Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Python and the "Syntactic Whitespace Problem"

Check out this list of questions on Stack Overflow:


About 10% of these are really just complaints about Python's syntax. Almost every Stack Overflow question on Python's use of syntactic whitespace is really just a complaint.

Here's today's example: "Python without whitespace requirements".

Here's the money quote: "I could potentially be interested in learning Python but the whitespace restrictions are an absolute no-go for me."

Here's the reality.

Everyone Indents Correctly All The Time In All Languages.

Everyone. All the time. Always.

It's amazing how well, and how carefully people indent code. Not Python code.

All Code. XML. HTML. CSS. Java. C++. SQL. All Code.

Everyone indents. And they always indent correctly. It's truly amazing how well people indent. In particular, when the syntax doesn't require any indentation, they still indent beautifully.

Consider this snippet of C code.

if( a == 0 )
printf( "a is zero" );
r = 1;
printf( "a is non-zero" );
r = a % 2;

Over the last few decades, I've probably spent a complete man-year reading code like that and trying to figure out why it doesn't work. It's not easy to debug.

The indentation completely and accurately reflects the programmer's intention. Everyone gets the indentation right. All the time. In every language.

And people still complain about Python, even when they indent beautifully in other languages.