I am considering the possibility of designing an application that would allow people to develop C++ code graphically. I was amazed when I discovered Scratch (see site and tutorial videos).
I believe most of C++ can be represented graphically, with the exceptions of preprocessor instructions and possibly function pointers.
What C++ features do you think could be (or not be) represented by graphical items?
What would be the pros and cons of such an application ? How much simpler would it be than "plain" C++?
RECAP and MORE:
- simple for small applications
- helps avoid typos
- may become unreadable for large (medium?) – sized applications
- manual coding is faster for experienced programmers
- C++ is too complicated a language for such an approach
Considering that we -at my work- already have quite a bit of existing C++ code, I am not looking for a completely new way of programming. I am considering an alternate way of programming that is fully compatible with legacy code. Some kind of "viral language" that people would use for new code and, hopefully, would eventually use to replace existing code as well (where it could be useful).
How do you feel towards this viral approach?
When it comes to manual vs graphical programming, I tend to agree with your answers. This is why, ideally, I'll find a way to let the user always choose between typing and graphical programming. A line-by-line parser (+partial interpreter) might be able to convert typed code into graphical design. It is possible. Let's all cross our fingers.
Are there caveats to providing both typing and graphical programming capabilities that I should think about and analyze carefully?
I have already worked on template classes (and more generally type-level C++) and their graphical representation.
See there for an example of graphical representation of template classes. Boxes represent classes or class templates. First top node is the class itself, the next ones (if any) are typedef instructions inside the class. Bottom nodes are template arguments. Edges, of course, connect classes to template arguments for instantiations.
I already have a prototype for working on such type-level diagrams.
If you feel this way of representing template classes is plain wrong, don't hesitate to say so and why!
Writing code is the easiest part of a developers day. I don't think we need more help with that. Reading, understanding, maintaining, comparing, annotating, documenting, and validating is where - despite a gargantuan amount of tools and frameworks - we still are lacking.
To dissect your pros:
Intuitive and simple for small applications - replace that with "misleading". It makes it look simple, but it isn't: As long as it is simple, VB.NET is simpler. When it gets complicated, visual design would get in the way.
Help avoid typos - that's what a good style, consistency and last not least intellisense are for. The things you need anyway when things aren't simple anymore.
You are thinking on the wrong level: C++ statements are not reusable, robust components, they are more like a big bag of gears that need to be put together correctly. C++ with it's complexity and exceptions (to rules) isn't even particulary suited.
If you want to make things easy, you need reusable components at a much higher level. Even if you have these, plugging them together is not simple. Despite years of struggle, and many attempts in many environments, this sometimes works and often fails.
Viral - You are correct IMO about that requriement: allow incremental adoption. This is closely related to switching smoothly between source code and visual representation, which in turn probably means you must be able to generate the visual representation from modified source code.
IDE Support - here's where most language-centered approaches go astray. A modern IDE is more than just a text editor and a compiler. What about debugging your graph - with breakpoints, data inspection etc? Will profilers, leak detectors etc. highlight nodes in your graph? Will source control give me a Visual Diff of yesterday's graph vs. today's?
Maybe you are on to something, despite all my "no"s: a better way to visualize code, a way to put different filters on it so that I see just what I need to see.