That No HLL Thing

Published on 1 April 2010
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Probably the worst thing about high level languages (HLL) is that they are so good in what they are doing. Good enough to conquer the entire market on programming and hold it for decades.

Wait! That is a bad thing? How?

It is a bad thing because high level languages are appropriate for a wide range of tasks, but not for every task. Yet it is exactly that that caused them to be used in contexts where they are not appropriate. In the last month alone, my strong recommendation for two different clients was that they need to switch to assembly language because it would greatly simplify the work that they need to do.

That met with some (justified) resistance, predictably. People think that high level languages are the way to write software. I decided to write a series of blog posts about the topic, trying to explain why you might want to work with a low level language.

High level languages have the following properties:

* Standardization * Simplification * Optimization * Ease of trainification

Just about any of the No HLL approaches give up on some of those properties., usually, it gives up on all of those properties. But think about how useful a HLL is, how flexible it can be. Why give it up?

Indeed, the most common reason to want to move from a high level language is running into the HLL limitations. In short, high level languages don’t scale. Actually, let me phrase that a little more strongly, high level languages cannot be made to scale.

The problem is inherit into the basic requirements of a high level language, it must be compiled, to handle things like converting text to machine language, etc. The problem, however, is that trying to scale a high level language system over a set of coding styles. At that point, you run head on into the Abstraction Penalty, which state that if performance is your absolute requirement, you need to give up on either optimization or ease of coding.

In most high scaling environments, it is not feasible to give up on either option, so high level languages are out. That leaves you with the No HLL options, I am going to dedicate a post for each of the following, let me know if I missed something:

* MASM * Gas * Typing machine code into a hex editor * Typing machine code into notepad or vi

Other languages, namely PL/S and inline assembly, exists. PL/S suffers from the same problem regarding the Abstraction Penalty as high level languages, and inline assembly is basically a special case of No HLL.

But seriously now... this post is, of course, an April Fools Day joke: a spoof on (and transliteration of) That No SQL Thing at (You can follow the link to the post, or just Topeka it). Oren and other NoSQL advocates do make some good points and offer very good advice. But be careful out there, especially when it comes to such architecture decisions, so that you pick the best tool for the job: SQL or NoSQL. And don't get fooled again.