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Meta-Introduction to Domain Specific Languages

This is my usual DSL intro talk, but done with a twist as I'm talking to a much more DSL-aware crowd than usual. So essentially I twisted into a talk about how I introduce DSLs to people.

April 2009


Perspectives on DSLs with Chris Sells

Martin Fowler and Chris Sells

When I attended DSL DevCon, Microsoft's Channel 9 dragged me off to be interviewed by Chris Sells.

April 2009


SE Radio Podcast on Domain-Specific Languages

Rebecca Parsons, Martin Fowler, and Markus Völter

I'm joined by ThoughtWorks CTO Rebecca Parsons, who was a contributer to the DSL book, to talk with Markus Völter about DSLs. We talk about what DSLs are, the differences between internal and external DSLs, and when you should (and shouldn't use DSLs).

26 January 2012



Frequently I come across the claim that some technology will allow users to write their own software and not need programmers any more. When I hear this I like to remember that this was the aim COBOL - and we know how that worked out.



When the topic of DomainSpecificLanguage comes up, one of the common puzzles is exactly what is or isn't a DSL. The trouble is that there is no precise definition for a DSL and there is a large gray area between DSLs and other things.

1 August 2006



One danger that DSL advocates need to guard against is the notion that first you design a DSL, then people use it. Like any other deice of software, a successful DSL will evolve. This means that scripts written in an earlier version of a DSL may fail when run with a later version.

4 February 2009



In recent weeks I've been playing with, and looking at, compiler-compiler tools. A common feature of these tools is that they have a grammar file whose core is a description of the production rules of a grammar for a language. As well as describing the grammar, the file also provides information to the parser about how to process the language as it recognizes the language elements. In most compiler-compiler tools these instructions are represented as actions in the grammar - often these actions are encoded as as fragments of code in a high level language.

26 March 2007



I've been exploring various alternative languages and grammars for external DSLs. One of my main tools for this is Antlr. With this kind of exploration I have a project with multiple similar grammar files where I want to run essentially the same thing with different grammars. Although I only have a few grammar files at the moment, I could well end up with a couple of dozen.

17 April 2007



Given-When-Then is a style of representing tests - or as its advocates would say - specifying a system's behavior using SpecificationByExample. It's an approach developed by Dan North and Chris Matts as part of Behavior-Driven Development (BDD). It appears as a structuring approach for many testing frameworks such as Cucumber. You can also look at it as a reformulation of the Four-Phase Test pattern.

21 August 2013



An internal DSL (often called an Embedded DSL) is a DomainSpecificLanguage that is written inside an existing host language. It's a common way of thinking in a number of programming language communities - particularly the Lisp community. It's now gaining a lot of attention as DSLs are a common way of thinking in the rapidly growing Ruby community.

24 October 2006



When I wrote my recent article on Language Workbenches, I decided to separate the section on further reading into my bliki, to make it easier to report updates when new stuff appears.

19 June 2005



It's pretty common to see the term "DSL" crop up in the context of MDSD. Indeed some MDSD people seem to think that DSLs only exist within the MDSD world. I've been writing a lot on DSLs recently for my book, but so far I haven't really touched on the MDSD angle much Instead I've concentrated on DSLs role in more conventional programming. DSLs exist in both the textual language and MDSD worlds and play pretty much the same role for both.

14 July 2008



Model Driven Software Development (MDSD) is a style of software development that considers itself as an alternative to the traditional style of programming. The approach centers itself on building models of a software system. These models are typically made manifest through diagrammatic design notations - the UML is one option. The idea is that you use these diagrams, to specify your system to a modeling tool and then you generate code in a conventional programming language.

14 July 2008



I talk quite a bit with people about DomainSpecificLanguages these days and a common reaction I get to external DSLs is that it's hard to write a parser. Indeed one of the justifications for using XML as the carrier syntax for an external DSL is that "you get the parser for free". This doesn't jive with my experience - I think parsers are much easier to write than most people think, and they aren't really any harder than parsing XML.

20 May 2008



A rules engine is all about providing an alternative computational model. Instead of the usual imperative model, which consists of commands in sequence with conditionals and loops, a rules engine is based on a Production Rule System. This is a set of production rules, each of which has a condition and an action - simplistically you can think of it as a bunch of if-then statements.

7 January 2009



XML has been around for a while now, and it's used a lot - indeed a lot more than it should be. Like most tools XML is good for some things and not for others


DSL interview with Neal Ford and Jeffery Snover (JAOO 2008)

Neal Ford, Martin Fowler and Jeffry Snover

A Microsoft Channel 9 interview of me, my colleague Neal Ford, and Jeffery Snover (creator of PowerShell). The general topic is that of DSLs - Neal and I had just finished a tutorial on the topic at JAOO 2008 and had some good conversations with Jeffery.

October 2008


Language-Oriented Programming and Language Workbenches

Neal Ford and Martin Fowler

A keynote for The Server Side Java Symposium that I gave with Neal Ford. We look at the growing movement towards Domain Specific Languages, what kinds of languages exist and why they are interesting. If you're looking for one talk on the subject then my preference is for the JAOO video, but this one expands on some of the themes and is more entertaining due to Neal's presence. It would also work fine audio only, if you can find a way to extract the audio stream.

March 2007



When people talk about DSLs it's common to raise the question of business people writing code for themselves. I like to apply the COBOL inference to this line of thought. That is that one of the original aims of COBOL was to allow people to write software without programmers, and we know how that worked out. So when any scheme is hatched to write code without programmers, I have to ask what's special this time that would make it succeed where COBOL (and so many other things) have failed.

15 December 2008



The basic idea of a domain specific language (DSL) is a computer language that's targeted to a particular kind of problem, rather than a general purpose language that's aimed at any kind of software problem. Domain specific languages have been talked about, and used for almost as long as computing has been done.

15 May 2008



One of the tricky things about writing about external DomainSpecificLanguages is that I'm walking through territory already heavily tracked by the programming languages community. Programming language research has always been a popular area of academic activity, and I'm the first to admit that I don't have anywhere near the depth in this topic as many people who've been studying in this space for years. So inevitably the question comes up as to why such a noob as me thinks he can write a book in this well trodden ground?

22 December 2008



I was asked to put together a discussion of DSLs for non-technical types. Maybe I've been reading too much Stephen O'Grady, but I felt an irresistible urge to do it in a Q and A manner. So here it comes.

9 September 2008



One of the problems with a FluentInterface is that it results in some odd looking methods. Consider this example:

8 August 2013



A few months ago I attended a workshop with Eric Evans, and he talked about a certain style of interface which we decided to name a fluent interface. It's not a common style, but one we think should be better known. Probably the best way to describe it is by example.

20 December 2005



Several years ago, my then colleague Matt Foemmel, dissatisfied with the tools with which we were building software, managed to get in touch with Charles Simonyi to find out more about the shadowy Intentional Software. What he saw impressed him, and he persuaded me and other ThoughtWorkers to get involved too. What we saw was a tool with startling potential, but we remained frustrated by the secrecy and lack of urgency to release. That frustration ended last week.

20 April 2009



Language Workbench is a term I coined in 2005 to describe a new class of software development tool, designed to build software through a rich environment of multiple, integrated, DomainSpecificLanguages. These tools are still quite a way away from being mainstream, but development on them continues and continues to be interesting. They are one of the few things I feel could significantly change the programming landscape.



I use the term lay programmer to mean someone who is programming without thinking themselves as a programmer. Someone who spends a large part of her day working on spreadsheets is doing programming, often very intense programming. Usually however she won't call herself a programmer, nor think of spending much time learning how to program better.



Sergey Dmitriev is one of the leaders of JetBrains, the people who gave us such wonderful tools as IntelliJ Idea and ReSharper. He's recently published an article on some exploratory development he's done called the Meta Programming System. He sees this system as an example of a broader movement which he calls Language Oriented Programming.

21 November 2004



Oslo is a project at Microsoft, of which various things have been heard but with little details until this week's PDC conference. What we have known is that it has something to do with ModelDrivenSoftwareDevelopment and DomainSpecificLanguages.

28 October 2008



One of Ruby's most popular features is its support for metaprogramming, that is features that act like they change the language itself - introducing things like new keywords.

26 October 2006



A common phrase that's bandied about when talking about DomainSpecificLanguages (or indeed any computer language) is that of noisy syntax. People may say that Ruby is less noisy than Java, or that external DSLs are less noisy than internal DSLs. By Syntactic Noise, what people mean is extraneous characters that aren't part of what we really need to say, but are there to satisfy the language definition. Noise characters are bad because they obscure the meaning of our program, forcing us to puzzle out what it's doing.

9 June 2008