04 December 2014

npm/gem/pypi/php packages

Every programming language is a special snowflake with its own idiosyncratic beauty. Porting code from one language to another is an art, requiring dodging and weaving to give idiomatic results. If a library you’d like to use hasn’t been ported to your language, one option is to use a foreign function interface (FFI). A lot of reference implementations get written in C for this reason. The result is definitely not a thing of beauty, but it works.

Haxe gives another option to a library writer who needs to support communities using different languages. We can write the bulk of the library in Haxe, have that automatically transpiled to the languages we care about, and maybe add a little hand-written code in each language to make the API feel comfortable. This scales the effort involved way down.

For example, I wrote the daff library in Haxe and publish it to:

It turns out that a bunch of PHP users showed up, giving great feedback. That’s the target I personally know least about and would never have gotten around to supporting without Haxe.

The Ruby language was the one I personally cared most about at the time I started this. Ruby isn’t supported by Haxe, but it turns out to be surprisingly easy to add a target to Haxe that is “good enough” at least to translate code that is just a bunch of logic and algorithms (I did this for ruby here).

There’s an important downside to this approach though: you may not get as many pull requests. Users are not likely to be familiar with Haxe (yet), so working with the source will be a challenge for them. Haxe is a very straightforward, “common denominator” language to read and write – but it is a new language.

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