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Promise: Object notation and serialization

I thought I had only one syntax post left before diving into posts about attempting to implement the language. But starting on a post about method slots and operators, I decided that there was something else i needed to cover in more detail first: The illustrious JSON object.

I've alluded to JSON objects more than a couple of times in previous posts, generally as an argument for lambda calls. Since everything in Promise is a class, JSON objects are bit of an anomaly. Simply, they are the serialization format of Promise, i.e. any object can be reduced to a JSON graph. As such it exists outside the normal class regime. It is also closer to BSON, as it will retain type information unless serialized to text, and can be serialized on the wire either as JSON or BSON. So really it looks like javascript object notation (JSON) but it's really Promise object notation. For simplicity, i'm going to keep calling it JSON tho.


Creating a JSON object is the same as in javascript:

var a = {};
var b = [];
var c = { foo: ["bar","baz"] };
var d = { song: Song{name: "ShopVac"} };

The notation accepts hash and array initializers and their nesting, as well as object instances as values. Fields are always strings.


The last example shows that you can put Promise objects into a JSON graph, and the object initializer itself takes another JSON object. I explained in "Promise: IoC Type/Class mapping" that passing a JSON object to the Type allows the mapped class constructor to intercept it, but in the default case, it's simply a mapping of fields:

class Song {
  Artist _artist;

  Artist:(){ _artist; }

class Artist {

var song = Song{ name: "The Future Soon", artist: { name: "Johnathan Coulton" } };

// get the Artist object
var artist = song.Artist;

//serialize the object graph back to JSON
print song.Serialize();
// => { name: "The Future Soon", artist: { name: "Johnathan Coulton" } };

Lacking any intercepts and maps, the initializer will assign the value name to _name, and when it maps artist to _artist, the typed nature of _artist invokes its initializer with the JSON object from the artist field. Once .Serialize() is called, the graph is reduced to the most basic types possible, i.e. the Artist object is serialized as well. Since the serialization format is meant for passing DTOs, not Types, the type information (beyond fundamental types like String, Num, etc.) is lost at this stage. Circular references in the graph would be dropped--any object already encountered in serialization causes the field to be omitted. It is omitted rather than set to nil so that its use as an initializer does not set the slot to nil, but allows the default initializer to execute.

Above I mentioned that JSON field values are typed and showed the variable d set to have an object as the value of field song. This setting does not cause Song to be serialized. When assigning values into a JSON object, they retain their type until they are used as arguments for something that requires serialization or are manually serialized.

var d = { song: Song{name: "ShopVac"} };

// this works, since song is a Song object; 

var e = d.Serialize(); // { song: { name: "ShopVac" } }

// this will throw an exception;

// this clones e
var f = e.Serialize();

Serialization can be called as many times as you want and acts as a clone operation for graphs lacking anything further to serialize. The clone is a lazy operation, making it very cheap. Basically a pointer to the original json is returned and it is only fully cloned if either the original or the clone are modified. This means, the penalty for calling .Serialize() on a fully serialized object is minimal and is an ideal way to propagate data that is considered immutable.

Access and modification

JSON objects are fully dynamic and can be access and modified at will.

var x = {foo: "bar"};

// access by dot notation
print; // => "bar"

// access by name (for programatic access or access of non-symbolic names)
print x["foo"]; // => "bar" = ["bar","baz"]; // {foo: ["bar","baz"]} = "baz"; // {bar: "baz", foo: ["bar", "baz"]};

// delete a field via self-reference;
// or by name

The reason JSON objects exist as entities distinct from class defined objects is to provide a clear separation between objects with behavior and data only objects. Attaching functionality to data should be an explicit conversion from a data object to a classed object, rather mixing the two, javascript style.

Of course, this dichotomy could theoretically be abused with something like this:

var x = {};
var = (x) { x\*x; };
print; // => 9

I am considering disallowing the assignment of lambdas as field values, since they cannot be serialized, thus voiding this approach. I'll punt on the decision until implementation. If lambdas end up as first class objects, the above would have to be explictly prohibited, which may lead me to leave it in. If however, I'd have to manually support this use case, i'm going to leave it out for sure.

JSON objects exist as a convenient data format internally and for getting data in and out of Promise. The ubiquity of JSON-like syntax in most dynamic languages and it's easy mapping to object graphs makes it the ideal choice for Promise to foster simplicity and interop.

More about Promise

This is a post in an ongoing series of posts about designing a language. It may stay theoretical, it may become a prototype in implementation or it might become a full language. You can get a list of all posts about Promise, via the Promise category link at the top.