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How to Utilize Embedded Languages

Embedding a programming language into a system has an almost erotic fascination to a programmer. It is one of the most creative acts that can be performed. It makes the system tremendously powerful. It allows you to exercise her most creative and Promethean skills. It makes the system into your friend.

The best text editors in the world all have embedded languages. This can be used to the extent that the intended audience can master the language. Of course, use of the language can be made optional, as it is in text editors, so that initiates can use it and no one else has to.

I and many other programmers have fallen into the trap of creating special purpose embedded languages. I fell into it twice. There already exist many languages designed specifically to be embedded languages. You should think twice before creating a new one.

The real question to ask oneself before embedding a language is: Does this work with or against the culture of my audience? If you intended audience is exclusively non-programmers, how will it help? If your intended audience is exclusively programmers, would they prefer an applications programmers interface (API)? And what language will it be? Programmers don't want to learn a new language that is narrowly used; but if it meshes with their culture they will not have to spend much time learning it. It is a joy to create a new language. But we should not let that blind us to the needs of the user. Unless you have some truly original needs and ideas, why not use an existing language so that you can leverage the familiarity users already have with it?

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