Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PLT System Facilities (Software Components): Lexical scope

Like any programming system, PLT Scheme involves multiple people and a lot of code. So managing software components is a primary concern. And of course, as a Scheme, PLT uses lexical scope as the linguistic linchpin for managing software. The importance of lexical scope in a component architecture is that it allows code to be shared and mixed while guaranteeing the internal integrity of components.

With the power of macros, PLT has developed a number of software component abstractions on top of little lambda. One of these is a single-inheritance, class- and interface-based OOP system. Classes are first-class values, which means it's easy to implement mixins (i.e., classes parameterized over their superclass) as functions that return classes. More recently, they've introduced traits, which are like fragments of classes that can be more freely and flexibly combined than mixins. Also built with macros is the unit system, which is a first-class, parameterized, recursive module system.

All of these abstractions admit modular and separate development because they protect the internal integrity of their local bindings and definitions. You can hand out a component into an untrusted context and know that it won't be able to modify or even inspect the component's internals. And you can reason locally about your code knowing that no context can change its behavior based on these internals.

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