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Answering the question: "How do I develop an app for GNOME?"

During the GNOME Developer Experience Hackfest this week, one of the major goals we identified was the need to pick a single language to give a simple answer to "how do I write a GNOME app?".

Right now, if you ask that question, you'll get about 8 different personal-preference answers, which drives people away from our platform. Having to potentially evaluate several different languages and their stacks gives potential developers a lot of unneeded extra work.

There was broad consensus in the hackfest for this goal because it allows us to:
  • It allows us to focus when we write developer documentation, fixing bugs in the development environment and the development of tools. This reduces our maintanence costs and enables us to be vastly more efficient.

  • It enables code and knowledge sharing to occur, so that people can easily copy and paste code from existing applications, or find information about common problems and challenges.

  • It provide a coherent and easy-to-follow path for new developers.

  • It allows us to include the full GNOME framework within the language itself.

We spent a long time discussing the different options that are available to us, and there were a variety of opinions. However, at the end of the day, we had to recognize that no language is perfect and there will always be disagreement. The important thing was that we had to make a decision.

It's critical that everyone understands this decision as a plan to elevate the language, bindings, tools, and documentation to a level of quality we have not yet achieved. It is not a decision to abandon any other language bindings. We will continue to distribute other bindings and documentation as we do now and compatibility for the other languages will continue to be developed as they are today by the developers involved with those modules.

Our decision is to support JavaScript as the first class language for GNOME application development. This means:
  • We will continue to write documentation for other languages, but we will also prioritize JavaScript when deciding what to work on.

  • We will encourage new applications be written in JavaScript.

  • We will be working to optimize the developer workflow around JavaScript.

C will remain the recommended language for system libraries.

Why JavaScript?
  • Our language of choice needs to be dynamic and high level.

  • There is already momentum in the GNOME Project for JavaScript -- it's used in GNOME Shell and GNOME Documents.

  • There's a lot of work going into the language to make it especially fast, embeddable, and framework-agnostic.

  • JavaScript is increasingly being seen as a first class desktop programming language -- it us being used in Windows 8, mobile platforms, and for local web applications.

  • JavaScript is self-contained -- it doesn't come with its own set of core libraries, which makes it more convenient for us when integrating it into the platform.

This is the start of a process and there's obviously a lot of work ahead of us. However, prioritizing a single language will enable us to turn GNOME into a compelling platform for application developers in a much more effective and efficient manner.

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Note that this post was largely to pass on the message of our conclusion at the hackfest. I personally don't have experience with GJS and our JS bindings (though their experts and experts with Python, Vala, C#, C, and other languages were all involved in the discussion). But I'll do my best to explain given my understanding.

- Did you guys choose a JS interpreter yet? Or do we use that API-incompatible unsupported mess that is GJS? Do we make a platform library out of it?

There's no immediate change planned here. We'll continue using GJS.

- Does this mean we will slowly port existing applications to Javascript? Will new GNOME apps have to be written in Javascript?

Some application maintainers may choose to port to JavaScript, but it will be optional and I don't expect any of them to be ported in the near future. New core GNOME apps should be written in JavaScript, but we're mainly targeting third-party app developers who are new to GNOME in the first place. We didn't make a strict decision that only JavaScript-based applications would be considered for inclusion in GNOME.

- Does this have any influence on introspection? Will introspection gain prototype-based inheritance? Or is introspection still lowest common denominator?

I don't think this is affected.

- You cannot write any library in Javascript. So I guess C is not just for "system libraries", but for all libraries?

Sure, C is recommended for any libraries recommended to be shared by other modules (which is essentially what I meant by "system libraries". But if applications ship an internal library written in JavaScript, that'd be fine.

- Will the libraries be tailored more towards Javascript or will stuff still randomly SEGV if you do something not quite right?

I don't think we would make any changes to g-i or the way we write libraries in a way that would be incompatible for the other introspected language bindings.

If you're getting segfaults from JavaScript applications, that sounds like a library or interpreter bug.

Edited at 2013-02-02 05:56 pm (UTC)

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