Friday, May 29, 2015


suneido.js = Suneido + JavaScript

After getting back from my last traveling I mentioned to a friend that I was looking forward to getting back to looking into a Go version of Suneido. Not that I’d committed to it, but it seemed like a reasonable path to take since it had the potential to replace both the C++ cSuneido client and the Java jSuneido server.

But my friend pointed out that what we really needed was a web front end. Which he’s told me before, but for some reason this time I paid attention. It’s easy to get into a rut, to make decisions unconsciously based more on what is familiar than on what’s really best. Not that you ever really know what the best path is, but a Go implementation of Suneido wouldn’t really change the game. It’d just be an incremental improvement.

Currently our front end GUI is Windows specific. So to access our application software over the internet you have to use RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol), which requires a Windows server. So even though jSuneido will happily run on Linux, we can’t take advantage of that.

And although RDP works fairly well, our Windows GUI is not the look and feel of the web that people expect these days. We’re starting to get comments that our program looks dated. (Reminds me of when we moved from terminal mode MS-DOS to Windows. And yes, I have been in this business that long!)

If all we wanted was to write web software, there are plenty of languages and tools and frameworks to do that. But we have a million lines of complex Suneido code. Rewriting that in another language for another database is not something I even want to think about!

And therefore the idea of somehow running our existing code, with the least amount of changes, on a web front end.

One way to do that would be to rewrite just the front end in HTML + CSS + JavaScript. But that would mean a certain amount of duplication since some code has to run on the front end and the server. And it would mean getting all our programmers up to speed in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as well as Suneido.

Suneido’s philosophy (right or wrong) has always been to provide an integrated “everything included” platform that shields programmers from the hassles and complexities of dealing with multiple languages and databases and frameworks. That shielding has also made Suneido a ery stable platform. I can’t think of too many languages or databases or frameworks where code you wrote 15 years ago would work unchanged today. (Java itself has been around that long, but that’s just the language piece of the puzzle.)

So what I really wanted was an approach that would encapsulate and hide the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript from application developers, like Google GWT does. (Of course, you’d need to know that stuff to work on the lower level implementation.) In my mind, that breaks down into two pieces.

The easy part is to be able to compile/translate Suneido code to JavaScript. I’ve been looking into that, and have a lot of it implemented. More on that in another blog post.

The harder part is to figure out how to map our Windows oriented GUI to the browser. At a general level that’s not that hard. Our user interface is “component” based with screens composed from a small number of basic building blocks. It shouldn’t be too hard to obtain or write equivalent “widgets” for the web. On the other hand I’m certain that some of the details will be painful.

One of the issues is that our current user interface is very chatty. It was developed on and for local area networks with low latency. So it uses a lot of lower level requests to the server. If we stayed on local area networks we could stick with the same model, but really we want to be able to run across the internet, where you have much higher latency. Bandwidth is also a factor, but even if you have really high bandwidth the latency will kill you if you’re doing too many little requests.

Talking about this with some of my programmers, one of the questions was whether we would use node.js for the server. I think they were thinking that the whole of Suneido would be re-written in JavaScript, similar to how cSuneido is written in C++ and jSuneido is written in Java. But it wouldn’t make sense to write Suneido’s database in JavaScript. The server can still run the existing jSuneido. It’s perfectly capable of acting as a web server and at the same time providing the database back end. The server back end would still be running Suneido code (compiled to JVM byte code). Only the front end user interface code would be translated to JavaScript to run on the browser.

I wouldn't say I've committed to this direction, but it seems worth looking into it. The big question is how much of our existing code we'd be able to use, and how much revising / rewriting we'd have to do.


sanotto said...

Hi andrew, long time not see! I've allways wanted to see a "Web enabled" Suneido. I've went down the PHP road after working with Suneido because my clients where demanding Web enabled apps. I allways thought of suneido as the unholy offspring between Smalltalk and Javascript, because the structure of the plattform reminds Smalltalk being the LibraryView the Object Browser and the "Object" structure of Suneido is very similar to the Self Language (Wich, despite of the syntax, is an ancestor of Ecma Script).
I do really think is time for suneido to evolve to the web. Having an all in one platform for the web with components that hide the complexities of CSS, Javascript the DOM and all the likes is highly needed (IMHO).
Also, I really miss Suneido programming!!! I've allway liked the lack of semi colons and the expressive power of the language.

Andrew McKinlay said...

Good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

I still have a lot of work left on this project, but hopefully it will be successful.