20 April, 2007

Simple Rapid Application Development in Python

I've always found it interesting reading about coding paradigms and what not, including ways in which a coder can increase his/her throughput. Meaning, how can I quickly pump out software that is easily portable, eloquently written, and easily maintainable by either myself and/or someone else one, two, six, eighteen months down the road? 


I've found out the answer to that question, in the form of a language, and it isn't Perl, Java, or Ruby. Simply put, it is Python by Guido van Rossum. The language that I loved to hate for so long due to what was perceived as a nasty control freak mentality regarding white space sensitivity, and the "lack" of freedom of being able to use {'s, ('s, ['s and ;'s anywhere I wanted. 


I've been using Python as mentioned previously in this blog for both large professional projects as well as certain other miscellaneous personal object-focused projects of mine and about two years ago when accepting a one-off project outside of my normal employment environment, I decided to try utilising my new favourite language for professional work. I must say that it was indeed a very simple program that I could've easily written in Perl, but no where as cleanly as in Python. The standard python libraries/classes included with every distribution (including as a stock install on my OS X 10.3 Panther equipped Apple Macintosh G3 iBook which I was using at the time) made it a clear choice (at least to attempt).


The premise of the program was amongst the most simplest of tasks. The client has a Microsoft Frontpage created website with a form. It currently points to no where because the individual doesn't know anything about capturing form data, so that's where I come in. All that is wanted is for all of the fields to be commingled into an e-mail to be fired off every time someone submits that form. He doesn't initially even want data format and/or content checking, but I inquired anyway (I'm not some code monkey who doesn't try to analyse what the non-coder *really* needs/wants/means). 


The code itself took a matter of about 15 minutes to write down, organise and test. The code is more than fifty-percent blank lines and/or comments. Using the standard smtplib and cgi libraries/classes, this turned out to be an absolute breeze. The advantage of easily stepping through the dictionary (hash) produced by the cgi.FieldStorage() method was a cinch thanks to the built-in cgi.has_key() and cgi.value() methods. 


While this is hardly an example of actual RAD, or any detailed work for a language such as Python, it does give a simple real world example of why I will continue to push for the use of this language. What I wrote worked the first time I wrote it, without any errors. I reads like pseudo-code and it was enjoyable to write because it flowed so easily from my mind into Python's very natural syntax. I used to espouse Perl for such things, but in comparison, I find it difficult to think that I held Perl in such regards for natural syntax. 


This doesn't mean that I'm a one language only person. Much of the application infrastructure I've produced at my current (and previous) employers' establishments I design and implemented in Perl on a multitude of Linux and/or FreeBSD boxes. This has changed as I've moved to a FreeBSD centric platform layout, with the intent of someday using Python as the shining star for any medium to large implementations, and let it share the small jobs with a mix of Perl and Bash scripts. 


I only wish I could get others to give Python a fair shot as it truly is one of those languages that deserve a second look, it may just changed your entire perspective on how you code.