It has been said that “a good craftsman never blames his tools” for shoddy work.
I dislike the “craftsman” analogy for programming; it seems to be promulgated mostly by consultants with, frankly, little track record of, you know, actually producing working software. I’ve written a little bit about this on my personal blog; others have written more.
However, setting aside the craftsmanship analogy, there is still some truth to the adage: we select tools and if the work we produce with those tools is of poor quality, we can’t really blame the tools. But that is predicated on the premise that we professionally select, curate, and maintain our tools.
So we’re at the stage of wanting to prototype some things; we’ve got a platform in terms of hardware and operating system; we’ve got a programming language and a compiler targeting that platform. What else do we need?
Three main things.
First, we need some kind of revision control system. For better or
worse, the standard has become
that’s what we’ll use.
Next, we need some way a text editor. Really, this is a matter of
personal preference but after decades of using
vi and GNU
emacs on Unix and
systems, I’d like to
have something a bit more modern, so I have decided to use
Atom. It is cross-platform, it has a very nice
SML mode, and the
package lets me securely edit files on the Fat Dragon from a laptop
via the SFTP protocol over SSH. It has some emacs keybindings for
cursor movement and the like, so it’s not completely foreign. I’m
also using it to edit the Markdown source files that these posts are
We need some kind of build system that will let us build separate source files into a coherent whole program; fortunately, MLton comes with a build system, the ML Basis System.
Critically we need some kind of unit testing framework so that we can create a robust body of automated tests for the code that we write. SMLUnit looks very nice, and if we outgrow it there is also QCheck/SML.
That about wraps up our suite of development tools. Some tools for website maintenance round out the rest.
This web site is hosted on the Fat Dragon itself. We’re using the Hugo static site generator with the base16 theme, lightly customized. This is delivered through the standard OpenBSD HTTP server. The documentation is in Markdown format.
So to summarize, we’re using the following tools:
- The server itself is a virtual x86_64 host computer.
- OpenBSD for the operating system. This provides the standard compliment of Unix tools, including file manipulation commands, a shell, etc.
- git for revision control.
- Atom with remote-ftp for text editing of both source code and documentation.
- We’re programming in Standard ML (SML) using the MLton compiler.
- SMLUnit for unit testing.
- The OpenBSD HTTP server
- Hugo with the base16 to generate the web site.
- Markdown for documentation.
And that’s our current compliment of tools. Now let’s make some technology decisions.