Sunday, 31 December 2006

NAnt is a domain specific language

Last week (don't get the full Christmas break till next year <sigh>) I was introducing NAnt to a colleague, and described it for the first time as a domain-specific language (DSL). Although I've been using NAnt heavily for almost three years now, for building everything from VB5 (yes 5!) to C#, its true power only fully struck me when I used this term. Up till then I always described NAnt as a usable and readable makefile format.

The realisation hit me whilst I was experimenting with using Ruby, C# and Regular Expressions to do some tricky file analysis as part of a
NAnt build process. Whilst I would have preferred a NAnt-Ruby solution, time-constraints resulted in a NAnt-C# solution (using the powerful script task).

NAnt is a domain specific language because it defines a vocabulary specific to the process of building software. What makes it such a powerful DSL is that:
  • It has a very limited keyword set (even when you add in nantcontrib), which is focused on the job hand.
  • This in turn, allows very concise (once you get over the XML sit-ups) expression of knowledge.
  • This also eases its learning-curve, which is even further reduced when harnessing the power of:
  • Intellisense. The power of this cannot be understated, and the lack of this is my one bone of contention with Ruby.
  • It provides points of extension (via script and custom tasks), for the use of more appropriate languages where Nant is unsuitable.

Friday, 15 December 2006

The flow begins...

I've been umming and ahhhing for a year now and I've finally done it. This is my blog. Hopefully it'll be quality not quantity, but you can be the judge of that!

Big thanks go to the people and things that inspired me to pull the finger out the dyke: