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[Caml-list] [ANN] The Missing Library
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Date: 2004-04-23 (22:08)
From: Basile STARYNKEVITCH <basile@s...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] [ANN] The Missing Library
On Fri, Apr 23, 2004 at 04:10:03PM -0500, John Goerzen wrote:
> On Fri, Apr 23, 2004 at 10:36:11PM +0200, Maxence Guesdon wrote:
> > Dans son style inimitable, John Goerzen écrivait:
> > 
> > > But the fact that these libraries exist is, at its heart, a symptom of
> > > the problems with the OCaml standard library.

I disagree with the above sentence.

> > I'm getting bored of this song. What about this one :
> > "The number of extlibs is a symptom of the problems with the
> > community of OCaml users" ?

> You view it as a problem that some in the OCaml community would like to
> see a more featureful and easy to use standard library?  Why?

I agree with Maxence. Even if I currently work (on a temporary
position ending on 15th september 2004) at INRIA in Cristal, I will
give my personal opinion here, which probably is not exactly that of
the OCaml project (ie Cristal) at INRIA.

I think that the standard library is actually rather perhaps too big,
than too small!

People should really use external libraries, and it is not the job of
INRIA to develop all of them. It is the job of the community to make
and enhance additional libraries. The community works quite well,
given the big amount of good libraries (advertised in the hump or
otherwise, e.g. freshmeat or sourceforge). And more and more external
contributions appear every week!

It is a pity that 2 libraries named ExtLib exist, and it is certainly
not the fault of OCaml team (I tend to believe that one of the ExtLib
named library is nearly dormant, and I invite the author of this
library to rename it).

The goal of INRIA (as defined by official documents) is to make useful
reasearch in computer science (If you are interested by the documents,
you can read them in French on INRIA's web site). As a French taxpayer
(and there are not enough taxes spent in France on reasearch - there
is globally under-funding of research in the whole European Union,
especially when compared to the US or to Japan), I don't think that it
is the goal of INRIA to code lots of external libraries, or even to
manage the naming of many packages, which is a very labor-consuming
social task not really related to research. And more importantly,
these tasks are not defined to be done at INRIA by its official

INRIA is not a big commercial company like Sun. So the goals of INRIA
w.r.t. Ocaml are not similar to the goals of Sun w.r.t. Java. And the
means (e.g. funding) devoted to Ocaml is much smaller than those
devoted to Java (or probably Python or Perl).

Again, the raison d'être of INRIA is research, not [mainly]
development of software libraries. And INRIA's performance is not
measured (for the french government, ie for the entity giving the
money to INRIA) in number of lines of OCaml source code in libraries!
Again, all these official documents are public (sometimes in French),
including (IIRC) the evaluation of INRIA's work.

Everyone can contribute to Ocaml by developping libraries, and
advertising them (e.g. thru the Hump). If there is a name clash, it
should be socially resolved, and it is not a research goal to solve it
(this is why it is not INRIA's job to solve such conflicts, and
solving such "managing" or "social" problems is extremely time
consuming, hence very costly).

In my opinion, the standard library should be kept small, and should
contain only the functions commonly needed to the compiler and to all
the Ocaml software produced by INRIA in relation to the OCaml language
(e.g. compilers and similar tools). The standard library should
certainly not becomes the union of all useful OCaml modules (from the
Hump - which is more a Bazar, while the core Ocaml software, including
the standard library, is a Cathedral).

For example, when (2 years ago) I worked on Poesia (at CEA in that
time), I had to code an interface to uname, and I just coded it,
without asking anybody.

People should not expect every OCaml problem to be solved at INRIA. It
is not reasonable (and not the mission of INRIA anyway!), but people
should continue to contribute to OCaml thru useful libraries, and
should use and enhance these external contributions.

Regarding standard libraries, they should be kept small, because they
have to be learnt with the language. I believe that one of Common Lisp
problems (and perhaps source of failure) is the huge size of its
standard library, which is intimidating.

Again, everything above is my own opinion, not those of INRIA (where I
happen to work currently) - I am not paid to talk for INRIA! But I
think that there is too much criticism w.r.t. to the work on Ocaml
done at INRIA. "C'est la rançon du succès" (I leave this last sentence
in French).

Basile STARYNKEVITCH         http://starynkevitch.net/Basile/ 
email: basile<at>starynkevitch<dot>net 
aliases: basile<at>tunes<dot>org = bstarynk<at>nerim<dot>net
8, rue de la Faïencerie, 92340 Bourg La Reine, France

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