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0.13 of Gleam, a type safe language for the Erlang VM, is out

lobste.rs - Wed Jan 13 20:48

It’s a new year and there’s a new Gleam release! Let’s take a look at what this one brings.

Gotta go fast

The compiler was no slouch but with this new version it’s faster than ever thanks to improvements to the Gleam and Erlang code generators, as well as a full rewrite of the parser by Greg.

With these changes compiling Gleam code is 1.8 times faster, and formatting Gleam code is a super nimble 4.6 times faster! On my machine Gleam compiling the standard library now takes ~170ms, and formatting all the files takes ~70ms.

This is only the start. Gleam compilation is currently single threaded and doesn’t make use of any caching, so there’s lots of opportunities to make big performance improvements in future.

Even better errors

Greg’s parser rewrite wasn’t just about performance, it also greatly improved the error messages caused by syntax errors. Here are some examples to click through:

Operator with a naked right side

Before

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:17:1
   │
17 │ }
   │ ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of "<<", "[", "[]", "case", "fn(", "todo", "todo(", "tuple", "{", r#"\"(([^\\\\\"]|\\\\.)*)\""#, r#"-?[0-9](_*[0-9])*\\.[0-9]*"#, r#"-[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"0b[0-1](_*[0-1])*"#, r#"0o[0-7](_*[0-7])*"#, r#"0x[0-9A-Fa-f](_*[0-9A-Fa-f])*"#, r#"[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#, r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:16:17
   │
16 │     1 + 10 / 20 *
   │                 ^ This operator has no value on its right side.

Hint: Remove it or put a value after it.
Using ( ) as expression grouping

Before

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:29:17
   │
29 │     let b = 1 + (4 / 2)
   │                 ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of "<<", "[", "[]", "case", "fn(", "todo", "todo(", "tuple", "{", r#"\"(([^\\\\\"]|\\\\.)*)\""#, r#"-?[0-9](_*[0-9])*\\.[0-9]*"#, r#"-[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"0b[0-1](_*[0-1])*"#, r#"0o[0-7](_*[0-7])*"#, r#"0x[0-9A-Fa-f](_*[0-9A-Fa-f])*"#, r#"[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#, r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax errorr
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:29:17
   │
29 │     let b = 1 + (4 / 2)
   │                 ^ This paren cannot be understood here.

Hint: To group expressions in gleam use "{" and "}"
Trying to import a reserved word

Before

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/one.gleam:1:8
  │
1 │ import todo/mod
  │        ^^^^ Unexpected token

Expected one of r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/one.gleam:1:8
  │
1 │ import todo/mod
  │        ^^^^ This is a reserved word.

Hint: I was expecting to see a name here.
See: https://gleam.run/book/tour/reserved-words
Using a type name in place of a module

Before

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:1:8
  │
1 │ import Other
  │        ^^^^^ Unexpected token

Expected one of r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:1:8
  │
1 │ import Other
  │        ^^^^^ I'm expecting a lowercase name here.

Hint: Variable and module names start with a lowercase letter, and can contain a-z, 0-9, or _.
Extra separator anywhere

Before

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:1:23
  │
1 │ const cc: tuple(a, b, ,) = 1
  │                       ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of ")", "fn(", "tuple", r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#, r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#, r#"_([a-z][0-9a-z_]*)?"#

Now

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:13:38
   │
13 │ pub external fn a(name: String, Int, ,) -> Bool =
   │                                      ^ This is an extra delimiter.

Hint: Try removing it?
etc.
Function in module constant type

Before

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:10:49
   │
10 │ const c: fn() -> String = fn(){ "hi" }
   │                           ^^^ Unexpected token

Expected one of ")", "<<", "[", "]", "tuple", r#"\"(([^\\\\\"]|\\\\.)*)\""#, r#"-?[0-9](_*[0-9])*\\.[0-9]*"#, r#"-[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"0b[0-1](_*[0-1])*"#, r#"0o[0-7](_*[0-7])*"#, r#"0x[0-9A-Fa-f](_*[0-9A-Fa-f])*"#, r#"[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#, r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:1:9
  │
1 │ const c = fn(){ "Hi" }
  │           ^^ Functions are not allowed in module constants.

See: https://gleam.run/book/tour/constants
Custom type with no constructors

Before

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:6:13
  │
6 │ pub type A {}
  │             ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:6:10
  │
6 │ pub type A {}
  │          ^ Custom types must have at least 1 constructor.

See: https://gleam.run/book/tour/custom-types
Unterminated strings

Before

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:16:11
   │
16 │   let a = "hello
   │           ^ Unknown token

I don't know what this character means. Is it a typo?

Now

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:16:11
   │
16 │   let a = "hello
   │           ^ The string starting here was left open.
Empty block

Before

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:29:14
   │
29 │     let b = {}
   │              ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of "<<", "[", "[]", "assert", "case", "fn(", "let", "todo", "todo(", "try", "tuple", "{", r#"\"(([^\\\\\"]|\\\\.)*)\""#, r#"-?[0-9](_*[0-9])*\\.[0-9]*"#, r#"-[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"0b[0-1](_*[0-1])*"#, r#"0o[0-7](_*[0-7])*"#, r#"0x[0-9A-Fa-f](_*[0-9A-Fa-f])*"#, r#"[0-9](_*[0-9])*"#, r#"[A-Z][0-9A-Za-z]*"#, r#"[a-z][0-9a-z_]*"#

Now

error: Syntax error
   ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/parser_test.gleam:29:13
   │
29 │     let b = {}
   │             ^^ There must be an expression in here.

Hint: Put an expression in there or remove the brackets.
Opaque type alias

Before

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/one.gleam:1:19
  │
1 │ pub opaque type A = String
  │                   ^ Unexpected token

Expected one of "{"

Now

error: Syntax error
  ┌─ /Users/a/parser_test/src/one.gleam:1:1
  │
1 │ pub opaque type A = String
  │ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Type Aliases cannot be opaque

See: https://gleam.run/book/tour/type-aliases

Type safe division

Division is a tricky problem thanks to the number zero. In mathematics the result of dividing any non-zero number by zero is undefined, making it is a question with no answer.

Sadly as programmers we can’t leave it undefined, have to do something. At some point some code will be written that divides by zero, so what should the language do when that happens? There are largely three options:

  1. Throw an exception
  2. Return Infinity
  3. Return zero

Throwing an exception is the approach taken by Erlang and other BEAM languages, and historically this is the approach taken by Gleam. However, there is a problem.

Gleam aims to be an exception free language, and the assert keyword is intended as being the only way to crash a process. Errors should be represented by the type system, so it is not in keeping with the design and goals of the language for division to sometimes crash when dividing numbers.

Languages such as JavaScript that follow IEEE 754 return an Infinity value when dividing by zero, which may be positive or negative. This is a familiar solution to many programmers, and it fits well with Gleam’s “never implicitly crash” goal.

Unfortunately there is no Infinity value on the Erlang virtual so Gleam would have to implement this. While possible this would cause problems with Erlang and Elixir interop- we could no longer safely pass Gleam numbers to Erlang functions as they may be this special Infinity value, which would likely cause a crash. The same problem would occur when calling Gleam code from Erlang or Elixir, resulting in adding Gleam libraries to your Erlang or Elixir application being less appealling.

The last option is to follow in the footsteps of languages such as Pony, Isabelle, Lean and Coq and return zero. This might seem strange at first, but it is type safe, allows us to maintain good interop with other BEAM languages, and is representable on any other platform we might target in future.

In Gleam dividing by zero returns zero!

Improved documentation

Gleam has the ability to render HTML documentation for your code, ready to upload to Hexdocs.

Thanks to Michael Jones documentation for functions and types can automatically insert links to GitHub, GitLab, or BitBucket so you can quickly see how their are implemented.

A screenshot of Gleam's rendered docs showing a link to source code

Let us know if you use another source code hosts and would like support added too.

Following up from that Michał Łępicki added a version selector so that you can quickly find the documentation for the version of the library you are using. This dropdown is integrated with Hexdocs so it will display all versions of the library, rather than just earlier ones.

A screenshot of Gleam's rendered docs showing a version selector

Other stuff

These are just some of the highlights, but there’s plenty more improvements made to the compiler and the standard library since the last release. For all the details check out the changelog files:

Discord chat

Since our creation of the Gleam Discord server the community has been more active than ever. It has been great to have so many members of the community there, building a helpful and friendly atmosphere. If you’d like to join click on the button below.

Discord chat

Try it out

If you want to try out the new version of Gleam head over to the getting started page. I’d love to hear how you find it and get your feedback so Gleam can continue to improve.

Want to view some existing Gleam projects? Head on over to the awesome-gleam list. Looking for something to build in Gleam? Check out the suggestions tracker.

And why not give us a star on GitHub? 😊

Supporting Gleam

If you would like to help make strongly typed programming on the Erlang virtual machine a production-ready reality please consider sponsoring Gleam via the GitHub Sponsors program.

This release would not have been possible without the support of all the people who have sponsored and contributed to it, so a huge thank you to them.

Thanks for reading! Have fun! 💜