Designing a new programming language for Arduino

Syntax is the easy part. Anyone can learn the syntax. The hard part about programming is the logic and that’s the same in any language.

Of course I am not planning to write my own compiler. Just write a grammar in some appropriate notation and use a compiler-compiler to generate the parser.

I wrote a few toy languages back at uni, with modern tools it is really not that hard (relative to writing your own compiler by hand)

The 'hardest' and most interesting part would be coming up with appropriate language structure. If we can come up with something useful - I will generate a compiler for it.

Robin2: Making the compiler might not be monumentally difficult if you create a program to translate your code into C/C++ that could be processed by the Arduino IDE.

That is definitely one way of doing it, plus the Arduino IDE would also take care of all the other parts of the toolchain. Since it accepts pure C/C++ - the compiler will just need to generate the code which fits with the setup / loop routines. This way would also be easiest for people who don't already have the Arduino IDE installed

[EDIT] Sorry, I think there might be a confusion here, when I say 'compile' I actually mean transpile the language to C/C++ and then just use either Arduino IDE or avr-gcc directly to compile it to machine code. Writing my own compiler for avr would be crazy, I agree :)

Delta_G: Syntax is the easy part. Anyone can learn the syntax. The hard part about programming is the logic and that's the same in any language.

I disagree, syntax has major effect on how easy it is to understand the code, plus syntax is not everything, the way language is structured is very important as well. Compare C to x86 Assembler for example.

We surely don't need yet another language. Whilst it may at first appear that using C++ as the language for Arduino is a hurdle I see it as a positive advantage. There is tons of help already available in this forum and elsewhere on line if people are willing to look for it or ask questions.

If a new language is to be used then there will initially be no experts or experience in its use and no reference material to go to. When users want advanced features they will either need to switch to another language, probably C++, or the new language will need to have them built in, adding more complication again.

Just thinking of how some potential tasks can be solved with the proposed approach. For example, rotating a stepper motor based on potentiometer reading (basic)

[i]device[/i] [b][color=green]Stepper[/color][/b] {

    [color=#5f3e31]write:[/color] pinMotor [color=gray]// pin numb er[/color]

    [color=gray]// initialize[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]init[/color] {
        degrees = 0
        self -> [color=blue]rotate( [i]degrees[/i] )[/color]
        wait 500ms
    }

    [color=gray]// all object 'methods'[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]actions[/color] {
        rotate ( int deg ) {
            pinMotor = deg
        }
    }

}

[i]device[/i] [b][color=green]Potentiometer[/color][/b] ( [i]Stepper st[/i] ) {

    [color=#5f3e31]read:[/color] pinReading

    [color=gray]// repeat actions within this block continiously[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]always[/color] {
        st -> [color=blue]rotate( [i]pinReading[/i] )[/color]
    }

}

[i]stepper1[/i] = [b]create[/b] Stepper on pin 9
[i]potentiometer1[/i] = [b]create[/b] Potentiometer on pin 1

[EDIT] @UKHeliBob, sorry, did not notice your reply at first.

UKHeliBob: We surely don't need yet another language. Whilst it may at first appear that using C++ as the language for Arduino is a hurdle I see it as a positive advantage. There is tons of help already available in this forum and elsewhere on line if people are willing to look for it or ask questions.

I do not disagree with you, Arduino does have a great (and huge!) community, yet I think it can be useful to think of other ways of solving project-related programming tasks

If a new language is to be used then there will initially be no experts or experience in its use and no reference material to go to. When users want advanced features they will either need to switch to another language, probably C++, or the new language will need to have them built in, adding more complication again.

Well, there can be basic documentation and examples :) I think the question of "advanced language features" is not relevant for many Arduino users (which is fine) I think the community might be loosing a lot of people because the technology could be more beginner-friendly. Surely if people want more advanced features - they can use more appropriate tools for that.

device Stepper {

    write: pinMotor // pin numb er

    // initialize
    init {
        degrees = 0
        self -> rotate( degrees )
        wait 500ms
    }

    // all object 'methods'
    actions {
        rotate ( int deg ) {
            pinMotor = deg
        }
    }

}

device Potentiometer ( Stepper st ) {

    read: pinReading

    // repeat actions within this block continiously
    always {
        st -> rotate( pinReading )
    }

}

stepper1 = create Stepper on pin 9
potentiometer1 = create Potentiometer on pin 1

I don't see how this is any easier to understand or follow than the equivalent C++ code. All you've really saved anyone from is a missing semicolon error, and I think that should be the least of the worries. Most people can get the semicolon there. That's not so hard. With this code there is just as much structure to figure out, it's just different.

potentiometer1 = create Potentiometer on pin 1

Take this line for instance. How is this any easier than creating a potentiometer class in C++ and putting it in a library for the noobs so they can write.

Potentiometer myPot(1);  // creates a pot on pin 1

and later

int val = myPot.read();

You've just added 3 new keywords to learn and get right, create, on and pin.

Delta_G:

potentiometer1 = create Potentiometer on pin 1

Take this line for instance. How is this any easier than creating a potentiometer class in C++ and putting it in a library for the noobs so they can write.

Potentiometer myPot(1);  // creates a pot on pin 1

and later

int val = myPot.read();

The point of this is not just a different syntax, but different approach to the whole program structure.
Everything follows a strict convention and a lot of the stuff comes ‘out of the box’
Timing is handled for you, so you don’t need to worry about delay() halting your program flow.

You would loose some flexibility, but I think many things can be taken out if the language is aimed at beginners (pointer arithmetic for example)

Here is how I see it working:

device is the main entity in the language (think Class)

Every device follows this structure:

[i]device[/i] [b][color=green]DeviceName[/color][/b] ( [i]constructor parameters[/i] ) {

    [color=#5f3e31]write:[/color] pin1, pin2, pin3 [color=gray]// pins that the device can write to[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]read:[/color] pin1, pin2, pin3 [color=gray]// pins that the device can read from[/color]

    [color=gray]// Here go predefined blocks that are built into the class[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]init[/color] { ... } [color=gray]// basically constructor[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]actions[/color] { ... } [color=gray]// all object 'methods'[/color]
    [color=#5f3e31]always[/color] { ... } [color=gray]// this code is executed all the time[/color]
    ....

    [color=gray]// then goes a list of all 'events' - code that executes when a condition is satisfied[/color]
    [color=gray]// they all start with keyword 'when'[/color]
    [b]when[/b] pin1 [b]is[/b] HIGH { ... }
    [b]when[/b] pin2 [b]is <[/b] 512 [b]and[/b] pin3 > 128 { ... }
    [b]when[/b] pin4 [b]is[/b] RISING { ... }
    ...

}

So there isn’t much code apart from within the devices. (There can be other entities though, like timers for example, with their own set of “actions” and “events”)

There would be a small runtime that would take care of timing and executing events.
PS I do appreciate any criticism though, as it is entirely possible that I am missing some huge flaws in this.

YemSalat: PS I do appreciate any criticism though, as it is entirely possible that I am missing some huge flaws in this.

Absolutely. It's nothing personal. Every idea needs skeptics. That's how we weed out the shite. We don't always see the flaws in ideas we're too close to.

I'm with you that it might be fun to create a new set of syntax and for some projects it might be useful. I don't see how procedural code would work here once the plan got much bigger than read the pot, scale it, and write PWM to the led. I'm afraid this would run out of usefulness once the code got any bit of complicated and then the noob would have to go back to square 1 learning C++.

Delta_G: I don't see how procedural code would work here once the plan got much bigger than read the pot, scale it, and write PWM to the led. I'm afraid this would run out of usefulness once the code got any bit of complicated and then the noob would have to go back to square 1 learning C++.

That's a fair point, that's why I am trying to come up with various use cases where it can be applied. Overall I am planning to get away with 3 main entities for now: device, timer and state machine. I just haven't settled on all the concepts yet. If someone is planning on writing a web server or something like that - this would most likely not be the right tool for the job. I think it would be more well-suited for home automation projects and things like that.

Also, its worth noting that a lot of those projects never get "much bigger than read the pot, scale it, and write PWM to the led"

@YemSalat, what you are proposing will not really benefit from discussion.

If you can start a Thread in the Other Software Development section with a working version of your "transpiler" so that people can try it out you may get converts.

I would like a Python-like syntax simply so that I don't get confused switching between Python and Arduino code.

I was almost tempted to say I would like a Ruby-like syntax, except that I abandoned Ruby in favour of Python simply because Python has a better infrastructure and is more widely used (at least in the Arduino context).

...R

Have you looked at https://micropython.org/ ? I keep meaning to and see if its a good fit for this kind of use (presumably its meant to be!)

I am a newbie to the Arduino IDE and am completely baffled by it's complexity. I think that C++ is a great language for experienced programmers, but lousy for beginners. Its syntax is cryptic, and mistakes are easily made, however, even with mistakes, the compiler still may be able to make sense out of it, resulting in incomprehensible results. I think you should completely abandon C related languages as a choice, and make it more BASIC related. BASIC may make it slower, but can be improved by compiling it, rather than interpreted. It also has the advantage of being restricted in how many Statements can be used, not like C where there are unlimited functions available through its Libraries, but which are not that easily found by newbies. BASIC has also the inherent advantage in that it is very user friendly and easily learned by non-programmers.

What do you think? Do you reckon any of these ideas are worth considering?

What in your opinion should a beginner-oriented Arduino language look like? Is such a language even needed?

OK, you asked... Here are preamble statements : Arduino is a brainchild of schoolteachers, albeit nobody will admit to that. They put together nice piece of hardware, but stopped short to provide anything but very basic software. ( Most "libraries" are by folks outside Arduino )

That is on positive side of things.

On negative side - they bastardized perfectly workable language by hiding the foundation in the name of " not confusing the beginners". ( see the latest on 1.6.6. release) The language foundation - C - is nicely documented in a skinny book of around 200 plus pages. It is all in there and anybody who WANTS to learn it can read it over the weekend. The C++ is just an addition , but EVERYBODY needs the foundation first.

Any time you scan this forum you can see that some folks just do not want to learn the foundation. They just want to run robots!

You will not move Arduino from kindergartner level to first grade by having another language.

And I am not trying to discourage you, just telling the way I feel about things.

You do whatever floats your boat, but without Arduino.cc first removing the "do not confuse beginners " attitude you will be on your own.

Personally , if you could became member of Arduino inner circle of developers you could contribute more to everybody's benefit.

Cheers Vaclav

What I think might be more helpful would be a more noob friendly editor for the IDE. Something that spits out error messages that sound more like advice.

error: void value not ignored as it aught to be

could either be, or have in addition

this function does not return a value, so you can't assign it to this variable

Something that spits out an extra level of warnings like:

WARNING:  non-volatile variable never changes in body of while loop.  Loop will be infinite.

or even the ability to let people step through code so they can see their stuff getting hung up in a while loop or why an if statement seems to be "skipped".

I know in the java world there are code checkers that can even tell you for instance that a method is too long or does too many things and should be broken into individual functions. Or that you've done something else stupid. A code checker could be very useful for the noobs.

Basically, what I think would be useful would be to go through @PaulS's last 5000 posts and take the top 20 or so things he says and make compiler warnings out of them.

@MarkT will have a look, cheers

@hbl2015, I am not sure if basic is a good base, but I agree that having to look for various libraries can be confusing and it can be nice to have some 'essentials' built into the language

@Vaclav, thanks for sharing your opinion on this, but to be honest I have a pretty low chance of getting into the Arduino hq (not that I would want to anyway)

@Delta_G, I think it may actually be harder to rewrite all C++' errors and warnings then to make a separate language oO

@Robin2, I will probably have a go at writing a very basic transpiler in the next few days, which would allow you to just copy the code to IDE. I won't implement the main framework yet cause I have not completely worked it through, but I will try to add a bit of syntactic sugar at first (implicit types, nicer for/if statements, etc.)

I think that however the Arduino is programmed there is a problem with the mixed background of its users. I came to it with no experience of C let alone C++ but I had used other languages in the past, mostly various flavours of BASIC including VBA, Z80 assembler and monstrosities such as Mumps. As a result I needed to learn the C/C++ syntax for constructs that I expected to be there but logic is logic whatever language is used.

It is difficult to be certain, but were I in the position of a complete novice then from what I have seen of the proposed new language I don't think that they will be any better off. One problem will always be that, by definition, computer languages are created by experienced computer programmers. What sounds simple and logical to them is gobbledegook to outsiders.

UKHeliBob: I think that however the Arduino is programmed there is a problem with the mixed background of its users. I came to it with no experience of C let alone C++ but I had used other languages in the past, mostly various flavours of BASIC including VBA, Z80 assembler and monstrosities such as Mumps. As a result I needed to learn the C/C++ syntax for constructs that I expected to be there but logic is logic whatever language is used.

I think your situation is slightly different because you already were familiar with programming logic and concepts before you started with C/C++. For many people here - C++ is the first language that they learn, and I think it is a bad choice for the first language (even a bit of prior experience with Basic would help a lot in my opinion)

It is difficult to be certain, but were I in the position of a complete novice then from what I have seen of the proposed new language I don't think that they will be any better off. One problem will always be that, by definition, computer languages are created by experienced computer programmers. What sounds simple and logical to them is gobbledegook to outsiders.

This is also a fair point, hopefully I can make it more useful and easy to understand, that is why I really appreciate any feedback.

YemSalat: I will probably have a go at writing a very basic transpiler in the next few days,

I forgot to say that you also need to write the book that explains how to use your language.

Actually I think you should write the book first and then make a language that complies with the book. As you mentioned Ruby earlier you may be familiar with the "pickaxe" book - Programming Ruby by Dave Thomas. That is the sort of thing I have in mind - but maybe yours would not need 800 pages for Version 0.1

IMHO without proper documentation there is no point writing a language aimed at making things easier. And by proper documentation I mean explanations of why you should do things and what is the purpose of each thing, not just a few examples that each show a single "how" to use a feature with no attempt to show alternatives or exceptions.

...R