Running Elegant bash on Simple Kubernetes (Rant)

I was triggered by seeing “elegant” and “bash” in the same sentence. Here are the titles I suggest the original author to consider for next blog posts:

  1. Guide to Expressive Assembler
  2. Removing Types from Scala
  3. Adding Exceptions to Go
  4. Introduction to Concise Java
  5. Writing Synchronous JavaScript with Threads
  6. Using Forth Without the Stack
  7. Adding Curly Braces to Python
  8. Making Guido Like Functional Programming
  9. Using Uniform AWS APIs
  10. Writing Safe big C Programs
  11. Making C Higher Level Language than Portable Assembler
  12. Making your Database Stateless
  13. Making Eventual Consistency Immediate
  14. How to Know that Backups are Working Without Doing Test Recovery
  15. Finding Quality Code on Random Internet Sites
  16. All Programming Languages are Beautiful (Illustrated)
  17. Writing Bug-Free Code that does not Need Reviews
  18. Learning Modern C++ in 3 Easy Steps in 2 Days
  19. Stopping Hype Around Kubernetes – Practical Guide
  20. Preventing Appearance of new JavaScript Frameworks
  21. Why node_modules is not a Dumpster
  22. Removing Most of the Syntax from Perl
  23. Understanding Monads in 10 Minutes
  24. How to Stop Debates and Fighting around OSS Licensing with 1 Month
  25. Replacing bash in Next 20 Years

P.S. I’m still using bash at some places. Sadly, it’s still the most appropriate solution in some cases, like we live in 90’s.

Ops Tools Marketing Bullshit Dictionary

This article is aimed mostly at juniors. Lacking experience, you are a soft target for marketing bullshit. I encourage critical thinking for evaluation of products and services that are forced down your throat marketed to you.

animal-2599814_640

Background

The purpose of dishonest marketing is to mislead you into using a product and/or a service that you don’t really need. This can waste your time and money.

Separate the products from marketing. The products themselves are not inherently good or bad. The main question is whether to use product X or Y (and how) or code the solution yourself given your specific situation: team, skill levels, requirements, etc. This post will guide you how to see through marketing bullshit when evaluating these products.

The list below is not comprehensive and I might add items later.

Products Marketing Bullshit

( in no particular order )

Cool / coolness

If something is “cool” and you use it, you might write a blog post about it. It has some PR value to you or your company. Other than that, “coolness” of a product has nothing to do with its usefulness for your situation/use case.

Our product is so much better than X

Note that often X will be the worst possible alternative. For example, configuration management tools will most likely be compared to manual work rather to other configuration management tools or any kind of automation. Ignore and compare the suggested product to other viable alternatives.

Use our product or become irrelevant / Our product is [becoming] industry standard

The message is sometimes direct but often it is hidden between the lines. This is an attempt, many times successful, to exploit fear of missing out. Learn the underlying principles then decide whether you want to use one of the products, which come and go. Learning the underlying principles will take more time upfront but you will become more professional. If you are junior Ops, learn Linux and how to use it without any configuration management tools first; learn using the cloud without CloudFormation or Terraform first; see the problems which these tools trying to solve before using the tools.

Our customers include big companies such as X, Y and Z

You have to understand what these companies are using the product/service for. It can be a pilot for example. Check for common owners or investors. Remember that big companies make mistakes too. Anyhow, this is irrelevant for your use case and your situation until proven otherwise.

Success story

The formula is simple: deep shit + our product = great success. Look closely. Often deep shit + other sensible alternative solution would also be great success. For example, configuration management tools show manual process and then how it was automated. Chances are automating using scripts would be other viable alternative.

We abstract all the hard work away from you

You must understand what exactly is abstracted and how. After learning that, it might happen that the perceived value of the product will drop. Skip the learning step and start using the tool and you are in danger: you might need to learn whatever was abstracted in hurry when facing a bug in the tool or be at mercy of someone else to fix it. Remember: abstractions come at cost.

Don’t reinvent the wheel, we have figured out everything already

This exploits your fear of looking stupid. Would you use a spaceship for travelling from Moscow to Tokyo? I guess it would be cheaper to use a plane. Even if tool X solves your problem it might cost you time and complexity and it might be easier to code yourself or use simper tool. There are probably more legitimate reasons not to use tool X.

Companies marketing bullshit

Industry leading company

Who is not? Define your industry narrow enough and you are the leading company!  Simply ignore.


Did I miss something? Let me know here in comments or on Reddit. Have a nice day!

bash or Python? The Square Pegs and a Round Hole Situation

The question “should I do it in bash or in Python?” is both frustrating and common. Why one even needs to choose between two alternatives which are both inadequate for the task at hand? Why try to pick one of the square pegs for the round hole? I believe that you should not be in this annoying situation when just trying to write a script and get back to your endless stream of other todos.

Best illustration that I managed to find in 2 minutes

Both are Inadequate for Ops

bash does not meet any modern expectations for syntax, error handling nor has ability to work with structured data (beyond arrays and associative arrays which can not be nested). Let it go. You are not usually coding in assembly, FORTRAN, C, or C++, do you? They just don’t match the typical Ops tasks. Don’t make your life harder than it should be. Let it go. (Let’s not make it a blanket statement. Use your own judgement when to make an exception).

Python along with many other languages are general purpose programming languages which were not intended to solve specifically Ops problems. The consequence is longer and less readable scripts when dealing with files or running external programs, which are both pretty common for Ops. For example, try to check every status code of every program you run, see how your code looks like. Sure you can import 3rd party library for that. Is that as convenient as having automatic checking by default + list of known programs which don’t return zero + convenient syntax for specifying/overriding expected exit code? I guess not.

Your disorientation and frustration is completely legitimate.

Alternatives

Multitude of attempts to provide viable alternatives by different people are in progress. As others authors, I would like to help my Ops colleagues to avoid frustration and be productive. It just feels good.


Informative section is over. Shameless plug about an alternative that I am developing and how it is special follows.

Next Generation Shell as an Alternative

How Next Generation Shell differs from the alternatives? Reasonable question that I would ask too before investing any more time if I was the reader.

UI

Current shells as well as proposed alternatives treat UI as nothing has happened since the 70-s: mostly typing commands and getting some text back.

How about real interaction with the objects on the screen? Oops. In a typical shell there are no objects on the screen, it’s just a dumpster of combined text (if you are lucky; could be binary) from stdout and from stderr from one or more processes (unless steps were taken). WTF? It doesn’t help you to win. It helps you to lose time. NGS does what is intended to make you productive. I have organized my thoughts about how the UI should look and behave on the wiki page.

Programming language

It looks like alternative solutions have the “let’s make the shell better” approach and therefore are heavily based on the shell syntax and paradigms.

There is also “let’s make a library for existing language” approach which doesn’t hit the target either. Can’t have a syntax for common ops tasks for example.

And finally there is “let’s make a library and a syntax on top of existing language”. Not sure about this one. Sounds good in theory. Looked some time ago at something like this and the overall impression was … awkward (for the lack of better word).

Approach in NGS: let’s make a good programming language for Ops, which fits the use cases and has syntax and facilities for the most common tasks such as running external programs.

The language follows the principle that the most common tasks should have their own syntax or a library function (depending on usage frequency). Examples:

  1. ``external program`` – runs external program and parses the output (JSON is auto detected, easily extensible for anything else).
  2. status(), log(), debug(), retry() – standard library functions. How many times an Ops person should write his/her own retry()? It’s insane.
  3. Argv() facility for constructing command line parameters (for calling external program).
  4. p=$(my_prog my_args &); ....; p.wait().

Small number of “big” core concepts in the language (types with inheritance, multiple dispatch and exceptions).

Dogfooding

Most of the standard library is in NGS.

The UI (only recently started working on it) is in NGS. It doesn’t make sense that when a user of the shell wants to fix a bug in the UI and suddenly he/she needs to learn Go, Rust, C or whatever other language.

We use NGS at work.

Most of the demo scripts come from either current or previous work.

How to proceed?

  1. Install NGS.
  2. Consult documentation and look at sample scripts
  3. Write scripts for non-production-critical tasks.
  4. I am here to help. Do not hesitate to contact me with questions, suggestions, or feedback. If there is anything Ops-y you are trying to do seems to be easier in bash or Python – open an issue, because that’s a bug from my perspective. Something is inconvenient? Yep, also a bug.

If you are like me, you will find at least some satisfaction in using the most appropriate tool before continue to the myriad of other tasks that are in your todo queue.

Or Just Learn More

  1. Is NGS for you? Take a look at intended use cases.
  2. Take a look at how NGS compares to other programming languages.
  3. Browse sample scripts to get some impression about the language.

Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/devops/comments/jm3cwe/bash_or_python_the_square_pegs_and_a_round_hole/

“But it works”

TL;DR – this is not nearly good enough in most cases and it’s only small fraction of what you are paid for.

I want this post to be the canonical place to refer people to who say “but it works” because people who explain why this is not OK are tired of repeating the same arguments, me included.

You are paid for …

Following is not an exhaustive list but it should give you some perspective which is opposite from the narrow-minded “but it works”.

Typically, your Software Engineering $Job pays you for:

  1. Of course the thing must work. But also..
  2. It should continue working
    1. Gives deprecation warnings? Probably not good.
    2. Only runs on Node.js v10 LTS which is end of life in less than a year (as of writing)? Think again.
    3. Got away with invalid XML? Can you be sure that the next version of parser won’t be stricter?
  3. It should be maintainable (aka you and other people should find it easy to operate and modify, now and years later)
    1. Code quality
    2. Tests (if you don’t have tests, even your basic claim that something “works” is under suspicion)
    3. Documentation
      1. How to use your sh*t?
      2. How to set up the development environment?
      3. Decisions
      4. Non-obvious code parts
  4. It should be production ready, not abstract “works” or even worse “works on my machine”
    1. Logs
    2. Metrics
    3. Tested in dev/qa/whatever-you-call it environment
    4. Reproducible – tomorrow they make a new environment, “qa42”, in a different AWS account in a different region. Could somebody else deploy your sh*t there without talking to you?
    5. Update 2020-09-13 (from Guy Egozy) – Scalable enough to be used in production.

If you claim that you are “done” because “it works”, congratulations, you have a (probably) working prototype. That’s typically small part of a project.


Related term – “Tactical Tornado”, look this up.


Update 2020-09-13: Reddit discussion

Python 3.8 Makes me Sad Again

Looking at some “exciting” features landing in Python 3.8, I’m still disappointed and frustrated by the language… like by quite a few other languages.

As an author of another programming language, I can’t stop thinking about how things “should have been done” from my perspective. I want to be explicit here. My perspective is biased towards correctness and “WTF are you doing?”. Therefore, take everything here with a appropriate amount of salt.

Yes, not talking about any “positive” changes here.

Assignment Expressions

There is new syntax := that assigns values to variables as part of a larger expression.

A fix which couldn’t be the best because of previous design decision.

“Somebody” ignored the wisdom of Lisp, which was “everything is an expression and evaluates to a value” (no statements vs expressions), and made assignment a statement in Python years ago. Now this can not be fixed in a straightforward manner. It must be another syntax. Two different syntaxes for almost the same thing which is = for assignment as a statement and := for expression assignment.

Positional-only Parameters

There is a new function parameter syntax / to indicate that some function parameters must be specified positionally and cannot be used as keyword arguments:

def f(a, b, /, c, d, *, e, f):
    print(a, b, c, d, e, f)

Trying to clean up a mess created by mixing positional and named parameters. Unfortunately I did not give it enough thought at the time and copied parameters handling behaviour from Python. Now NGS also has the same problem as Python had before 3.8. Hopefully, I will be able to fix it in some more elegant way than Python did.

LRU cache

functools.lru_cache() can now be used as a straight decorator rather than as a function returning a decorator. So both of these are now supported

OK. Bug fix. But … (functools.py)

    if isinstance(maxsize, int):
        # Negative maxsize is treated as 0
        if maxsize < 0:
            maxsize = 0

If you are setting LRU cache size to a negative number, it’s 99% by mistake. In NGS that would be an exception. That’s the approach that causes rm -rf $myfolder/ to remove / when myfolder is unset. Note that the maxsize code is not new but it’s still there in Python 3.8. I guess that is another mistake which can not be easily fixed now because that would break “working” code.

Collections

The _asdict() method for collections.namedtuple() now returns a dict instead of a collections.OrderedDict. This works because regular dicts have guaranteed ordering since Python 3.7

OK. Everybody had the mistake of making maps unordered: Perl, Ruby, Python.

  1. Ruby fixed that with the release of version 1.9 in 2008 (according to the post).
  2. Python fixed that with the release of version 3.7 in 2018 (which I take as 10 years of “f*ck you, the developer”).
  3. Perl keeps using unordered maps according to documentation.
  4. Same for Raku, again according to the documentation.

NGS had ordered maps from the start but that’s not a fair comparison because NGS project started in 2013, when the mistake was already understood.


How all that helps you, the reader? I encourage deeper thinking about the choice of programming languages that you use. From my perspective, all languages suck, while NGS aims to suck less than the rest for the intended use cases (tl;dr – for DevOps scripting).


Update 2020-08-16

Discussions:

  1. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24176823
  2. https://lobste.rs/s/rgcgjz/python_3_8_makes_me_sad_again

Update 2020-08-17

It looks like the article above needs some clarification about my perspective: background, what I am doing and why.

TL;DR

The main points of the article are:

  1. Everything still sucks, including Python. By sucks I mean does not fit well with the tasks I need to do neither aligned with how I think about these tasks.
  2. I am trying to help the situation and the industry by developing my own programming language

Background about my Thinking

In general, I’m amazed with how bad the overall state of programming is. That includes:

  1. All programming languages that I know including my own NGS. This is aggravated by inability to fix anything properly for any language with substantial amount of code written in it because you will be breaking existing code. And if you do break, you get the shitstorm like with Python 3 or Perl 6 (Raku).
  2. Code quality of the programs written in all languages. Most of the code that I have seen is bad. Sometimes even in official examples.
  3. Quality of available materials, which are sometimes plainly wrong.
  4. Many of existing “Infrastructure as code” solutions, which in most cases follow the same path:
    1. Invent a DSL or use YAML.
    2. “figure out” later that it’s not powerful enough (by the way there is an elegant solution – a programming language, forgot the name)
    3. Create pretty ugly programming language on top of a DSL that was intended for data.

I am creating new programming language and a shell out of frustration with current situation, especially with bash and Python. Why these two? Because that’s what I was and still using to get my tasks done.

Are these languages bad? I don’t think it’s a question with any good answers. These languages don’t fit the tasks that I’m trying to do nor are aligned with how I think while being apparently one of the best choices available.

This Article Background

  1. Seen some post on RSS about new features in Python 3.8.
  2. Took a look.
  3. Yep, everything is still f*cked up.
  4. Wrote a post about it which was not meant to be “deep discussion about Python flaws”.

I was not planning to invest more time in this but here I am trying to clarify.

And your Language is Better? Really?

Let’s clarify “better”. For me, it’s to suck less than the rest for the intended use cases.

author really does consider himself a superior language designer than the Python core-dev team

( From https://www.reddit.com/r/Python/comments/iartgp/python_38_makes_me_sad_again/ )

I consider myself in much easier circumstances:

  1. No substantial amount of code is written in NGS yet.
  2. I’m starting later and therefore have the advantage of looking at more languages, avoiding bad parts, copying (with adaptation) the good parts.
  3. NGS targets a niche, it’s not intended to be general purpose language. Choices are clearer and easier when you target a niche.
  4. The language that I’m creating is almost by definition is more aligned with how I think. Hoping that people out there will benefit from using NGS if it is more aligned with how they think too.
  5. See also my Creating a language is easier now (2016) post.

Will I be able to make a “better” language?

From technical perspective, that’s probable: I am a skilled programmer in several languages and I have languages to look at more than everybody else had before. My disadvantage is not much experience in language design. I’m trying to offset that with thinking hard (about the language, the essence of what is being expressed, common patterns, etc), looking at other languages and experimenting.

From marketing perspective, I need to learn a lot. I am aware that “technically better” doesn’t matter as much as I would like to. Without community and users that would be a failed project.

Also don’t forget luck which I might or might not have.

What if NGS fails?

I think that the situation today is unbearable. I’m trying to fix it. I feel like I have to, despite the odds. I hope that even if NGS fails to move the industry forward it would be useful to somebody who will attempt that later.

Everybody does X, so should we.

Do you even logic?

First, we can get rid of “everybody” here because chances are that if you look carefully… it’s not everybody. Nice rhetoric though.

Second, the argument itself is invalid. The latter does not follow from the former.

A person expresses disbelief, because of logical fallacy.
Do you even logic?

Correct approach

Which problem are you solving?

Stop here and think before continuing. The more correct you define the problem the better are your chances of solving what you really need to be solving.

What’s the best solution to your problem?

When looking into alternative solutions, consider your circumstances: budget, people, knowledge, time frames, integration with existing products in use, etc.

In case that X is one of the alternatives to your problem, if “everybody” does X, there might be better documentation, resources, people available that know how to do X. That’s why you might want to consider X favourably.


Related post: Prove your tool is the right choice.

Hope this helps!

“Use Dumb Shell, don’t Reinvent the Wheel”

Opening Rant

You don’t hear one developer saying “Just use Notepad” to a colleague with argumentation that goes roughly like this:

Why are you using this horrible Visual Studio Code? It has built-in debugger! No!

JetBrains IDEs? No! They do too much! They are so into the code!

Vim? Emacs? Not pure enough! Who needs that stupid syntax highlighting?

Keep text editing pure! Any semantic understanding by the text editor is undesirable, other programs should handle that. You don’t want to complicate the text editor.

Developers are not saying that because user experience and productivity matter. Yet, “Use Dumb Shell” is considered to be an acceptable opinion. Is that so common that people fall on their heads so hard (alternatively, did not give it any thought)? WTF?

The solution (shell) should be as simple as possible but not simpler than possible. Current shells are simpler than required by good user experience. Wrong trade-off. Keeping something simple is important but not more important than the outcomes.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/toddle_email_newsletters/15413603567/
Image is a link to http://www.workcompass.com/

Additional food for thought:

  1. Why use a car when bicycle is so much simpler?
  2. Why use electricity when fire is so much simpler?
  3. Why have water in your house when a wells are so much simpler?

Background

I was doing consulting. The usual suspects: AWS, bash, Python, Puppet, Chef. Got to Terraform later. I had and I am still having subpar experiences with these tools. Anything I wanted to do, was overly burdensome, complicated and full of pitfalls.

Since I can’t attempt to fix everything, I picked the worst offender and started working on the alternative programming language and shell combo. The motivating opinion is that Ops have no good programming language nor adequate shell.

The absence of good programming language for ops was covered in another post. In this post I will cover some of the things that are wrong with the interactive shell.

The Shell

The dominant player is bash. It didn’t change much for decades: you type commands and get a dump of text on your screen. Most of the alternatives are essentially the same in this regard, for decades.

Is this because of the brilliant design? I would ask: which design? This? Quoting:

I wrote quite complex shell scripts and my first suggestion is “don’t”. The reason is that is fairly easy to make a small mistake that hinders your script, or even make it dangerous.

The “Dumb Shell” Approach

In this post I would like to address common thought that I hear from people regarding Next Generation Shell, a new programming language and a shell that I’m working on. Note that other shells which are more advanced than POSIX shells also get this. Quoting @cup from lobste.rs:

Wouldnt it be better to just have a dumb shell, that can call programs to do heavy lifting (read: programming languages). This way you have a “division of labor”. Shell works best for launching executables, and programming languages work best for handling data structures and algorithms.

No, it would not. I refuse to accept under-powered tools.

Dumbness is Fundamental Flaw

The “dumb shell” has no semantic understanding and doesn’t care about programs’ inputs nor outputs. Let’s see how it plays out.

Today, “Understanding” of programs’ inputs is covered by completion. Completion was added because “dumb shell” had horrible user experience. It’s slightly better now when the shell “understands” programs’ input to some degree. To some people completion is a scope creep. I think of it as better user experience and productivity gain.

“Understanding” of programs’ outputs? We are not there yet. It also seems that interacting with objects on the screen is too novel of an idea for the shell. Considering how much time this idea is out there: WTF?

Let’s see how this “dumbness” manifests as bad user experience even at the very basic, “intended” functionality:

Programs’ Output – Size

Do you know of any real world scenario when a human supposed to go over 10K lines on the screen? I mean just sit there and read it. Let me know. I’ve never seen such use case.

The shell is dumb, the shell “does not intervene” in programs’ outputs. Sounds good until you get unlimited number of lines dumped on your screen.

“Should have used less” you think later. Right. What if you forgot? The buffer is now filled with useless output and you can’t see outputs of previous programs. Are you being punished? No, just nobody cared about the UX. Alternatively, “it would be to complicated to implement”.

Programs’ Output – All Mixed

  1. Want to know what’s on your screen is stdout and what is stderr? Well… you can’t. Your shell is dumb, it doesn’t deal with things like that.
  2. Want to know from which program the output came from? Nope. Some programs cope with that to some degree by prepending their name to error messages: ls xxx gives you ls: xxx: No such file or directory. What a wonderful strategy! Keep the shell dumb and push the burden to all the programs.
  3. You can’t type because some background job is continuing to dump text on the screen where you are trying to work? Too bad, should have used redirection because guess what … you shell doesn’t handle that either… and you can’t add redirection after the program is running; again not shell’s business.

Programs’ Output – Semantic Understanding

You just typed aws ec2 describe instances --filters ... and now you have some output.

You now see on your screen instance you would like to stop. The ID of the instance is right in front of your face. Now you type aws ec2 stop-instances --instance-ids. You would like to append the instance ID that you see on the screen. Nope. Your shell doesn’t do that. Too dumb. Select with the mouse and paste, because f*ck you!

Side note: amazing AWS engineers did not include any human readable output format so you get JSON dumped on your screen (or any other format which is still non-human-compatible).

Let’s imagine for a moment that the command output had some semantic meaning to the shell.

  1. The shell would display the output as a table.
  2. The table would be interactive (interactive output, what a heresy!) and one could navigate with arrow keys and have a shortcut for copy/paste the current cell value to the command line (for completion).
  3. You could interact with the objects in the table with the mouse (very new concept, another heresy for the shell).
  4. How about instead of typing aws ec2 stop-instances --instance-ids you navigate to the correct line, press enter, choose “stop” from the menu and the command is constructed for you? aws ec2 stop-instances --instance-ids i-123... amazing, ha? Well, your shell can’t do that.

Meaning, do you speak it mo***er?

How about after performing operations using the UI you would get as per your choice one of the below snippets which would re-create the operation:

  1. CLI commands
  2. CloudFormation tempalte
  3. Terraform “code”

Solution: UI for the Shell

Suppose I agree for a second, what do you suggest?

https://github.com/ngs-lang/ngs/wiki/UI-Design

I personally don’t see how the described features could be implemented as external programs, keeping the shell “dumb”.

We Can Do Better Today

The reality has changed. What was once amazing is subpar by today’s standards. The world outside of the shell moved forward while the shell stayed almost the same. Brilliant design? Brilliant what?

Let’s move this industry together from the stone age of bash shell to the bronze age of something a bit less subpar – Next Generation Shell.

Closing Rant

Imaginary UNIX people:

We wanted to separate things because they are semantically different so we split the things into stdout and stderr. Well… stderr was is actually for everything that is not stdout.

One bit of metadata (stdout vs stderr) for semantic meaning of the output should be enough for everyone forever. Well… at least it’s simple for us to implement.


Update: discussion on lobste.rs

JQ is a symptom

jq is a great tool. It does what bash can not – work with structured data. I use it. I would like not to use it.

In my opinion, working with structured data is such a basic thing that it makes much more sense to be handled by the language itself. I want my shell to be capable and I strongly disagree with the view that a shell “is not supposed to do that”. Shell is supposed to do whatever is needed to make my life easier. Handling structured data is one of these things.

If “shell is not supposed to do that”, by that logic, bash is not supposed to do anything except for running external commands and routing the data between them. Doesn’t it seem odd that bash does have builtin string manipulation then? Maybe bash shouldn’t have added associative arrays in version 4? … or arrays in version 2? How about if and while ? Maybe bash shouldn’t have them either?

woman-698943_640

jq is a symptom that bash can’t handle today’s reality: structured data. The world is increasingly more about APIs. APIs consume and return structured data. I do work with APIs from shell. Don’t you guys use AWS CLI or any other API that returns JSON?

The reality has changed. bash hasn’t. I’m working on bash alternative. Please help me with it. Or at least spread the word.

If you don’t like my project, join Elvish . Elvish is another shell that supports structured data.


Happy coding! Hope it’s not in bash.

Terraform 0.12 language looks bad

I was hoping that smart guys vs bad situation will have another outcome but Terraform language for version 0.12 looks bad… as languages of Puppet and Ansible.

I’m not saying that people that made Puppet and Ansible are not smart. It’s that we could learn from the mistakes they made… unless we don’t consider those being mistakes.

Puppet and Ansible went through very similar difficult situation. They have limited themselves to a declarative format and then they tried to accommodate the real life. Terraform has this situation right now.

The situation is:

  • Declarative format being used
  • People need something more powerful, like a programming language because … real life where conditionals, loops and data transformations make much more sense than working around declarative languages limitations.

Interestingly enough, they all did not switch to a proper programming language. Maybe because that would be at least partially admitting that the product should have been a library in the first place?

Terraform is actually in very crappy situation because even if they decide to expose everything as a library as the main interface, I don’t see people start using Go for “infrastructure as code”. Not as smooth as Ruby or Python anyway.

Happy coding, everyone!

Update (2018-07-21):

On a bit more positive note, the new splat operator looks like an improvement.

Update (2018-07-27):

Terraform looks even more like a “normal” language with Conditional Operator Improvements and null value. The conditional operator fixes previous oddities that it had.

Update (2018-08-02):

Terraform got type system. Looks powerful. Just need to see that Terraform does not evolve to Scala 🙂

Update (2018-08-11):

New template syntax brings more raw power. Looks good.

Update (2018-08-26):

  • HCL to JSON one-to-one mapping. When I read “having a clean 1:1 mapping between HCL and JSON, and ensuring every feature of HCL is supported in JSON” I immediately thought that there must be converting tools then… and was not disappointed 🙂 “In future versions of Terraform, we will also support native tooling to convert HCL to JSON and JSON to HCL cleanly (including comments)”
  • “Comments in JSON” – nice!

 

Terraform becomes a programming language

Declarative languages failure

Approach that in my eyes failed, again and again, is to start with your own declarative language and then with time grow the language. (SQL being among notable exceptions)

Puppet is the best example. map and each, added in Puppet 4.0.0 are, in my opinion, just two in a sea of evidence that the envisioned simple format has failed to handle the needs of the real world.

Ansible’s loop looks bad as the whole idea of making top levels of programs in YAML based syntax (and the rest in Python).

In my opinion, it makes more sense to create a language first and then libraries for it, not a library and then a language around it.

My hope for Terraform

I think Terraform guys are smart. Among other things, it manifests in implementing data sources. Data sources make Terraform much more flexible. I think it’s very clever.

Terraform, which started declarative, are now inventing their own programming language. They are going the way of Puppet and Ansible. I hope they can do better, in this awkward situation: there are quite a lot of constraints on the programming language because of the existing syntax and semantics.

Happy coding, everyone!