Playing with Nim

A few days ago I saw a mention in twitter about a language called Nim

And... why not. I am a bit stale in my programming language variety. I used to be fluent in a dozen, now I do 80% python 10% go, some JS and almost nothing else. Because I learn by doing, I decided to do something. Because I did not want a problem I did not know how to solve to get in the way of the language, I decided to reimplement the example for the python book I am writing: a text layout engine that outputs SVG, based on harfbuzz, freetype2 and other things.

This is a good learning project for me, because a lot of my coding is glueing things together, I hardly ever do things from scratch.

So, I decided to start in somewhat random order.

Preparation

I read the Nim Tutorial quickly. I ended referring to it and to Nim by example a lot. While trying out a new language one is bound to forget syntax. It happens.

Wrote a few "hello world" 5 line programs to see that the ecosystem was installed correctly. Impression: builds are fast-ish. THey can get actually fast if you start using tcc instead of gcc.

SVG Output

I looked for libraries that were the equivalent of svgwrite, which I am using on the python side. Sadly, such a thing doesn't seem to exist for nim. So, I wrote my own. It's very rudimentary, and surely the nim code is garbage for experienced nim coders, but I ended using the xmltree module of nim's standard library and everything!

import xmltree
import strtabs
import strformat

type
        Drawing* = tuple[fname: string, document: XmlNode]

proc NewDrawing*(fname: string, height:string="100", width:string="100"): Drawing =
        result = (
            fname: fname,
            document: <>svg()
        )
        var attrs = newStringTable()
        attrs["baseProfile"] = "full"
        attrs["version"] = "1.1"
        attrs["xmlns"] = "http://www.w3.org/2000/svg"
        attrs["xmlns:ev"] = "http://www.w3.org/2001/xml-events"
        attrs["xmlns:xlink"] = "http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"
        attrs["height"] = height
        attrs["width"] = width
        result.document.attrs = attrs

proc Add*(d: Drawing, node: XmlNode): void =
        d.document.add(node)

proc Rect*(x: string, y: string, width: string, height: string, fill: string="blue"): XmlNode =
        result = <>rect(
            x=x,
            y=y,
            width=width,
            height=height,
            fill=fill
        )

proc Text*(text: string, x: string, y: string, font_size: string, font_family: string="Arial"): XmlNode =
        result = <>text(newText(text))
        var attrs = newStringTable()
        attrs["x"] = x
        attrs["y"] = y
        attrs["font-size"] = font_size
        attrs["font-family"] = font_family
        result.attrs = attrs

proc Save*(d:Drawing): void =
   writeFile(d.fname,xmlHeader & $(d.document))

when isMainModule:
        var d = NewDrawing("foo.svg", width=fmt"{width}cm", height=fmt"{height}cm")
        d.Add(Rect("10cm","10cm","15cm","15cm","white"))
        d.Add(Text("HOLA","12cm","12cm","2cm"))
        d.Save()

While writing this I ran into a few issues abd saw a few nice things:

To build a svg tag, you can use <>svg(attr=value) which is delightful syntax. But what happens if the attr is "xmlns:ev"? That is not a valid identifier, so it doesn't work. So I worked around it by creating a StringTable filling it and setting all attributes at once.

A good thing is the when keyword. usingit as when isMainModule means that code is built and executed when svgwrite.nim is built standalone, and not when used as a module.

Another good thing is the syntax sugar for what in python we would call "object's methods".

Because Add takes a Drawing as first argument, you can just call d.Add() if d is a Drawing. Is simple, it's clear and it's useful and I like it.

One bad thing is that sometimes importing a module will cause weird errors that are hard to guess. For example, this simplified version fails to build:

import xmltree

type
        Drawing* = tuple[fname: string, document: XmlNode]

proc NewDrawing*(fname: string, height:string="100", width:string="100"): Drawing =
        result = (
            fname: fname,
            document: <>svg(width=width, height=height)
        )

when isMainModule:
        var d = NewDrawing("foo.svg")
$ nim c  svg1.nim
Hint: used config file '/etc/nim.cfg' [Conf]
Hint: system [Processing]
Hint: svg1 [Processing]
Hint: xmltree [Processing]
Hint: macros [Processing]
Hint: strtabs [Processing]
Hint: hashes [Processing]
Hint: strutils [Processing]
Hint: parseutils [Processing]
Hint: math [Processing]
Hint: algorithm [Processing]
Hint: os [Processing]
Hint: times [Processing]
Hint: posix [Processing]
Hint: ospaths [Processing]
svg1.nim(9, 19) template/generic instantiation from here
lib/nim/core/macros.nim(556, 26) Error: undeclared identifier: 'newStringTable'

WAT? I am not using newStringTable anywhere! The solution is to add import strtabs which defines it, but there is really no way to guess which imports will trigger this sort of issue. If it's possible that importing a random module will trigger some weird failure with something that is not part of the stdlib and I need to figure it out... it can hurt.

In any case: it worked! My first working, useful nim code!

Doing a script with options / parameters

In my python version I was using docopt and this was smooth: there is a nim version of docopt and using it was as easy as:

  1. nimble install docopt
  2. import docopt in the script

The usage is remarkably similar to python:

import docopt
when isMainModule:
        let doc = """Usage:
        boxes <input> <output> [--page-size=<WxH>] [--separation=<sep>]
        boxes --version"""

        let arguments = docopt(doc, version="Boxes 0.13")
        var (w,h) = (30f, 50f)
        if arguments["--page-size"]:
            let sizes = ($arguments["--page-size"]).split("x")
            w = parse_float(sizes[0])
            h = parse_float(sizes[1])

        var separation = 0.05
        if arguments["--separation"]:
            separation = parse_float($arguments["--separation"])
        var input = $arguments["<input>"]
        var output = $arguments["<output>"]

Not much to say, other that the code for parsing --page-size is slightly less graceful than I would like because I can't figure out how to split the string and convert to float at once.

So, at that point I sort of have the skeleton of the program done. The missing pieces are calling harfbuzz and freetype2 to figure out text sizes and so on.

Interfacing with C libs

One of the main selling points of Nim is that it interfaces with C and C++ in a striaghtforward manner. So, since nobody had wrapped harfbuzz until now, I could try to do it myself!

First I tried to get c2nim working, since it's the recommended way to do it. Sadly, the version of nim that ships in Arch is not able to build c2nim via nimble, and I ended having to manually build nim-git and c2nim-git ... which took quite a while to get right.

And then c2nim just failed.

So then I tried to do it manually. It started well!

  • To link libraries you just use pragmas: {.link: "/usr/lib/libharfbuzz.so".}

  • To declare types which are equivalent to void * just use distinct pointer

  • To declare a function just do some gymanstics:

    proc create*(): Buffer {.header: "harfbuzz/hb.h", importc: "hb_buffer_$1" .}

  • Creates a nim function called create (the * means it's "exported")

  • It is a wrapper around hb_buffer_create (see the syntax there? That is nice!)

  • Says it's declared in C in "harfbuzz/hb.h"

  • It returns a Buffer which is declared thus:

type
    Buffer* = distinct pointer

Here is all I could do trying to wrap what I needed:

{.link: "/usr/lib/libharfbuzz.so".}
{.pragma: ftimport, cdecl, importc, dynlib: "/usr/lib/libfreetype.so.6".}

type
        Buffer* = distinct pointer
        Face* = distinct pointer
        Font* = distinct pointer

        FT_Library*   = distinct pointer
        FT_Face*   = distinct pointer
        FT_Error* = cint

proc create*(): Buffer {.header: "harfbuzz/hb.h", importc: "hb_buffer_$1" .}
proc add_utf8*(buffer: Buffer, text: cstring, textLength:int, item_offset:int, itemLength:int) {.importc: "hb_buffer_$1", nodecl.}
proc guess_segment_properties*( buffer: Buffer): void {.header: "harfbuzz/hb.h", importc: "hb_buffer_$1" .}
proc create_referenced(face: FT_Face): Font {.header: "harfbuzz/hb.h", importc: "hb_ft_font_$1" .}
proc shape(font: Font, buf: Buffer, features: pointer, num_features: int): void {.header: "harfbuzz/hb.h", importc: "hb_$1" .}

proc FT_Init_FreeType*(library: var FT_Library): FT_Error {.ft_import.}
proc FT_Done_FreeType*(library: FT_Library): FT_Error {.ft_import.}
proc FT_New_Face*(library: FT_Library, path: cstring, face_index: clong, face: var FT_Face): FT_Error {.ft_import.}
proc FT_Set_Char_Size(face: FT_Face, width: float, height: float, h_res: int, v_res: int): FT_Error {.ft_import.}

var buf: Buffer = create()
buf.add_utf8("Hello", -1, 0, -1)
buf.guess_segment_properties()

var library: FT_Library
assert(0 == FT_Init_FreeType(library))
var face: FT_Face
assert(0 == FT_New_Face(library,"/usr/share/fonts/ttf-linux-libertine/LinLibertine_R.otf", 0, face))
assert(0 == face.FT_Set_Char_Size(1, 1, 64, 64))
var font = face.create_referenced()
font.shape(buf, nil, 0)

Sadly, this segfaults and I have no idea how to debug it. It's probably close to right? Maybe some nim coder can figure it out and help me?

In any case, conclusion time!

Conclusions

  • I like the language
  • I like the syntax
  • nimble, the package manager is cool
  • Is there an equivalent of virtualenvs? Is it necessary?
  • The C wrapping is, indeed, easy. When it works.
  • The availability of 3rd party code is of course not as large as with other languages
  • The compiling / building is cool
  • There are some strange bugs, which is to be expected
  • Tooling is ok. VSCode has a working extension for it. I miss an opinionated formatter.
  • It produces fast code.
  • It builds fast.

I will keep it in mind if I need to write fast code with limited dependencies on external libraries.

Código Charla PyDay "Como Hacer una API REST en Python, spec first"

El 4/4/2018 di una charla en un PyDay sobre como implementar una API REST a partir de una especificación hecha en Swagger/OpenAPI usando Connexion

/images/pyday-api-rest.jpg

Foto tomada por Yamila Cuestas

Si bien no pude grabar la charla (alguien en la audiencia si lo hizo, pero no me dio el video! Pasame el video, persona de la audiencia!) y no hay slides, acá está el código que mostré, que es relativamente sencillo y fácil de seguir.

Código de la charla

Cualquier cosa pregunten.

PD: Sí, podría hacer la charla en un video nuevo. Sí, me da mucha pereza.

My Git tutorial for people who don't know Git

As part of a book project aimed at almost-beginning programmers I have written what may as well pass as the first part of a Git tutorial. It's totally standalone, so it may be interesting outside the context of the book.

It's aimed at people who, of course, don't know Git and could use it as a local version control system. In the next chapter (being written) I cover things like remotes and push/pull.

So, if you want to read it: Git tutorial for people who don't know git (part I)

PS: If the diagrams are all black and white, reload the page. Yes, it's a JS issue. Yes, I know how to fix it.