Thinking more about Domain Specific Languages in R

I got started on a new book, on domain-specific languages in R, a little while back and also got started on the first proper chapter. Then I had to leave it for a bit to work on another project, but while it’s been simmering I’ve started to have second thoughts about its structure.

What I had in mind when I started was another short book where I would explain a little bit of meta-programming and a little bit about operator overloading and show how you could combine this to write small embedded languages in R. However, I’m now halfway through the first chapter that was supposed to be about how to use classes and operator overloading to do a bit of this, and it turned out to be all about proper language parsing and syntax tree manipulation, so now I’m thinking that I might as well do a proper job of it.

I’m not entirely sure how to structure the book, now, but I think I want some of the easy stuff in there still. Maybe start out with a chapter that shows this. I have a small example where I use delayed evaluation and some rewriting to optimise matrix multiplication and I could use that as a motivating example. Then the next chapter could go into some theory about parsing and evaluating expressions such to motivate the rest of the book.

I had a mental distinction in mind where I would distinguish between standard evaluation and non-standard evaluation, but I’m not sure that is the right way to split the book now. Instead, if I am going to treat books properly, I will make the distinction between parsing an embedded language and evaluating it. The evaluation part can then have some (simpler) standard evaluation parts and some (perhaps harder) non-standard evaluation parts.

I’ll be sitting on a train for an hour and a half today, so I have time to think about that.

Author: Thomas Mailund

My name is Thomas Mailund and I am a research associate professor at the Bioinformatics Research Center, Uni Aarhus. Before this I did a postdoc at the Dept of Statistics, Uni Oxford, and got my PhD from the Dept of Computer Science, Uni Aarhus.

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