Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Python is a Bad Programming Language. Wait, wut?

It may help to Python is a Bad Programming Language, but it's not very useful. 

I shouldn't be tempted by click-bait headlines. But.  I am drawn in by bad articles on Python.

In particular, any post claiming Python is deficient causes me to look for the concrete PEP's that fix the problems.

Interestingly, there never seem to be any PEP's in any article that bashes Python. This post is yet another example of complaining without offering any practical solutions. 

BLUF

The article has a complaining tone, but, I can't figure out some of the complaints. It lifts up a confusing collection of features from other languages as if these features are somehow universally desirable. No justification is provided. The author seems to rely exclusively on Stack Overflow answers for information about Python. There are no PEP's proposed to fix Python. There aren't even any examples.

Point-by-Point

I will try to address each point. It's difficult, because some of the points are hard to discern. There's a lot of "Who thought that was a good idea?" which isn't really a specific point that can be refuted. It's a kind of rhetorical flourish that seems to work best with folks that already agree.

Let's start.

A Fragmented Language

This is the result of profound confusion. It's hard to find anyone recommending Python 2 anywhere. The supplied link is 9 years old, making this comment extremely misleading.  (I'm being charitable. A nine-year old link on Stack Overflow requires some curation. This is not a Python problem.)

Ugly Object-Orientation

The inconsistent use of this in C++ and Java is lifted up as somehow good. The consistent use of the self instance variable in Python is somehow less good; perhaps because it's consistent.

"See how I have to both declare and initialize them in the constructor? Another example of Python stupidity." Um. No, I don't actually see you declare them anywhere. I guess you're unaware of what declare means in languages like C++ and why declare isn't a thing in Python.

Somehow using the private keyword is better than __ name mangling. I'm unclear on why it's better, it's simply stated in a way that makes it sound like a long keyword used once is better because it's better. No additional reason or justification is offered. The idea of using __ to emphasize the privacy is somehow inconceivable.

The private and protected keywords are in C++, C#, and Java to optimize recompilation. To an extent, this also permits distribution of libraries in the form of "headers" and obfuscated binaries. None of this makes sense in a Python context.  A single example of how the private keyword would be helpful in Python is missing from the original post. There are huge complications of the protected keyword, also; these make the keywords more trouble than they are worth, and any example needs to cover these issues, also.

"In general, when you point out any flaws in their language, Python developers will act hostile and condescending." Sorry, this complaint in the original post sounds hostile and condescending. I'll try to ignore the tone and stick to what content I can find.

Whitespace

"...how is using whitespace any better than curly braces?" has an answer. But. Somehow it can't be chased down and included in the original post. Whitespace (like name mangling) is described as wrong because it's wrong, with no further justification provided.

An example where braces seem to be essential for sorting out syntax would be nice. The entire Python community is waiting for any example where braces were necessary and the indentation wasn't already clear.  

"And only in Python will the difference between tabs and spaces cause the interpreter to have a heart attack." Um. A syntax error is a heart attack? I wish I was able to type code without syntax errors. I am humbled thinking about the idea of seeing syntax errors so rarely. I have my editor set up to use spaces instead of tabs, and haven't had a problem in 20 years of using Python. 

Dynamic Typing

The opening quote, "Dynamic typing is bad," is stated as if it's axiomatic. The rest of the paragraph seems like vitriol rather than justification. "Some Python programmers have realized that dynamic typing is bad" requires some justification; a link to some documentation to support the claim would be helpful. An example would be good.

I can only assume that code like this is important and needs to be flagged by the compiler or something.

for data in some_list:
    if data == 42:
        print("data is int")
for data in some_other_list:
    if data == "wait":
        print("see the type of data changed.")
        

This seems like poor programming to begin with. Expecting the compiler to reject this seems weak. It seems better to not reuse variable names in the first place.

Constants

Not sure what the point is here. There's no justification for demanding the inconsistent behavior of a one-time-only assignment statement. There's no reference how how folks can use enums to define constant-like names and values. 

The concluding paragraph "The Emperor Has Not Clothes" is some kind of summary. It says "Python will only grow in popularity as more and more software is written in it," which does seem to be true. I think that might be the single most useful sentence.

What Have We Learned?

First, reading a few Stack Overflow posts can be misleading. Python now is not Python from nine years ago.

  1. Everyone says to use Python3. Really. If you have found a Python2 tutorial, stop now. Don't follow it. 
  2. The consistent use of the self variable seems simpler than trying to understand the rules for the this variable.
  3. Variables aren't declared, they're assigned values. It's as simple as it can be and avoids the clutter of variable declarations.
  4. We can read the source; the complexities of private (or protected) instance variables doesn't really help.
  5. Python's use of whitespace is very simple; most people can indent their code correctly. Anyone who's tried to debug C++ code that's correctly indented but missing a (nearly invisible) } will agree that the indentation is easier to get right.
  6. AFAICT, the reason dynamic typing might be bad is when a function or class reuses the same variable name for multiple different types of data. This seems wrong to reuse a variable name for multiple types. A small effort at inspecting the code can prevent this.
  7. Constants are easily implemented via enum. But. They appear to be useless in a dynamic language where the source is trivially available to be changed. I'm not sure why they seem important to people. And this article provides no help there.

Bottom line: Without concrete PEPs to fix things, or examples of what better might look like, this is click-bait whining. 

Starting from C# or Java to locate deficiencies is just as wrong as starting from Dartmouth Basic or FORTH as the standard against which Python is measured.

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