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FRIDAY FUNDAY: Which Programming Language Do You Hate Most and Why?

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

I’ll start. Perl. Well, strictly speaking, it’s not the language I hate. It’s Perl programmers who I hate. Of all the applications written by other people that I’ve had to maintain, the ones in Perl were by far the most nightmarish to unravel. But it's difficult to say that the language itself doesn't at least bear some culpability. 

But first, let me get this out of the way. Larry Wall is the creator of Perl. I only met him once or twice, but I’ve read many things he’s written and transcripts of speeches. I love and admire the man, and I believe we have some important non-computer, non-language things in common. As such, I hope he will permit me to refer to him as “Larry” in what follows. I encourage you to follow the link in  the Resources section below to read the keynote from which I am quoting. 

Modern vs. Postmodern

Larry gave a keynote where he put Perl in the category of "Postmodern" vs. most other languages, which are "Modern". His point was that modern languages tend to confine you to rules, whereas a postmodern language gives you far more freedom. 

Larry said in 1999, “It’s not difficult to look at computer languages and see which ones are trying to be modern by driving something into the ground. […] Think about Python, and whitespace.”

The whitespace he’s talking about is the required indentation of code in Python. Python, indeed, drives that into the ground. It drives it so far into the ground it shatters shale and strikes oil. You can’t even mix indents of spaces and tabs. They may look like they take up the same amount of whitespace, but Python gets upset if you try it. 

This is what ostensibly bothers Larry, that a language would be strident enough to enforce how it is used. Required whitespace is supposed to make Python code more readable. In my limited experience, it works. No doubt I could write a Python app that is difficult to understand simply by giving variables and functions ridiculous names. But the flow of the program would be fairly easy to discern from the way the code is indented.

If Larry were to respond, I imagine it would be something like this quote from the same keynote: “The very fact that it’s possible to write messy programs in Perl is also what makes it possible to write programs that are cleaner in Perl than they could ever be in a language that attempts to enforce cleanliness. The potential for greater good goes right along with the potential for greater evil.” 

I actually agree, and I understand his philosophical perspective. To paraphrase one of the ways people describe Perl is, "There's always more than one way to do something." The goal is to provide programmers as much freedom as possible.

As a programmer, I find that liberating. As someone who might have to maintain another person's code, I find it nauseating. While I am certain it is theoretically possible for a programmer to write a Perl program that is cleaner than programs in other languages, I, personally, have never seen an example of one. Maybe you have and can share your experience. 

But the point is, it's the programmer, not the language, who makes the difference. In the hands of inherently lazy programmers, Perl is a weapon of mass destruction. You can write sloppy unreadable code in many languages, but I think Perl gives you more opportunities to be evil than most other languages in common use. I say "in common use" because, although Perl is out of fashion for web applications, I haven't seen any programs in Prolog for ANY purpose in recent history. 


Here’s an ascii clock written in Perl, a winner in a code obfuscation contest.


)_+`-=[]\\{}|;\':",./<>? '=~/$_/;@_ _=$;=~/$_/;$_="(.)*?";/((?{$_.=$_}).)+$/;$Z-=
$Z;"$.$."-$Z;/((?{$_ _[$z]&&!("${_[$x]}"^"${_[$y]}"^"${_ _[$z]}"^"$Z")&&($a.=$_[$x
],$b.=$_[$y],$z++);$x++;$y+=!($x%="$.$.");$y%="$.$.";}).)+/;$_="^"^"^";$_ _=".>.\
'$_ _ _$b')".".('!\@/\"'^'}.')".']}`';


Here's the clock:


Now here’s that same code run through a code beautifier.



$; = "@{'`|;{'^'!.|-'}";
$_ = "(.)?";
@_ = '~!@#$%^&*(
) _ + `-=[]\\{}|;\':",./<>? '=~/$_/;@_ _=$;=~/$_/;$_="(.)*?";/((?{$_.=$_}).)+$/;$Z-=
$Z;"$.$."-$Z;/((?{$_ _[$z]&&!("${_[$x]}"^"${_[$y]}"^"${_ _[$z]}"^"$Z")&&($a.=$_[$x
],$b.=$_[$y],$z++);$x++;$y+=!($x%="$.$.");$y%="$.$.";}).)+/;$_="^"^"^";$_ _=".>.\
'$_ _ _$b')".".('!\@/\"'^'}.')".']}`


Yeah, that's much easier to understand, isn't it? </sarcasm>

(As an aside, Perl is most definitely a "Unix/Linux" phenomenon. Think of how much shorthand there is in Unix/Linux. We take for granted what "ls -al" means, but who'd guess correctly?)

C What I Mean?

Do you know which other language makes it possible to write nearly indecipherable code? C. Let’s have a look at a winning entry in a C code obfuscation contest. (I removed a few comments to make it even less readable.) This app is an alphanumeric smart minesweeper. You click one spot, and it tries to figure out how to avoid the nearby mines.


                               #include <time.h>
                               #include <ncurses.h>
                               # include <stdlib.h>
              #define O()for(y-=               !!\
           y;y<H&&            y<           p/W+2;\
         y++)for(x=p%   W,x-=!! x;x<W&&   x<p%W+2;x++)
       #define _(x,y)COLOR_##x,COLOR_##y  
     #define Y(n)attrset(COLOR_PAIR(n)),mvprintw(/* IOCCC2019 or IOCCC2020 */
   typedef int I;I*M,W,H,S,C,E,X,T,c,p,q,i,j,k;char G[]=" x",U[256];I F(I p){ I
      r=0,x,y=p/W,q;O()q=y*W+x,r+=M[q]^=p-q?(M[q]&16)<<8:0;return r;}I K(I p
         ,I f,I g){ I x=(g+     f/256)%16-(f+g/256)%16,y=p/W,c=0,n=g/4096
          ,m=x==n?0:x==g           /16%16-f/16%16-n?256:-1; if(m+1)O()if
         ((4368&M[n=y*W             +x])==4112){ M[c=1,n]=(M[n]&~16)|m; }
        return c;}void              D(){I p,k,o=0,n=C,m=0,q=0;if(LINES-1<H
       ||COLS/2<W)clear             (),Y(4)LINES/2,COLS/2-16,"Make the ter\
minal bigger!");else{for           (p=0;p<S;o+=k==3,Y(k)p/W+1,p%W*2,G),p++)G[1]=""
"_*!..12345678"[k=E?256&M[p     ]?n--,2:E-2||M[p]%2<1?M[p]&16?q=p,m++,3:4+F(p)%16:
2-6,"",k>999?999:k);Y(9)0,W-1,E>1?"X-(":E-1||o?":-)":"8-)");M[q]|=256*(n==m&&n); }
refresh();}short B[]={_(RED,BLACK),_(WHITE,BLUE),_(GREEN,RED),_(MAGENTA,YELLOW),_(
CYAN,RED)};I main(I A,char**V){MEVENT e;FILE*f;srand(time(0));initscr();for(start\
       ),"%d %d %d",&W,&H,&C)>3; ;S+=W*H;M=realloc(M,S*sizeof(I)*2);for(i=0
          &&(c-KEY_RESIZE||E);){ if(c=='q'){ return(endwin(),0); }if(c==
         ,0)){goto N;}   for(k=p/W-2,k=k<0?0:k;k<p/W+3&&k   <H;k++)for(j=
           p%W-2,j          =j<0?0:j;j<W&&j<p%W+3;)if           (!(M[q=
             k*W               +j++]&272)){ if(K(p,               c,F
                               (q))){ goto N; }F(q)
                               ; }F(p); }}N:; } } }
                               /*(c)Yusukse Endoh*/


Here's a big difference, though. I ran it through a C code formatter to create new lines and indents, and the prettified code wasn’t all that difficult to understand. If you know in advance that it's a smart minesweeper game, you can probably figure out how it works from the source code, given enough time. 


#include <time.h>
#include <ncurses.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#define O()                                \
    for (y -= !!y; y < H && y < p / W + 2; \
         y++)                              \
        for (x = p % W, x -= !!x; x < W && x < p % W + 2; x++)
#define _(x, y) COLOR_##x, COLOR_##y
#define Y(n)attrset(COLOR_PAIR(n)),mvprintw(
typedef int I;
I *M, W, H, S, C, E, X, T, c, p, q, i, j, k;
char G[] = " x", U[256];
I F(I p)
        r = 0,
        x, y = p / W, q;
    q = y * W + x,
    r += M[q] ^= p - q ? (M[q] & 16) << 8 : 0;
    return r;
I K(I p, I f, I g)
    I x = (g + f / 256) % 16 - (f + g / 256) % 16, y = p / W, c = 0, n = g / 4096, m = x == n ? 0 : x == g / 16 % 16 - f / 16 % 16 - n ? 256
                                                                                                                                       : -1;
    if (m + 1)
        if ((4368 & M[n = y * W + x]) == 4112) { M[c = 1, n] = (M[n] & ~16) | m; }
    return c;
void D()
    I p, k, o = 0, n = C, m = 0, q = 0;
    if (LINES - 1 < H || COLS / 2 < W)clear             (),Y(4)LINES/2,COLS/2-16,"Make the ter\
minal bigger!");
        for (p = 0; p < S; o += k == 3, Y(k) p / W + 1, p % W * 2, G),p++)G[1]=""
"_*!..12345678"[k=E?256&M[p     ]?n--,2:E-2||M[p]%2<1?M[p]&16?q=p,m++,3:4+F(p)%16:
        k = T + time(0);
        T = o || T >= 0 || E - 1 ? T : k;
        k = T < 0 ? k : T;Y(7)0,0,"%03d%*s%03d",n>999?999:n,W*
        M[q] |= 256 * (n == m && n);
short B[] = {_(RED, BLACK), _(WHITE, BLUE), _(GREEN, RED), _(MAGENTA, YELLOW), _(CYAN, RED)};
I main(I A, char **V)
    MEVENT e;
    FILE *f;
    for (start\
         X < 12; X++)
        init_pair(X + 1, B[X && X < 10 ? X - 1 : 2], B[X ? X < 3 ? 2 : 1 : 0]);
    keypad(stdscr, TRUE);
    for (mousemask(BUTTON1_CLICKED | BUTTO\
        S = A < 2 ? f = 0, W = COLS / 2, H = LINES - 1, C = W * H / 5, 0 : fscanf(f = fopen(V[A - 1], "r"), "%d %d %d", &W, &H, &C) > 3;
        S += W * H;
        M = realloc(M, S * sizeof(I) * 2);
        for (i = 0; i < S; i++)
            !f ? M[i] = i, i && (k = M[j = rand() % i], M[j] = M[i], M[i] = k) : fscanf(f, "%d", M + i);
        if (f)
        T = E = X = 0;
        for (clear(); D(), c = getch(), c - 'r' && (c - KEY_RESIZE || E);)
            if (c == 'q')
                return (endwin(), 0);
            if (c ==
                    KEY_MOUSE &&
                getmouse(&e) == OK && e.x / 2 < W && e.y <= H)
                if (!e.y && (W - 2 < e.x &&
                             e.x < W + 2))
                p = e.x / 2 + e.y * W - W;
                if (p >= 0)
                    if (!E)
                        for (i = 0; i < S; i++)
                            M[S + M
                                      [i]] = i,
                                     M[i] = 16 + (M[i] < C);
                        C -= M[p] & 1;
                        M[p] = 16;
                        E = 1;
                        T = -time(0);
                    if (E < 2)
                        M[p] &= (M[p] & 257) == 1 ? T += time(0), E = 2, 273 : 257;
            for (p = 0; p < S && E == 1; M[p++] &= 273)
            for (i =
                     (X + S - 1) % S;
                 E == 1 && i != X; X = (X + 1) % S)
                if (!(M[p = M[X + S]] & 272))
                    if (K(p, c = F(p), 0))
                        goto N;
                    for (k = p / W - 2, k = k < 0 ? 0 : k; k < p / W + 3 && k < H; k++)
                        for (j =
                                 p % W - 2,
                            j = j < 0 ? 0 : j;
                             j < W && j < p % W + 3;)
                            if (!(M[q =
                                        k * W + j++] &
                                if (K(p, c, F(q)))
                                    goto N;



Okay, so I violated the terms of my own question, since it's lazy Perl programmers, not the language, I hate. If I had to obey my own question, I'd probably pick Prolog. I have no problem with stacks and Reverse Polish Notation, but Prolog always struck me as the craziest programming language. I remember when Borland predicted it would be the Next Big Thing (tm) for AI when it released Turbo Prolog. In case you're interested, it continues to exist as Visual Prolog these days. 

So, what language do you hate the most, and why? 



Larry Wall Keynote:


6 Replies 6

Sean Dahlberg
Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

It has been a hot minute since I've done any serious coding. Most I've done as of late is just keeping up to date with basic website (HTML) and RWD. But, back when I was more active, I'd have to go with VBA and PHP.

For VBA, I think it was just showing its age, a bit overly complicated, and outside of MS Office environments, it didn't have as much value. It was around then I started poking around Python more.

PHP was probably my first real web programming language. It taught me some bad habits that took me some time to break (and some of them I probably still have, hehe). At the time, at least, there was little cohesiveness among PHP coders, even on a team. Add to that, trying to decipher some (IMO) poorly written/designed open-source projects... 

Since its Friday, I'll add a coding meme to mine


Ok, to start PERL.
Did a LOT of work in PERL and it's flexible but can be confusing.  My biggest GRRR was always error 500.  The answer to life in PERL.

BUT my biggest dislike (assume we don't go as far back as COBOL/FORTRAN) would have to be anything gross and bloated by MicroSoft.  C#, .NET etc.

To do anything required an anointment by the coding gods and even then would probably not work.  AND it only ran on Windows.  So if I wanted to do something that needed MS in any form there had to be a windows server.  

I once wrote a root cause analysis word doc generator that pulled data from Oracle, updated an XML file and then zipped it and renamed to .docx (and yes all MS docs are just compressed XML files).  This was easier than than actually doing it in .NET.   Sad really


I hear you about MS, C#, .NET, etc. In fact, I made it a point never to code in C# or any .NET language. I had a support case where a .NET developer refused to entertain the notion that the problem was with .NET/C#. After a couple months of debugging, troubleshooting, etc., he installed the latest update and MIRACLE, the problem was gone. 

Microsoft used to boast about their files being XML, and therefore "open". The only problem with that is XML just points to things (not just values), and their XML pointed to proprietary objects. 

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

I actually enjoy javascript, but I'm always reminded of the "WAT" talk: and understand why folks may not enjoy the JS vibes

That's HILARIOUS! (the WAT video)

Cisco Employee
Cisco Employee

Prior to Python, Perl was my favorite programming language. I started using Perl back in 1987 when it was Perl 0.xx all the way to Perl 5.  We used to have a monthly Perl users group meeting with Larry at the SLAC on Sand Hill Rd back in the day.  Back then, I had to port and compile Perl from source code every time we switch to a new Unix/Linux platform.
I used to hate Javascript/PHP or anything that has to do with Web app frontend. However, with the advent of new JS frameworks, my hatred towards it has diminished to some extent, and I'm starting to warm up to it

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