Guest commentary: Thien-Thi Nguyen on guile-www

In Scheme, Web development on March 11, 2012 by gcbenison Tagged: , , , ,

When I needed to develop web applications for the first time, naturally I turned to Scheme, a language which has been central to my evolution as a programmer and which remains my go-to language for many things.  I am still an enthusiast for web development in Scheme, and I think it could become much more popular than it is, particularly if it were easier to find hosting and support.

All the libraries you need for Scheme web development already exist. One of the earliest was guile-www, which provides support for HTTP, cookies, CGI, and related things.  For this post I turned to the current maintainer of guile-www to ask what motivated him to become involved in Scheme web development.  It appears that, perhaps because Scheme remains something of a fringe language on the web, the ecosystem around it continues to evolve rapidly.  Projects fork, merge, and fork again; there isn’t any one “Scheme stack” that dominates.  Nevertheless, the basic reasons for using Scheme for web development – it’s simple, it’s concise, it’s elegant – remain the same.

What drew you to get involved in maintaining guile-www?

ttn: Back in 1998 I made various motorcycle trips, and published a “trip log” with photos to a website.  This used some custom Emacs Lisp to push the html and jpeg files to the server (you might find wup.el — web update — somewhere on the net).  I had just discovered Guile and was intrigued by its module system, certainly a step up from Emacs’ crowded flatland.

I stumbled onto Guile-WWW, which IIRC at that time was client-side and HTTP/1.0 only, and started fiddling with it.  Around 2000 or 2001, I somehow also finangled write privs to Guile proper (the umbrella project that also included the CVS sub-repo of Guile-WWW) and started landing patches there.  Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding with the former Guile maintainer (Marius Vollmer), those privs got cancelled.

Since the code is GPL, i started maintaining the package privately, naming myself as the copyright holder for new code and making releases every so often.  The hope was (and continues to be, though ever more faintly, seeing how things have developed since) that after some time, my changes could be merged back to GNU Guile.

What advantages do you see Scheme having over other languages for web development?

ttn: Less typing and more fun: My Emacs inserts () instead of [] automatically, edits and motions are by sexps, Emacs boldfaces the current list, etc.

Do you have a favorite application that uses guile-www?

ttn: That would be Sizzweb , i suppose.  I use it to serve Debian ISOs and other stuff on the home network.  Client-side, not so much happening…

The development of guile has picked up in pace in the past few  years; do you see its niche growing and that of guile-www with it?

ttn: Yes.  I believe bundling (web …) modules in Guile proper was a strategic mistake that renders Guile-WWW independence even more important.  So “with it” might be better read as “parallel to it”.

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