Collecting my attempts to improve at tech, art, and life

Parrot Babysteps 0e - Parrot Namespaces

Tags: parrot learn coolnamehere

Series: Parrot Babysteps

Where was I? In the previous Babystep, I started working out some rough ideas for a version of the old school Star Trader game written in Parrot PIR. I made a quick description and sketched up a list of the features that would need to be created. One of those features was an interactive shell to be used in developing and hacking on that Space Trade game. I wrote a simple shell that could be extended, making it easier to expand the capabilities of the shell in the future - or even use the shell in some completely unforeseen future application.

I like that shell, but it is not perfect. Programming languages like Parrot support namespaces, which you can think of as dictionaries that the language uses to look up variables and subroutines. My problem with the shell today revolves around the fact that every subroutine used in defining or extending the shell exists in the global namespace. They are available everywhere - in every line of code for the SpaceTrade game and anything that uses it. This may not be a huge problem by itself, because right now there are only a few subroutines. The number of subroutines will grow as the project evolves, however. This will have a couple of different effects.


Namespaces provide a way to insulate the parts of a computer program from each other. The subroutines and variables defined in one namespace will not interfere with the subroutines and variables in another. This means that I can have my register_default_commands subroutine for my own shell, and you can have a register_default_commands subroutine in your own shell, and they never need to know about each other. It does mean you must take extra steps if you want to use the subroutine from my package in your own code, or I must somehow provide a means to push the subroutines that I consider appropriate into your namespace. That is what Test::More does. Defining something like that is an exercise in careful judgment and reasonable coding. In other words, we will not be doing that with SpaceTrade any time soon.

I will try to focus on the most important elements of Parrot Namespaces rather than get carried away with all of the little details.

Organizing the Namespaces

Even though the SpaceTrade game has very little code right now, I want to put a little thought into organizing my namespaces before I create them. The first layer is easy: all of the code supporting the SpaceTrade game will go in the “SpaceTrade” namespace.

Parrot supports nested namespaces, so “SpaceTrade” can contain any number of namespaces. I’m sure there will be many contained namespaces for game setup and play, but I will only specify the one I am working on today: “SpaceTrade::Shell.”

The names do not mean anything to Parrot. It does not force a particular way of organizing your namespaces. Nested namespaces are a convenience so that we know two chunks of code are somewhat related.

The .namespace Directive

The .namespace directive is used to tell Parrot that the following code belongs in a particular namespace. Its argument is a hash index specifying the name.

.namespace ['SpaceTrade']

Use a complex key to indicate a nested namespace.

.namespace ['SpaceTrade';'Shell']

All of the code after the .namespace directive gets filed in the namespace associated with the key you handed to it. This lasts until you declare a new namespace.

It’s time to try it out in spacetrade.pir. All of the code written so far is for the shell, so I can probably get away with putting my .namespace directive at the top of the file.

# example-0e-01/lib/spacetrade.pir
.namespace ['SpaceTrade';'Shell']

.sub 'main' :main

.sub run_shell
	# ...

Why do I say “SpaceTrade::Shell” rather than ['SpaceTrade';'Shell'] when talking about my namespace in this article? That is mainly because I am lazy. My fingers do not enjoy typing out all the characters to say ['SpaceTrace';'Shell'], so I want to use a shorthand. “SpaceTrade::Shell” mimics a convention used by some Parrot programmers when talking about namespaces. It is a convention derived from the way that namespaces - or “packages” - are declared in Perl, which is another language of choice for many Parrot developers. I will switch to another convention if I see one that is both widely used and easy to type.

Back to SpaceTrade. I run setup.pir test out of curiosity.

$ parrot setup.pir test
t/01-shell-metacommands.t .. ok
All tests successful.
Files=1, Tests=6,  0.015 wallclock secs
Result: PASS

The tests pass, which is kind of cool. But why do they pass, if I have defined a namespace in spacetrade.pir? The tests should complain about missing subroutines if they are in a different namespace, right?

Yes, that is right. However, the .include directive effectively dumps the code from your included file right where you put the directive. The tests exist in the ['SpaceTrade';'Shell'] namespace because we never indicated that we were moving onto a new one.

That might even be okay for these tests. After all, they are just telling me that the shell subroutines work, not that namespace handling works. The SpaceTrade namespaces are going to get more cluttered as time goes on, though. I am going to be more explicit in the namespace handling for my tests in order to prepare for that clutter.

The Default Namespace

To specify that you are going back to the default namespace, hand an empty key to the .namespace directive.

.namespace [ ]

I understand the idea here. The default namespace is no namespace at all, so it gets an empty key. Let’s put that line in 01-shell-metacommands.pir.

# example-0e-02/t/01-shell-metacommands.pir

.include 'lib/spacetrade.pir'

.namespace [ ]

.sub 'main' :main
	.include 'test_more.pir'
	# ...

What happens if I run the tests now?

$ parrot setup.pir test
t/01-shell-metacommands.t .. Dubious, test returned 1
Failed 6/6 subtests

Test Summary Report
t/01-shell-metacommands.t (Tests: 0 Failed: 0)
  Non-zero exit status: 1
  Parse errors: Unknown TAP token: "Could not find sub register_default_commands"
				Unknown TAP token: "current instr.: 'main' pc 275 (t/01-shell-metacommands.t:14)"
Bad plan.  You planned 6 tests but ran 0.
Files=1, Tests=0,  0.014 wallclock secs
Result: FAIL
test fails
current instr.: 'setup' pc 829 (runtime/parrot/library/distutils.pir:379)

This is the error I was expecting to see initially, so I am happy. I suppose I could have put that .namespace [ ] directive at the end of spacetrade.pir - Parrot does not have any rules about where to end one namespace and start another - but I feel like that would have broken the way .include behaves. I will probably learn a better way to handle these little namespace issues eventually.

Now I have library code tucked into a namespace and test code that doesn’t know about the shell subroutines. A quick look at 07-writing-subroutines/ shows how to get those shell subroutines into our current namespace. The get_global opcode allows us to grab a variable from another namespace. We used it in to grab the chomp subroutine from the String::Utils namespace. Let’s use get_global to make the tested subroutines available.

# example-0e-03/t/01-shell-metacommands.t
.include 'lib/spacetrade.pir'

.namespace [ ]

.sub 'main' :main
	.include 'test_more.pir'


	.local pmc    register_default_commands
	.local pmc    evaluate_command
	.local pmc    register_command
	.local pmc    commands
	.local string expected
	.local string output

	register_default_commands = get_global ['SpaceTrade';'Shell'], 'register_default_commands'
	evaluate_command = get_global ['SpaceTrade';'Shell'], 'evaluate_command'
	register_command = get_global ['SpaceTrade';'Shell'], 'register_command'

	commands = register_default_commands()

	# ...

As we can see, that’s almost good enough.

ok 1 - :help should be a registered default command
ok 2 - :quit should be a registered default command that returns an empty string
ok 3 - :help should reflect registered commands
not ok 4 - User command ":dude" should result in string "Dude!"
# Have: Invalid command: :dude points to nonexistent sub say_dude
# Want: Dude!
ok 5 - Shell should warn about unknown commands
ok 6 - Shell should warn about invalid commands

Up until now we have been using subroutine names when registering commands, but that is not going to work anymore. SpaceTrade no longer knows exactly where it should look for the subroutines with those names. Instead of names, let’s try using the subroutines themselves.

# example-0e-04/lib/spacetrade.pir
.sub register_command
	.param pmc    commands
	.param string name
	.param pmc    code
	.param string explanation

	.local pmc    command
	.local pmc    callback

	command = new 'Hash'
	command['code'] = code
	command['explanation'] = explanation

	commands[name] = command


register_command doesn’t look a lot different. The names have changed to show what is going on, but we are still just building a Hash of commands and relying on evaluate_command to sort out any problems.

Naturally, that means evaluate_command is where the changes become obvious.

# example-0e-04/lib/spacetrade.pir
.sub evaluate_command
	.param pmc    commands
	.param string name

	.local int    has_command
	.local pmc    command_info
	.local pmc    code
	.local int    is_invokable
	.local pmc    command_sub
	.local string output

	has_command = exists commands[name]
	unless has_command goto UNKNOWN_COMMAND

	command_sub = commands[name;'code']
	if_null command_sub, INVALID_COMMAND

	is_invokable = does command_sub, 'invokable'
	unless is_invokable goto INVALID_COMMAND

	output = command_sub(commands)

	output = "Unknown command: " . name

	output = "Invalid command: " . name
	output .= " does not point to a valid subroutine"


We do a few simple checks when somebody tries to evaluate a command.

That’s what the does check handles, incidentally. Right now we only know about subroutines, but later on we may get into strange creations that aren’t subroutines but can be invoked as if they were. From what the folks on IRC #parrot tell me, you would ask command_sub if it is invokable. All I know is that it worked and that I like the folks on #parrot very much.

We should make one more change before heading over to the tests. register_default_commands needs to adjust to the new way of registering commands.

# example-0e-04/lib/spacetrade.pir
.sub register_default_commands
	.local pmc commands
	.local pmc help_command
	.local pmc quit_command

	commands = new 'Hash'
	help_command = get_global 'default_help'
	quit_command = get_global 'default_quit'
	commands = register_command(commands, ':help', help_command, 'This view')
	commands = register_command(commands, ':quit', quit_command, 'Exit the shell')


If you don’t explicitly hand a namespace to get_global, it will use whatever namespace it’s called from. In this case, that is the SpaceTrade::Shell namespace.

We have to change the tests themselves now. There is actually only one test that needs to be changed. Look in 01-shell-metacommands.t for the line that registers the :dude command.

# example-0e-03/t/01-shell-metacommands.t
# ...
commands = register_command(commands, ':dude', 'say_dude', 'Say "Dude!"')

Instead of handing a string, create a PMC to hold the say_dude subroutine and had that to register_command.

# example-0e-04/t/01-shell-metacommands.t
.local pmc my_sub
my_sub = get_global 'say_dude'
commands = register_command(commands, ':dude', my_sub, 'Say "Dude!"')

Once again, we’re using get_global to grab from the current namespace, which is the default namespace now.

All right, the tests should run okay.

It is possible to set and get truly global variables with get_root_global and set_root_global, but I do not recommend it. What happens if you decide that the global my_config should be an Array instead of a Hash? Every piece of code that uses a global variable must be updated.

The same problem exists with package globals, even though it may be on a smaller scale. There’s a solution - or at least a way to make the problem even smaller. Whenever I see data and several subroutines that need to work on that data, I start to see objects.

Added to vault 2024-01-15. Updated on 2024-07-10