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GOP2-3 - GLISS or not

From: Graham Percival
Subject: GOP2-3 - GLISS or not
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2012 10:09:11 +0100
User-agent: Mutt/1.5.21 (2010-09-15)

This summer hasn't been going as I'd hoped -- heh, who am I
kidding, this whole year hasn't been going as I'd hoped.  Anyway,
we seem to have radically different concepts of what "input
stabilization" might mean, or even if it's a good idea worth

Hopefully we can settle those questions now.

** Summary

Let’s decide whether to try to stabilize the syntax or not. What
type of project do we want LilyPond to be? What kinds of
guarantees (or at least firm intentions) do we want to give to
users with respect to lilypond 2 or 5 years from now being able to
read their current ly files?

** Motivation

Some “computer languages” are fairly stable. A TeX or C++ program
written 10 years ago will probably still compile with no
modifications (notwithstanding the g++ 4.3 header and namespace
changes). The same is not true of LilyPond; even after using
convert-ly, there are still bits that require manual updating.

Given that, LilyPond is not suitable as an archival format for
music. It can produce a great pdf when you first write the file,
but the .ly files require regular maintenance if you want them to
compile in the latest stable version of lilypond. This is a
problem for projects such as mutopia – a large fraction of their
.ly files don’t compile with current lilypond. That means that
they can’t benefit from recent bugfixes; users wanting the sheet
music in a different size (say, printing a choral score as an A5
booklet) must delve into the ly code and make manual changes.

On a personal note, this is one of the biggest reasons I’ve given
up on using lilypond personally. From 2001 to 2004 I got a minor
in music composition. I carefully kept all my .ly files but
foolishly did not preserve the pdfs. And now, 10 years later, I’m
left with a bunch of music that I cannot generate sheet music for.
Manually updating the .ly files would take hours or days; I’ve
started this process a few times but always lost interest after a
few files, since there’s no guarantee that I wouldn’t need to go
through the same process in another few years.

** Stability or not?

Stabilizing a language is a tricky process. If you do it too
early, then you’re stuck with whatever mistakes or poor design
decisions. If you do it too late, then there’s a large body of
documents in the pre-stabilized version which will require
updating before they run in the stabilized version.

I see two options:

1. No stability: we go back to the way things worked a few
     years ago. When a programmer wants to change something, he
     changes the code and maybe adds a convert-ly rule if it’s
     convenient to do so, otherwise just adds a warning to the
     NEWS. I stop telling people “no, don’t change the syntax,
     and don’t even talk about changing the syntax”.

2. Define a subset of input as being stable for the 3.x branch.
     We add regression tests for that subset of notation and
     forbid running convert-ly on those files. At the moment, I
     imagine that the subset would consist of at most Notation
     sections 1.1 Pitches, 1.2 Rhythms, and the overall file
     organization; nothing else.  Changes to input other than that
     subset are fine. 

My personal preference is to stabilize a subset. It won’t solve
all the user problems with manually updating ly files, but it
would be a step in the right direction. If the process goes well,
then we can have additional rounds of stabilization where we
expand the stable subset.

** Example subset

In greater detail: I’m suggesting that we have a round of syntax
stabilization (GLISS). At the end of it (3 months? 6 months?), we
add a few regression tests that might look something like this:

\version "2.16.0"
\score {
  \music {
    \staff {
      \voice {
        a4 b c4. d8 |
        \tuplet 2/3 { fis4 a bes } r2 |

and then we guarantee that this file will compile, completely
unmodified (no convert-ly allowed), for every lilypond 3.x
version. This seem like a really small step, but I really don’t
think that we can overestimate how much time, energy, and
arguments this will require.

** Example questions

Here’s a few sample questions that we’d encounter even with a
really small subset.


    - do we keep dutch as the default language, or switch to
    - do we finally make that \times -> \tuplet change that’s been
discussed for years?
    - \score \staff vs. \new score \new staff.
    - what’s the canonical input structure? what shorthands do we
commit to supporting? 

- Graham

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