degrees of freedom. Normally they are not Turing complete. They allow to define the domain and nothing but the domain with the rules that govern the domain, which makes them very powerful (on that domain, of course).
  • Productivity. Programming with them is efficient and more streamlined.
  • Software quality. They abstract away technical complexity reducing errors. That complexity is usually solved by the generator.
  • IDE Support. Validations, type checking, code completion, etc. This is a huge advance compared with abstractions via APIs or Frameworks.
  • Platform Independent.
  • And all the benefits of code generation.
DSLs are common in real life; throughout history they have been created in maths, science, medicine…Now is time to use them in software development.
 

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Posted on June 25, 2014, in Academic, bheudek and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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