Understanding reasons for Harmony

Brendan Eich brendan at mozilla.com
Sun Nov 30 17:06:40 PST 2008

On Nov 30, 2008, at 10:49 AM, Aaron Gray wrote:

> Well as announced in August the ECMAScript 4 language is being  
> heavily watered down. Both packages (April)
>     https://mail.mozilla.org/pipermail/es-discuss/2008-April/006183.html
>     I cannot actually see what is wrong here, AFAICS package Q's  
> usage of x should be an error as x is actually defined in R as  
> external and there is no other definition of x in scope.

Package Q contains

     import R.*;

which brings (or should bring) R.x into scope under the name x in Q.

Note that "external" does not mean what "extern" in C means. It was a  
proposed ES4 built-in namespace meaning "defined in this package but  
visible outside of it".

> Could someone explain or give a better example.

I can see how the decisions are hard to understand without close  
reading, including knowing what "external" was proposed to mean (I  
can't find a trace of it in the wiki -- it was cut too well), and  
thinking through the meaning of parenthetical asides such as Lars's  
"consider that public::x is introduced in some later file, at a later  
time" and "consider flagging the reference to x in P as ambiguous".

Even more important than these fine points was the big-picture point  
that packages were intended to be sugar for namespaces. Lack of a  
desugaring meant ES4 was at risk of being all of late, incomplete, and  

If there were no conflict about the meaning of x in P, then we would  
have not had such a problem.

Avoiding a conflict by making the reference to x ambiguous (an error)  
was considered "arcane" because the nesting and order of package  
fragments should not introduce or eliminate such an error. As with  
namespaces (more below), package-based name lookup must agree between  
compile time and runtime. They must not be subject to complicated and  
hard-to-follow rules.

Plus, we had a schedule for ES4 that was being slipped with every open  
problem of this order. The right thing to do per sane requirements  
management is to cut, with additions such as the built-in "internal"  
namespace added to palliate the loss of packages in a future-proof way.

Therefore the example Lars gave is sufficient -- you don't need a  
better example. That one was sufficient to kill packages as sugar in  
the time-frame we had for ES4.

> and now namespaces have been jetisoned too.
>     https://mail.mozilla.org/pipermail/es-discuss/2008-August/006837.html
> Again could someone give a good example of whats wrong with  
> namespaces.

The fundamental problem with namespaces was the lack of a module  
system by which to prioritize namespaces during name lookup.

This need for prioritization (one idea was a first-name-wins  
reservation system) affected both unqualified name lookup due to the  
extensible global object, and name lookup among superclasses.

Consider just the global object case, with two namespaces, both open  
in the same lexical scope, where a namespace "ns" is defined at first  
in only one of the namespaces (note how namespaces can qualify  
namespace names along with other names):

namespace A;
namespace B;
use namespace A, namespace B;
A namespace ns;

Let's say there's a use of ns to qualify an identifier x, in the same  
lexical scope (top-level content in a script tag, in a web page):

... ns::x ...

Assume x resolves in ns. The question is: what does ns mean? Let's  
refine the reference to be in a function body:

function foo() {
   ... ns::x ...

and close this lexical scope (program defined as a script tag's inline  
content or out-of-line src=URL content). Then in a later program  
evaluated in the same global object, we add

B namespace ns;

What effect, if any, does the B::ns namespace have on the meaning of  
ns::x in foo's body?

We don't want any effect, even an ambiguity error -- otherwise name  
integrity is gone and information leaks if not hijacking attacks are  
too easy. Lexical scope means the name lookoup judgments at compile  
time and runtime should agree, and foo's scope should be static in all  

But how do we implement this? ES4 had only the reservation system idea  

A namespace ns;

would reserve "ns" in *all* namespaces, even ones not seen yet, for  
the life of the global object being mutated by the definitions. This  
was considered broken-as-designed.

An alternative would treat each top-level scope as a module, either by  
giving it its own global object (as is done in AS3, IIRC), or at least  
a subjective prioritization mechanism by which to make "ns" mean only  
A::ns when used in foo, no matter what B::ns might be defined later.  
But such a solution was not designed or proposed for ES4, and we were  
out of time and complexity budget.

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