I have been assigned the task of implementing a Domain Specific Language for a tool that may become quite important for the company. The language is simple but not trivial, it already allows nested loops, string concatenation, etc. and it is practically sure that other constructs will be added as the project advances.
I know by experience that writing a lexer/parser by hand -unless the grammar is trivial- is a time consuming and error prone process. So I was left with two options: a parser generator à la yacc or a combinator library like Parsec. The former was good as well but I picked the latter for various reasons, and implemented the solution in a functional language.
The result is pretty spectacular to my eyes, the code is very concise, elegant and readable/fluent. I concede it may look a bit weird if you never programmed in anything other than java/c#, but then this would be true of anything not written in java/c#.
At some point however, I've been literally attacked by a co-worker. After a quick glance at my screen he declared that the code is uncomprehensible and that I should not reinvent parsing but just use a stack and String.Split like everybody does. He made a lot of noise, and I could not convince him, partially because I've been taken by surprise and had no clear explanation, partially because his opinion was immutable (no pun intended). I even offered to explain him the language, but to no avail.
I'm positive the discussion is going to re-surface in front of management, so I'm preparing some solid arguments.
These are the first few reasons that come to my mind to avoid a String.Split-based solution:
- you need lot of ifs to handle special cases and things quickly spiral out of control
- lots of hardcoded array indexes makes maintenance painful
- extremely difficult to handle things like a function call as a method argument (ex. add( (add a, b), c)
- very difficult to provide meaningful error messages in case of syntax errors (very likely to happen)
- I'm all for simplicity, clarity and avoiding unnecessary smart-cryptic stuff, but I also believe it's a mistake to dumb down every part of the codebase so that even a burger flipper can understand it. It's the same argument I hear for not using interfaces, not adopting separation of concerns, copying-pasting code around, etc. A minimum of technical competence and willingness to learn is required to work on a software project after all. (I won't use this argument as it will probably sound offensive, and starting a war is not going to help anybody)
What are your favorite arguments against parsing the Cthulhu way?*
*of course if you can convince me he's right I'll be perfectly happy as well