Two years ago, I was working on a research project called “Project Link” as part of the Connected Devices branch of Mozilla. While this branch has since been stopped, some part of Project Link lives on as Project Things. One of the parts of Project Link that hasn’t made it to Project Things (so far) was Thinkerbell: a Domain-Specific Language designed to let users program their SmartHome without coding. While only parts of Thinkerbell were ever implemented, they were sufficient to write programs such as: Whenever I press any button labelled “light” in the living room, toggle all the lights in the living room. or If the entry door is locked and the motion detector notices motion, send an alarm to my SmartPhone. Thinkerbell also had: semantics that ensured that scripts could continue/resume running unmonitored even when hardware was replaced/upgraded/moved around the house, including both the server and the sensors; a visual syntax, rather than a text syntax; a novel type system designed to avoid physical accidents; a semantics based on process algebras. Ideally, I’d like to take the time to write a research paper on Thinkerbell, but realistically, there is very little chance that I’ll find that time. So, rather than letting these ideas die in some corner of my brain, here is a post-mortem for Thinkerbell, in the hope that someone, somewhere, will pick some of the stuff and gives it a second life. Note that some of the ideas exposed here were never actually implemented. Project Link was cancelled while Thinkerbell was still in its infancy.
In this entry, I’d like to discuss one of the most interesting and unusual aspects of the Binary AST: how we gain performance by turning proof-building into validation, and why this is very good news for performance (and maybe not so good news for file size).
“The key to making programs fast is to make them do practically nothing.” - Mike Haertel, creator of GNU Grep. Binary AST - “Binary Abstract Syntax Tree” - is Mozilla’s proposal for specifying a binary-encoded syntax for JS with the intent of allowing browsers and other JS-executing environments to parse and load code as much as 80% faster than standard minified JS. It has recently cleared Stage 1 of the TC39 standards process, and while the final byte-level format isn’t completely nailed down, we’re confident that the final implementation will deliver the impressive performance improvements promised by the prototype.