Standards, soapboxes, and shamans post

January 20th, 2013

To paraphrase Batman:

"Programmers are a cowardly, superstitious lot"

Programmers often look to external sources for validation of all sorts of things they do. Did they choose the right language? Are they writing good code? Will they be accepted by their peers.

Of course, there are those who are leaders within a community. Those who manage to do great things but with an idiosyncratic way of doing things. Let's call these people shamans. In many ways programming is a mystical thing: you conjure up solutions to problems using tools that often require strange incantations.

For those who pay attention to the workings of the PHP community you might have heard about the "PHP Standards Recommendations" that have been coming out of the PHP Framwork Interop Group.

It's first contribution was PSR-0, which covers recommended standards for autoloading of PHP code (no more remembering to require/include files any more to load your class files), then followed by PSR-1 (which covers basic coding standards) and PSR-2 which is about a coding style guideline.

More recently this group has been working on a standard for logging interfaces called PSR-3.

I spoke about this on Twitter, and I will repeat it here: I think PHP programmers should get behind PSR-0 and efforts like PSR-3. I feel that PSR-1 and PSR-2 are solutions looking for a problem and seem, to me anyway, to me out of place with the solutions offered by PSR-0 and PSR-3.

Standards that are enforced by the community have a power that people really don't understand. The classic example of this are the Python Enhancement Proposals. They cover a incredible range of ideas and concepts that a Python developer needs to worry about.

PEP-8, which covers coding standards, is probably the one most casual Python programmers are familiar with. The whole community followed it, which might have been easier due to Python's use of significant whitespace. But more importantly, it was championed by Python's Benevolent Dictator For Life, Guido van Rossum. He was able to use his soapbox as the guiding force behind it.

PSR-1 and PSR-2 are generating a lot of, well, pissing and moaning from people. I get it: I often grind my teeth when looking at code written in a style that deviates quite a bit from my normal coding style and practices.

However, it's far more important to be able to understand what the code is doing. PSR-0, in my opinion, serves to standardize application layout for the purpose of making it easier to load classes you need in your code. PSR-3 (and similar interface standard recommendations) serves to allow you to integrate 3rd party code with yours a lot quicker.

Standards, soapboxes and shamans are an integral part of any programming community that wants to move forward and keep producing better and better tools and applications. Any programming language community that does not work as hard as possible to make it easier to integrate other's libraries of code together is asking for irrelevancy.