There is a flash of light! Your PYTHON has evolved into PSYDUCK!

Friday August 31, 2007
I guess if you don't read any other python-related blogs (or news, or mailing lists, for that matter) you might not already know that the first alpha of Python 3.0 has been released.

A sample of the release notes:
  • There are a few memory leaks
  • SSL support is disabled
  • Platform support is reduced
  • There may be additional issues on 64-bit architectures
  • There are still some open issues on Windows
  • Some new features are very fresh, and probably contain bugs
  • IDLE still has some open issues
In other words, this is not a product for general consumption, and is not labeled as such.  Do not use it expecting to be able to get real work done with it.  This release is to help the Python development team find bugs and get feedback from the community.

I've already blogged about my inability to get excited about Python 3.0.  Now that it's begun to arrive, I can more clearly see the scope of the work required to get in sync with it, and the new features that it is actually going to encompass.  It's a staggering amount of work.

Jean-Paul Calderone has prepared a preliminary run of the 2to3 tool over the Twisted codebase.  This includes a 820 kilobyte diff, which took 12 minutes to produce (on a fairly fast, modern piece of hardware).  However, this is not even a complete run, because the 2to3 tool cannot even parse two of the files in the repository, despite the fact that they are all valid python.  Many of the transformations (especially in the area of the unicode/str conversion) are almost certainly going to drastically change the semantics our test suite, if not break it - although enough of Twisted's dependencies are missing on 3.0 that I haven't even had an opportunity to try.

I still hold out hope that the 3.0 branch will gradually be abandoned, as these changes are rolled back into older versions (2.6+) of Python and gradually phased in, with their deprecated alternatives being gradually phased out.  Right now, though, the plan is to continue parallel development in the 2.x series until 3.0 is ready to "take over", although I'm not sure how that determination will be made.

While I wish I could be more excited about something in the 3.0 roadmap, it worries me that some of the excitement I see from others is enthusiasm for the idea of using it as an excuse to break their own users' software too.  If you've written a library for Python, please consider that its users are going to be having a hard enough time upgrading from python 2.x to 3.x; you should really try to provide the smoothest migration path from here to there, and keep your APIs as compatible as possible.

Although I'd like to say something nice and congratulatory, the thought of spending a year just pushing little piles of syntax into other little piles of syntax, even with the help of a tool like a hypothetically-much-more-advanced 2to3, is honestly just depressing.  I'd have to get Twisted (and Axiom and Nevow and Mantissa and Quotient and a handful of proprietary projects that I work on) to work on Python 3.0 before I can use it.  If I'm going to work on Twisted, I have a lot of other things I'd rather be doing.  So my plan, for the moment, is to ignore Python 3.0 as long as I possibly can.

But hey, that's what the magic of open source is supposed to be about, right?  Do you like Python 3.0?  Do you want to see Twisted (and the various Divmod projects) eventually support it?  A fairly substantial portion of the diff in question is a litany of non-controversial stylistic changes to update old, and sometimes creaky parts of the codebase.  For example, there are a bunch of usages of the 'print' statement that need to be transformed; you might consider submitting a patch which simply removes all usages of "print", since we probably shouldn't be using that syntax anyway.  That will reduce the size of the changes that we need to consider, generate, and apply in order to be 3.0 compliant. and probably improve the code's cleanliness quite a bit.  Once those parts are applied, and thereby removed from the output of 2to3, we can have a better view of what work is actually necessary to support 2.x and 3.0 versions simultaneously from the same codebase.

Of course, comprehensive test coverage is something else frequently brought up when talking about the 2-to-3 migration.  Any patches which increase or improve our test coverage will alway be greatly appreciated regardless of any migration issues.

The one prospect that appeals to me is that, if 3.0 successfully adheres to the vague promise of breaking backwards compatibility "just this once", Python may move towards being a real platform instead of simply a tool that you run on another platform.  Of course, backwards incompatible changes can be a bit like potato chips - "you can't eat just one" - but I trust that the Python team can stick to it if they see the value in it and have made the incompatible changes they think are significant and necessary.

A few days ago I ran Neverwinter Nights on my Ubuntu (feisty) machine and was pleased to discover that despite the fact that there are new versions of SDL, X11, the Linux kernel, GNOME, ALSA, and a dozen other dependencies (all of which are dynamically bound) since five years ago when it was written, it still runs beautifully, with no configuration or re-installation on my part.  Getting that kind of reliability from Python, and being able to provide it for Twisted, would be worth a fair amount of time spent overhauling syntax.