Category: Software

I recently spent a bit of time messing around with the Postgres wire protocol. I’d like to build a library that lets any application accept connections as if it were a Postgres database; many database clients and databases speak the Postgres wire protocol, and it seems like a practical way to expose tabular data over the network.

Implementing the protocol isn’t too bad; the docs aren’t great but the protocol itself is relatively straightforward. Unfortunately, client behaviour seems harder to accommodate. Clients can issue arbitrarily complex SQL queries to the database to inspect its schema, and sometimes they expect accurate answers. For example, Npgsql issues this beast and then disconnects if it gets an invalid response.

So I’m stuck with a question: how far should I go to support legitimate client behaviour outside of the protocol? The easiest approach for now is to test with a few popular clients and hardcode responses for any queries that they need implemented, but that will leave a long tail of unsupported clients. On the other end of the complexity scale, I could try running schema queries on an in-memory SQLite instance with database objects that mimic Postgres (certainly a massive yak shave, but tempting nonetheless).

I think my next step will be to dig through the source of a few Postgres-compatible databases to see how they solve this.

I recently assembled a tool:

ScriptCompiler screenshot

It’s a helper for scripting in C#. It watches a directory with C# files for changes, and whenever a file changes it gets compiled into its own executable. You can install it as an always-on service, and it comes with an opinionated set of utilities to make scripting easier.

Why?

C# the language has recently become much more succinct (top-level statements, global usings); seems like it should be good for writing fast, maintainable scripts! But the tooling around the language still isn’t quite there yet; you need a .csproj project file for every program, and dotnet run often takes a second or 2 to start up, it’s not (yet) optimized for scripting use. This proposal should help in many ways (upvote it!) but who knows if or when it will be done.

Also, this has been stuck in my head for a while:

My OS has no notion of build system. It has all the source code on it and I can edit anything and run the command again with the change immediately applied. Interpreter or compiler, I don’t know, that’s an implementation detail. Then I wake up.

Give it a spin

Instructions, source and pre-built executables for Linux+macOS+Windows are available on GitHub.

I had a weird week back in October, and it all started when I posted this GitHub issue.

What happened?

The .NET team built a feature called Hot Reload for .NET 6, which would allow for code to be changed while an application is running. It was planned as a feature for all of .NET from the start:

Our goal is to provide a consistent dev inner loop experience in .NET Core across all platforms, architectures, and workloads.

A preview version of the feature landed in April 2021 and by October it was pretty much done. I used Hot Reload throughout the preview period and loved it. Then at the last minute, Microsoft announced that the feature would be locked to Visual Studio; to say I felt disappointed would be an understatement. I posted on GitHub asking for more information, and I soon found out that many, many others felt the same way.

There was a huge community uproar, I was quoted in multiple news articles, and Microsoft eventually backed down. It was a happy ending, but I was still left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

OK, so what?

To many people, it’s not obvious why this was such a big deal. I think there are 2 main reasons:

  1. Quick feedback isn’t a niche feature; it’s an essential element of any creative activity.
  2. Limiting Hot Reload to Visual Studio would exacerbate .NET’s existing weaknesses.

I’ve rambled about 1 before, so I’ll focus on 2 here.

.NET’s at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to cross-platform development, in both perception and reality. The tooling situation outside of Visual Studio (or Rider) often leaves much to be desired, and newcomers often get a poor first impression from the OmniSharp tooling in VS Code. Hot Reload in dotnet watch is a big step forward for .NET outside of Visual Studio; it’s a feature I can point to and say “yes, .NET has good tooling no matter where you use it.”

That’s the crux of the matter; removing Hot Reload from dotnet watch would harm .NET in an area it needs to do much better in. The .NET team understands this, but the change was imposed on them by senior Developer Division leadership against strong internal opposition. This suggests that senior leadership does not understand .NET (bad) or prioritizes Visual Studio over the long-term health of .NET (worse).

I like working in .NET, and the .NET team is doing a world-beating job of pushing the ecosystem forward from its stodgy enterprise-first origins. It’s unsettling that senior Developer Division leadership was willing to throw so much away to sell a few Visual Studio licenses.

It’s been a while since my last update. I wrapped up my sabbatical, did a whole bunch of interviewing, and have since been working on some interesting spreadsheet-related problems at a new job.

Oh, and there’s been a global pandemic on, it’s been weird. Anyway, I kept busy over the last year and a bit:

Switched to Windows

I switched to Windows full time, after a lifetime of Macs for personal use and a decade of Windows for professional use.

This was an experiment in intentionally shaping my own interests; I knew that if I used Windows at home I’d be more interested in the minutia of making good Windows applications.

It worked; I’m just over a year in, and I’ve learned a lot. I still miss a lot of things about macOS but I’m mostly happy on Windows. The Surface devices are really neat pieces of hardware.

ReiTunes

I built my own music player. This was the culmination of something I’ve been thinking about for years; I listen to a lot of long-form music and existing music services don’t serve that niche well. iTunes is progressively less interested in catering to users who bring their own music, and the Windows client has many irritating bugs.

So I decided to build my own music library system with an offline-first native client; how hard could it be? Well, 500+ commits later…

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I'm a programmer in Vancouver, Canada. I'm interested in databases, urban planning, computing history, and whatever else catches my fancy.

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