Hobby-hacking Eric

2006-12-25

unraveller

I wish unravelling code was easier. For me, coming to grips with a large software project often consists of undoing bundles of yarn, the big chain, multiple dependencies coming in, multi dependees going out. You want to find out where function foo is used. Well, it turns out that it's used by bar, so now you have to find out where bar is used, and oh it's used by quux... and... oh boy.

I wish there was some tool that would let me start from the center of the big old yarn ball and swim out to the surface. I'm not sure how something like this would work either. Ultimately, all the low-level stuff is used in your main, right? So how can you display this kind of information without just overwhelming the user?

Ctags/Hasktags aren't too useful here. They solve the opposite the problem, in which you've got some top level function and you want to drill down to the guts. Graphviz-ing your modules just gives you a thicket, something to marvel at, but not a great source of insight. Dep trees in some hypothetical browser don't sound that useful either (sigh, click the triangle, expand the subtree, whoah! too much! collapse! collapse!).

The mental image I get is that you run it on your code:
unravel Population.applyToPop *.lhs *.hs
and you'd get a browseable, filtered view of the source code, the relevant bits highlighted, useful links in the right places, but not so many that you feel overwhelmed. I want it to be a standalone tool (like a graphical diff utility), something I can run without having to learn how to use your favourite IDE. Likewise, I want it to be quick and easy (again, the standard for ease being a graphical diff). I don't want to set up a project folder or whatever just so I can run the tool.

This is one annoying aspect of being a user, hell a consumer of any kind. I know I want something, but I don't know exactly what, except that I'd probably recognise it when I see it. The ideas in my head are muddled. If somebody sat me down for a user-interview, I'd just sort of ramble on incoherently for 10 minutes, get confused and wander off. Dear whoever, please build me an unraveller. Think like an Apple UI engineer here. Build the tool from user-experience-in, not from functionality-out. Don't listen to my precise demands, because I don't really know what I want. Just help me understand this code.

Anybody know what it is I'm looking for? (If you do have such a tool, a good exercise would be to run it on darcs. Can it help you figure out what a Slurpy is? How about a Population?)


2 comments:

Brandon S. Allbery KF8NH said...

For C (or sufficiently C-like) code I use cscope for this kind of spelunking; it's imperfect, but good enough to usually get an idea. Enough so that I was really wishing for an "hscope" while poking at the Pugs source.

kowey said...

Thanks for mentioning that (first time I heard of it). Interested readers might check out the cscope homepage as well as that of a graphical cbrowser. Ahem, haskellers, looking for a project?