Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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Dynamic languages in .NET

In a startingly timely discovery, I found out that there was to be a birds-of-a-feather discussion last night on dynamic languages on the CLR. I've only been looking at .NET seriously for the last few days, thanks to Mono. One of the first things I wanted to know was whether I could keep on using Python and have it compile into code for the common runtime.

This question was brought up again yesterday in a question and answer session Guido van Rossum gave, and the explanation was that somebody tried to do it, but it turned out to be too slow to be useful. I chatted to Paul Prescod about this during a break and he mentioned the evening BOF.

Turning up, I soon realised I was pretty much the odd one out. The session was run by Peter Drayton and Brad Merril from Microsoft, who work on the common runtime and seemed to be bright and very thoughtful people. As the session kicked off and we introduced ourselves, it become clear there was some very serious interest in running scripting or functional languages on the .NET runtime, illustrated by attendees including Miguel de Icaza, Ruby inventor Matz, Shane Carveo of PHP, Larry Wall, Dave Thomas, some of the guys behind the Parrot VM.

With only an hour in which to talk, there wasn't a lot of time for discussion. However, I learned that the current CLR does not run dynamic languages well because it was targetted to statically typed languages. This targetting works at a fundamental level, and is involved with what it means to have "safe" code. Peter Drayton mentioned that he was very interested to see what the Parrot guys had done, because their VM starts out from almost the opposite position of being targetted to dynamic languages.

Drayton's question to the attendees was essentially "do you want to be able to write class libraries in your language which can be reused by any other .NET language?" The answer to this was an obvious "yes," drawing the followup instigation to discussion on what exactly can be done to the CLR to enable better dynamic language support.

Exciting progress, then, but it's all likely to take some time to figure out the deep issues involved.

A good place to start reading about this is Brad Merril's language list, which has plenty of links to languages targetting .NET.

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