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7 reasons why frameworks are the new programming languages

Peter Wayner | March 31, 2015
Thanks to powerful tools, the need for speed, and the shifting nature of programming itself, your next nerd fight will be over framework APIs, not syntax

In the 1980s, the easiest way to start a nerd fight was to proclaim that your favorite programming language was best. C, Pascal, Lisp, Fortran? Programmers spent hours explaining exactly why their particular way of crafting an if-then-else clause was superior to your way.

That was then. Today, battles involving syntax and structure are largely over because the world has converged on a few simple standards. The differences between the semicolons, curly brackets, and whatnot in C, Java, and JavaScript are minor. Interesting debates about typing and closures still exist, but most are moot because automation is closing the gap. If you don't like specifying a data type, there's a good chance the computer will be able to infer exactly what you meant. If your boss wants JavaScript but you like Java, a cross-compiler will convert all of your statically typed Java into minified JavaScript, ready to run in a browser. Why fight when technology has our backs?

Today, the interesting action is in frameworks. When I sat down with other faculty members at Johns Hopkins University to plan out a new course, frameworks dominated the conversation. Is Angular better than Ember? Is Node.js all that?

We designed a survey course that would explore the architecture of the most important software packages that are the foundation of the Internet. This was the center of the action, worthy of a survey course that would explore the architecture of the most important software packages girding today's Internet.

In this sense, frameworks are the new programming languages. They are where the latest ideas, philosophies, and practicalities of modern-day coding are found. Some flame out, but many are becoming the new fundamental building blocks of programming. Here are seven facets fueling the framework trend — and making frameworks the new favorite hotbed for nerd fights.

Most coding is stringing together APIs

There was a time when writing software meant deploying all of your knowledge of the programming language to squeeze the most out of the code. It made sense to master the complexity of pointers, functions, and scope — the quality of the code depended on doing the right thing. These days automation handles much of this. If you leave worthless statements in the code, don't worry. The compiler strips out dead code. If you leave pointers dangling, the garbage collector will probably figure it out.

Plus, the practice of coding is different now. Most code is now a long line of API calls. There's occasional reformatting of the data in between API calls, but even those jobs are usually handled by other APIs. A lucky few get to write clever, bit-banging, pointer-juggling code for the guts of our machines, but most of us work with the higher layers. We simply run pipe between APIs.


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