[Pharo-dev] Another thought about globals

Igor Stasenko siguctua at gmail.com
Fri Dec 13 23:41:36 EST 2013

As you may know, smalltalk global dictionary contain all symbols defined
so you can access them directly in any piece of code i.e. when you write:

Object new

it actually means 'send message #new to object, associated with #Object
name in globals dictionary.

Most of globals are classes, but some of them , like Transcript, World,
Display etc are not.
And i was always thinking there's something wrong with these globals
(actually there's multiple 'wrongs'), but finally, i think i can answer
myself, what is most basic wrong with them: they miss any form of

Most of variables in smalltalk require declaration, such as temps, method
arguments, instance variables , class variables, pool variables,
but not globals.
Even classes, from formal point of view do not require declaration,
because actually the usual:

Object subclass: #Collection
    instanceVariableNames: ''
    classVariableNames: 'MutexForPicking RandomForPicking'
    poolDictionaries: ''
    category: 'Collections-Abstract'

is _definition_ but not declaration:

Collection definition =>

'Object subclass: #Collection
    instanceVariableNames: ''''
    classVariableNames: ''MutexForPicking RandomForPicking''
    poolDictionaries: ''''
    category: ''Collections-Abstract'''

in fact, it is just a message sent to 'Object' variable (at some moment in
the past) , and there's nothing
in language which enforces the rule that evaluating such expression must
declare new global, named Collection, except from environment we're working

The absence of declaration for globals leads to following problems:
since declaration point is not defined, all tools (including compiler)
assume that given name always been there, and always accessible. Which
leads to bootstrap problems.
There's no way to determine if given piece of code (which uses some global)
will keep functioning properly, once you unload certain package. No way to
determine dependencies (and as consequence the order of code loading during
Also, it is hard to determine, to which package certain global belongs.
While it is easy to tell for classes since they having category, for
globals like Transcript, Display etc, there's no way to tell anything.
Piece of cake, you can say:  since Display is instance of DisplayScreen
class, then such variable must belong to same package as DisplayScreen,
Just for example, imagine i create variable named MyWindowMousePosition,
which will contain an instance of Point. Does it means that such variable
should belong to same package as Point class? I guess not.

So, to sum up, i think we should really think how to introduce a way to
declare globals in package-based ecosystem, where each global belongs to
certain package, and then since packages form dependency hierarchy, you can
easily detect whether you allowed to use certain global in given context or
to prevent forming dependency loops.
But even if we will weaken contract and allow having dependency loops, even
in such case declarations can help us to clearly tell which pieces of code
will stop functioning properly, if package which declares given variable
are not present in system.

The last aspect of bootstrapping problem is order of initialization,
because declaring variable doesn't means you can use it right away,
since it may be not properly initialized yet (otherwise we will be forced
to always use lazy initialization pattern).

>From this perspective, IMO package should not only have unordered list of
classes/symbols it declares/defines, but also contain information in which
order they must be initialized while loaded.
>From other side, i don't really like introducing too much formalism and
rules, and keep them as minimal as possible, following smalltalk spirit.

What  you think?

Best regards,
Igor Stasenko.
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