Programming Philosophy

Beautiful Code

A few days ago, @edensh mentioned in Facebook beautiful code, and many people gave examples of assembly, while I was thinking of Python.

That got me thinking: what is beautiful code for me?

So here are my criteria for beautiful code:

  1. Readable (also visually pretty)
  2. Concise
  3. Does something non trivial (usually in an unexpectedly short manner)
  4. Good (solves the problem, efficiently)

If we consider code to be an implementation of a solution to a problem, than 3 & 4 usually apply to the solution, while 1 & 2 apply to the code itself. This brings me to why I like Python:

  1. Code is more readable. Specifically, I can still still easily understand code I wrote years ago. Also, Python’s zen encourages you to write readable code. For example “explicit is better than implicit” directly applies to readability.
  2. Python is visually appealing, although I guess that’s a matter of opinion :)
  3. Python almost always allows me to express my solutions easily & succinctly, whereas with other languages (C, C++, Java) I have to fight to “get my point across”.
  4. Python almost always has the right data structures to implement my solutions efficiently.

With that in mind, it’s clear to me now how assembly code can be beautiful.

Note that I didn’t mention C#, Ruby or Haskell. I don’t have much experience with these languages, but from what I’ve seen so far, it seems to me that these languages may help you write beautiful code. Of these, Haskell is probably going to be the first language I’ll learn – I think it will be the most educating experience, although I’m pretty sure others will argue with me regarding Haskell’s readability :)

Now, My question to you is: what do you think makes code beautiful?

Assembly Challenges Programming Testing

Some Assembly Required No. 1

I’ve been working on some of the instruction tests in vial, and I wanted to test the implementation of LOOP variants. My objective was to make sure the vial version is identical to the real CPU version (as discussed here). To achieve this, I had to cover all of the essential behaviors of LOOP.

Well, using the framework Gil and I wrote, I hacked up some code that should cover the relevant cases:

code_template = """
mov edx, ecx ; control the start zf
mov ecx, eax ; number of iterations
mov eax, 0 ; will hold the result, also an iteration counter
    cmp eax, ebx    ; check if we need to change zf
    setz dh
    xor dh, dl      ; if required, invert zf
    inc eax         ; count the iteration
    cmp dh, 0       ; set zf
    loop%s loop_start
for loop_kind in ['','z','nz']:
    code_text = code_template % loop_kind
    c = FuncObject(code_text)
    for start_zf_value in [0,1]:
        for num_iters in [1,4,10]:
            for when_zf_changes in [1,2,15]:
                c(num_iters, when_zf_changes, start_zf_value)

Note that c(…) executes the code both on vial’s VM, and on the real cpu. c.check() compares their return value (EAX) and flags after the execution. I also wanted to avoid other kinds of jumps in this test.

To check that the code ran the same number of times, I returned EAX as the number of iterations.
All the games with edx are there to make sure that I’m testing different zf conditions.

The challenge for today:
Can you write a shorter assembly snippet that tests the same thing?