I’m thinking about scripting in Dynamo-Browse. Yes, again.

For a while I’ve been using a version of Dynamo-Browse which included a JavaScript interpreter. I’ve added it so that I could extend the tool with a few commands that have been useful for me at work. That branch has fallen out of date but the idea of a scripting feature has been useful to me and I want to include it in the mainline in some way.

The scripting framework works, but there are a few things that I’m unhappy about. The first is around asynchronicity and scheduling. I built the scripting API around the JS event-loop included in interpreter. Much like a web-browser or Node.js, this event-loop allows the use of promises for operations that can be dispatched asynchronously. The interpreter, however, is not ES6 compatible, which means no async/await keywords. The result is that many of the scripts that I’ve been writing are littered with all these then() chains. Example:

const session = require("audax:dynamo-browse/session");
const ui = require("audax:dynamo-browse/ui");
const exec = require("audax:x/exec");

plugin.registerCommand("cust", () => {
    ui.prompt("Enter UserID: ").then((userId) => {
        return exec.system("lookup-customer-id.sh", userId);
    }).then((customerId) => {
        let userId = output.replace(/\s/g, "");        
        return session.query(`pk="CUSTOMER#${customerId}"`, {
            table: `account-service-dev`
    }).then((custResultSet) => {
        if (custResultSet.rows.length == 0) {
            ui.print("No such user found");
        session.resultSet = custResultSet;

Yeah, I know; this is nothing new if you’ve been doing any web-dev or Node in the past, but it still feels a little clunky exposing the execution details to the script writer. Should that be something they should be worried about? Feels like the tool should take on more here.

The second concern involves modules. The JavaScript interpreter implements the require() function which can be used to load a JS module, much like Node.js. But the Node.js standard library is not available. That’s not really the fault of the maintainers, and to be fair to them, they are building out native support for modules. But that support isn’t there now, and I would like to include some modules to do things like access the file system or run commands. Just adding them with non-standard APIs and with name that are the same as equivalent modules in node Node.js feels like a recipe for confusion.

Further exacerbating this is that script authors may assume that they have access to the full Node standard library, or even NPM repositories, when they won’t. I certainly don’t want to implement the entire Node standard library from scratch, and even if the full library was available to me, I’m not sure the use of JavaScript here warrants that level of support.

Now, zooming out a little, this could all be a bit of a non-issue. I’ve haven’t really shared this functionality with anyone else, so all this could be of no concern to anyone else other than myself. But even so, I’m am thinking of options other than JavaScript. A viable alternative might be Lua β€” and Go has a bunch of decent interpreters β€” but I’m not a huge fan of Lua as a language. Also, Lua’s table structure being used for both arrays and structures seems like a source of confusion, especially when dealing with JSONish data structures like DynamoDB items.

One interpreter that has caught my eye is Tamarin. It’s early in its development already it’s showing some promise. It offers a Go like syntax, which is nice, along with native literals for lists, sets and maps, which is also nice. There’s a bit of a standard library already in place to do things like string and JSON operations. There’s not really anything that interacts with the operating system, but this is actually an advantage as it will mean that I’m free to write these modules myself to do what I need. The implementation looks simple enough which means that it will probably play nicely with Go’s GC and scheduler.

How the example above could look in Tamarin is given below. This assumes that the asynchronous aspects are completely hidden from the script author, resulting in something a little easier to read:

ext.command("cust", func() {
    var userId = ui.prompt("Enter UserID: ")
    var commandOut = exec.system("lookup-customer-id.sh", userId).unwrap()
    var userId = strings.trim_space(commandOut)
    var custResultSet = session.query(`pk=$1`, {
        "table": "account-service-dev",
        "args": [userId]
    if len(custResultSet.items.length) == 0 {
        ui.print("No such user found")

So it looks good to me. However… the massive, massive downside is that it’s not a well-known language. As clunky as JavaScript is, it’s at least a language that most people have heard of. That’s a huge advantage, and one that warrants thinking twice about it before saying “no, thanks”. I’m not expecting Dynamo-Browse to be more popular than sliced bread (I can count on one hand the number of user’s I know are using it), but it would be nice if scripting was somewhat approachable.

One thing in Tamarin’s favour is that it’s close enough to Go that I think others could pick it up relatively easily. It’s also not a huge language β€” the features can be describe on a single Markdown page β€” and the fact that the standard library hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet can help keep things small.

I guess the obvious question is why not hide the scheduling aspects from the JavaScript implementation? Yeah, I think that’s a viable thing to do, although it might be a little harder to do than Tamarin. That will still leave the module exception issue though.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do here, but I might give Tamarin a go, and see if it result in scripts that are easier to read and write.

One could argue that this pontificating over something that will probably only affect me and a handful of other people is even worth the time at all. And yeah, you’re probably right in thinking that it isn’t. To that, I guess the only thing I can respond with is that at least I got a blog post out of it. πŸ™‚

One last concern I do have, regardless of what language I choose, is how to schedule the scripts. If I’m serious about not exposing the specifics of which thread/goroutine is waiting for what to the script author, I’d like to run the script in a separate goroutine from the main event loop. The concern is around start-up time: launching a goroutine is fast, but if I want to execute a script in response to a keystroke, for example, would it be fast enough? I guess this is something I should probably test first, but if it is a little unresponsive, the way I’m thinking of tackling this is having a single running goroutine waiting on a channel for script scheduling events. That way, the goroutine will always be “warm” and they’ll be no startup time associated with executing the script. Something to think about.