Working Together

April 10, 2012

GravatarMichael Snoyman

It's no secret that there are different approaches to web development in Haskell. Arguably, the two most discussed frameworks in recent times have been Snap and Yesod (with no offense intended to Happstack). I can't speak for the Snap team, but from the Yesod team, our approach- initiated by myself- has been to mostly ignore what's going on with Snap. We collaborate together where we can (which is actually fairly often), but for the most part we are two frameworks, heading in two directions, and there's no point at constantly rehashing arguments about the "better" approach.

While in theory I think this tactic of letting each framework develop separately is correct, I was sorely mistaken. As evidenced by the questions raised by newcomers on the forums discussing the Yesod 1.0 release, it's obvious that a major question on people's minds is: what makes these two frameworks different?

I can understand that for some Yesoders, this was a bit disheartening. We have no intention of comparing ourselves to Snap. We don't even see the two frameworks as competing (more on that later). But the response of some of us in both recent and past discussions has not always been of the calibre that it should. I myself am guilty of the same, and I'd like to offer an apology for offense given to developers and users of other systems.

Besides the obvious issues of decorum, there are two main reasons why asserting Yesod's superiority is not an appropriate way to respond to questions:

  1. Aggressively defending Yesod doesn't make us look any better.
  2. Yesod is not superior to Snap.

Yes, read that second point again. I'll repeat it: Yesod is not superior to Snap. They are different. Do I prefer Yesod? Absolutely. If not, I wouldn't be working on it. Are there people out there who prefer Snap? Yes. But certainly they simply haven't yet been englightened as to the superiority of Yesod, right? No. See point 2 again.

Yesod provides a high level interface for web development based on simple DSLs for routing and persistence, an indentation-sensitive templating system, and pervasive type safety. I'm less of an expert on Snap, so this could be wrong, but Snap provides a powerful combinator approach to routing, a logic-free system for templating (Heist), and (to my knowledge) doesn't get in the business of persistence. They are superficially similar, but fundamentally different.

I happen to have a lot of thoughts- which I haven't really shared with anyone yet- on bridging the gap between the two approaches. Heist is in no way baked into Snap, and could easily be used with Yesod. Similarly, Persistent (or Happstack's acid-state) could be paired up with Snap. Yesod provides its own combinator based form solution, but I've been curious to see what we could do with digestive-functors, which (at least to my eyes) is the de facto forms approach for Snap. Going even more low-level, Snap's combinator based approach to routing could be used with Yesod. (To clarify: we can make Yesod applications without any Template Haskell or Quasi-Quotations. I've done proofs of concept before, and think this could be something interesting to discuss later.)

But ideally, I could see integration run even deeper. There is absolutely no technical reason we need two separate web servers. I've been pushing for adoption of WAI by other frameworks for a long time. It's currently being used by other frameworks like Webwire and Scotty, and by standalone applications like Hoogle, but I would like Snap and Happstack to come to the table to discuss the possibility of a truly universal interface. Can we achieve it tomorrow? Probably not. But we should identify the things which are preventing it.

These are all wonderful long-term goals. But in the short term, there's a lot we can do to work together on a non-technical level. I think we all agree that Haskell is a wonderful language, and would like to see its more mainstream adoption (you know, fail to avoid success at all costs). Any bickering we have (for which I take responsibility) only weakens Haskell's appeal. Which is really a complete shame: the community is one of Haskell's strongest assets. I've never worked with such an intelligent, cooperative, helpful, and friendly group of people before.

Instead of ignoring what the other groups are doing, it's time to coordinate. Newcomers are confused about which framework to start with? Instead of touting our own virtues on Reddit and Stack Overflow, we should have a single Wiki page that gives fair, unbiased, and comprehensive descriptions of the distinctions amongst the frameworks. Someone loves Hamlet but wants to use acid-state, while using Snap's routing? They should be able to ask us about it on web-devel, and we'll talk it out and come up with a solid example of how it's done.

It might seem like Snap and Yesod are sworn enemies who are devoted to each other's destruction. But that's not the case. I've personally had very friendly interactions with each and every main developer of Snap, and I both like and respect them. I hope I've been able to inspire the same. (The same goes for Happstack by the way, that's just not my focus right now.) There are no deep rifts, blood feuds, or grudges amongst us, just some surface level fighting.

I say it's time to present a unified front. We need to continue the arguments to help improve all the frameworks, but keep them professional. We're not here to tear each other down, but to build all of us up. I hope I'll be able to help repair any damage that I've done in the past, and hope all teams will join with me now.

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