Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Stingray Reader Rewrite

See https://slott-softwarearchitect.blogspot.com/2020/01/stingrayreader-upgrade.html

This drifted into some serious rethinking of bad design decisions. (If someone else did this, I'd call it weak, and suggest improvements. It was me. It was bad. I'm a bad programmer and I feel bad about it.)

An an example, there's this sketchy construct:

some_data = {name: source[name] for name in the_names}
the_object = SomeClass(**some_data)

The some_data dictionary could be called Dict[str, Any], but that's unhelpful for letting mypy check the consistency of data structures. This is what was required:

  FullAttr = TypedDict("FullAttr",
          "name": str,
          "offset": int,
          "size": int,
          "type": str,
          "create": Cell,

This dictionary changes -- profoundly -- the relationship between classes. The FullAttr type gives us an intermediary representation. The SomeClass hierarchy has a flexible collection of attributes. We can use this to uncouple some parsing operations from object factory operations, using this minimal subset of definitions as a kind of bridge between modules, both of which can be fully type-checked, but still permit Python's duck-type flexibility.

It Got Worse

Adding type hints to Stingray Reader required navigating some shoal water created by a poor set of dependency decisions.

The original, vague, concept was to have a Schema and Attribute definition that could be shared by all the various readers. A schema contains a number of attributes. Ideally, an attribute can be defined by a sub-schema. This is how JSONSchema and XSD work.


The Stingray Reader reads Workbooks with an extension to read COBOL. There are a bunch of extensions required.
  • The schema is loaded by a COBOL parser. 
  • The physical file formats require the possibility of EBCDIC -> Unicode conversion. 
  • Unlike ordinary workbooks, the record layouts have to be built lazily. An ordinary workbook row is complete. Some physical formats elide empty cells, but they're easy to replace with an explicit empty cell. COBOL, has a REDEFINES clause that means we can't even attempt to parse the bytes for a row until they're required by the app. There's no way -- from the data definition alone -- to discern which of the redefines options will have valid data. There's more, but you get the idea: COBOL is kind of complex.
Versions 1 to 4 had a dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers problem.

The Schema and Attribute definitions where extended to depend on COBOL implementation details.

It works nicely because of duck typing and late binding of types.

Python's type hinting exposes the grotesque consequences of this dependency.

We tried several ways of reordering a bunch of definitions to remove forward type references. It took almost an hour to realize the circularity could not be removed trivially because of a circularity. Two Attribute subclasses depended on COBOL features. And the COBOL features had weakref references back to their Attributes.

Crushing everything into a single, large module, worked to ease the complications or circularity. But the essential interdependence needs to be expunged.

What has to happen next is to invert the relationship between Attributes and COBOL details. This means two changes:

  1. Extending the Attribute class hierarchy to contain just enough information to cover the COBOL complications. 
  2. Changing the function that builds an Attribute definition from the COBOL source so it copies details into the Attribute. The COBOL detail needs to be little more than the description of the property.

This isn't easy. But. 187 test cases and a TOX setup makes it a reasonable effort.


I can finally look seriously at converting between JSON Schema and COBOL. 

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