RFC: Empowered data - unification of code block and object literal (and class)

Herby Vojčík herby at mailbox.sk
Fri Jan 6 13:58:39 PST 2012

This proposal tries not to add new entities into the language, it only tries 
to take what already is there and reusing it mercilessly. Also number of 
abstractions is lowered, since some of them could be implemented with 
existing ones, with minimal changes. The result is compact, lesser, more 
uniform and much more powerful language. ;-) Forward-compatible.

(The whole text is here as HTML: 
It is long, but imnsho rich. Please, give it a chance if you'll feel for a 
few minutes of reading. It is also included below, but without formatting, 
to allow replies.
Thank you, Herby)


Blocks of code enclosed in curly braces were of two natures in ES3 and ES5 - 
there were code blocks, containing sequence of instructions to perform, and 
there was the object literal, which contained recipe for building a 
structured piece of data.

ES.next introduced some powerful additions to the object literal, introduced 
new use for it (.{...} and <| {...} operations) and brought in a new type of 
{...} block - the class block. The class block borrows many new features of 
object literal, but itself is something in-between.

Driven by the feeling that having more types of {...} source code constructs 
brings more confusion led to the thoughts about their nature and their 
similarities. This proposal wants to take this train of thought to the 
extreme by proposing only two types of "brave new curly block" constructs 
with strict role split - the imperative one for control flow and the 
declarative one for data structures, while building on similarities between 
them and radically empower the declarative one in the process, and not 
losing forward compatibility (by this I mean old-style constructs work in 
the new proposal). Classes are made as one case of the declarative construct 
with class-specific extensions, changing existing class syntax very slightly 
and not losing any semantics.

Curly blocks are similar. Reuse for much power with few features.

A simple code block:

  x = 4;
  function g() {
    do { nothing; } while (false);
  const prop = 5;
  if (x>5) {
Basic structure of this block is: there are simple statements, which are 
terminated by a semicolon (ignoring general semicolon insertion here). The 
last simple statement in a code block does not need a semicolon, though it 
can have it. These statements include assignment and function call.

Then there are structured statements which do not need to be ended with 
semicolon (do-while is a nasty exception), since they are ended with a 
sub-block. These are if/else, while loops, function declarations etc.

Not that this is correct explanation of code block structure (I for example 
ignore cases where if/else/while/... sub-statements are simple statments, 
not sub-blocks. For now, let us assume there are always sub-blocks). I also 
intentionally dismissed variable declarations, since they are not needed for 
this topic and would make things a little more complicated (look at that 
const line as an assignment ;-) ).

Now, for the simple object literal (with ES.next extensions):

  x: 4,
  g() {
    do { nothing; } while (false);
  y: { foo: "bar" },
  get prop () { return 5; }
  z: 0
Basic structure of this block is: there are simple productions, which are 
terminated by a colon. The last simple production in a literal block does 
not need a colon, though it can have it. These productions are property 

Then there are enhanced productions which do not need to be ended with 
colon, since they are ended with a sub-block. These are get, set and method 

Even when the range of possible building elements of object literal is 
smaller than that of the code block, the similarities can be seen pretty 
well. There is undoubtful similarity between x = 4; and x: 4,, not only 
syntactical, but semantical, too. There is strong syntactical similarity 
between declaration of function g in code block and method g in the literal. 
Semantically it is also pretty similar, though not as much as the previous 

Previous examples showed that there are formally (simple-simple, 
structured-enhanced), syntactical and functionally similar pairs of 
constructs between code block and object literal. These elements are, 
more-or-less, about the same thing. The difference between them is given by 
the context: assignment and function declaration do actions (they are 
imperative), field specification and method specification produce data (they 
are declarative).

It can be said, with lot of grains of salt, that code block is "(ordered) 
collection of imperative elements, simple, semicolon delimited, as well as 
structured, undelimited" and object literal is "(unordered) collection of 
declarative elements, simple, colon delimited, as well as structured, 
undelimited", but matching elements appear in both. This strawman is about 
completing this element similarity, mainly drawing from useful code elements 
and bringing their counterpart to the data domain.

1. if & Co. Conditional data structures.

The first idea to borrow from code domain is the if statement - in this 
case, not a statement, but a data production. You surely had a situation 
when writing an object literal and wanted to have a field or two only when 
specific condition is met. The solution nowadays is either not put it in and 
add it afterwards with if statement in the code (which is not correct, a 
conditional data field was wanted, not a conditional action that assigns to 
that field) or put the field in with ?: or && operators, so the field has 
null value in the case it should not be there at all.

Why not to have something like this?

  x: 4,
  g() {
    do { nothing; } while (false);
  y: { foo: "bar" },
  if (bar > cowboy) { jar: ["whiskey"], wall: ["bottle", "bottle"] }
  get prop () { return 5; }
  z: 0
The data-domain if, in accordance with its code counterpart, is the 
structured element, that does not need a colon at the end, since it ends 
with a sub-block. But the data-if governs data-block. The curly block that 
is guarded by data-if should be a normal data-block which is included if the 
condition is met, and is not included when the condition is not met.

Of course we can have if/else if/else combination, like in { name: name, if 
(age > 60) { retired: true } else if (age < 18) { minor: true } else { 
workplace: company } age: age }.

If the if/else could only govern (data) blocks, it would not be the true 
compilation of code-if. To be true, it should take both simple elements 
ended by comma as well as blocks into its syntax, so this should be 
possible, too: { name: name, if (age > 60) retired: true, else if (age < 18) 
minor: true, else workplace: company, age: age }. To not create 
inconsistencies, I would allow this syntax, as well. Be as true to code-if 
as possible. In one line, this may look inferior, but when indented, it can 

  name: name,
  if (age > 60) retired: true,
  else if (age < 18) minor: true,
  else workplace: company,
  age: age
  name: name,
  if (age > 60)
    retired: true,
  else if (age < 18)
    minor: true,
    workplace: company,
  age: age
which is not that bad.
Another conditional that can readily be adopted into the data domain is 
switch. It's fall-throgh, implicit block, break-finished semantic is a bit 
unwieldy for a one-liner, like { name: name, switch (role) { case "manager": 
canSeeReports: true, case "admin": aceessToServerRoom: true, break, case 
"developer": accessToLibrary: true, default: needsTask: true } if (boss) 
reportsTo: boss }, but again, formatting helps, and frankly, switch is not 
used that often in the code, it won't be used that much in data either, but 
sometimes it is really helpful. For the sake of completeness, it should be 
in the data, as well.

2. f(x, y). Data-production macros.

Code has a function call amongst its "simple" building blocks. It allows to 
define a little piece of code in one place and issue it later in many other 
places, possibly parametrized. Why not to have something like that in data, 
too? What about these data productions?

  name("Doe", "John"),
  position: "manager",
  salary: 100000
  name("White Daemon", "Jinx Perry"),
  race: "cavalier King Charles spaniel",
  colors: [ white, brown ]
What are name(...) and repositorty.counter(), function calls? Not exactly - 
in code it would be calls to functions or methods that would do some 
imperative sequence of actions. In data, it "invokes" a named data 
production, which is just like function or a method, but its block is 
declarative. Otherwise, they are defined the same way as functions or 
methods, with exception of @ character used as a name prefix:

function @name(surname, givenNames) {
  fullname: (locale == "hu" || locale == "jp") ?
    surname+" "+givenNames : givenNames+" "+surname,
  catalogName: surname+", "+givenNames,
  givenNames: givenNames,
  surname: surname
class Repository {
  @counter() { id: this.maxId++, creationDate: Date.now() }
I call @ functions and methods data-production macros. They are not in fact 
true functions - the semantics of dogs.counter() is to include id: 
dogs.maxId++, creationDate: Date.now() in the object literal. The semantics 
is this for a reason - so implementors can optimize it to any level they see 
fit. It is "just" an inclusion of a parameterized preready data production.

On the other hand, dynamics of true functions / methods and easy 
interoperability with code must be present, macros must be as flexible as 
code functions are. For this, I'd propose these rules:

macro is first-class object that is accessible by its property name (sans @) 
for reading and writing (if not made const etc.)
you can create macro object inline by function@ (args) { macro body }
typeof macro is "function", it has no [[Construct]] and behaviour of 
[[Call]] is deliberately undefined (to allow implementors freedom to use it 
as they see fit)
issuing non-macro object with typeof "function" from inside data block as a 
macro results in throwing TypeError
As for the [[Call]] implementation specific, how do you reuse a macro from 
inside code? Simply: obj.{ macro(...) }. This is officially recommended (and 
only supported) way of reusing macro directly from code.

And yes, you can have recursion with macros. You are encouraged to.

One more note: macros can be even more powerful if they cleverly use the 
[expr]: expr data production. It is part of ES.next-enhanced object literal. 
The word is "cleverly", it can be colossally abused. You have been warned.

No loops, no variables. "Functional" object production.

There can be two paths with continuing the approach above. One is to adopt 
everything, however imperative, which is possible, from the code side to the 
data side, so we can have variables and loops in data side, as well and can 
issue something like this:

  operation: "square",
  min: 1,
  max: 10,
  for (var i = this.min; i <= this.max; i++) { [i]: i*i }
I argue that when you have this kind of imperativity, (if is conditional 
descriptive; macro, even if powerful through recursion, is less imperative 
than loop and variable), you can as well do it in plain code. After all, 
code is better for imperative things:
var result = {
  operation: "square",
  min: 1,
  max: 10
for (var i = result.min; i <= result.max; i++) result.{ [i]: i*i };
I used this mechanical translation and not used result[i] = i*i; for purpose 
of genericity: you can issue loops in code but still use all of the power of 
enhanced descriptive blocks using .{ data-production... } construct.
If "side-effect" imperative things like variable, and, consequently, loops, 
were exempt from data-production blocks (and nothing other which is 
imperative in nature is added later; and all things that would be added 
would be "side-effect-free" and non-imperative), we will end up with a thing 
I'd call "functional data production". I think it is desirable trait of a 
By "functional" I now mean the trait that is inherent to code in functional 
languages - if issued, with parameters, it produces value from them, but 
this value production has no side-effects. The most prominent of these 
side-effects is setting a value of a variable. One may also call this 
"stateless". Data production should be stateless, imperative code is one 
that should be stateful.

Being stateless (of course, the data production is not stateless in strict 
sense - the values are computed by stateful code expressions, and [expr]: 
expr can bring expressions in keys as well; but avoiding variables and loops 
makes data production still less stateful) allows doing things that are 
typical for functional code (various behind-the-scene optimizations, mainly; 
but also some proofs of correctness) for the data -production blocks. Since 
data production is descriptive thing, one almost naturally expects from it 
to be sort-of "producing a value" instead of "start a process of 
manufacturing a value". Though I can not give a convicing case for this, I 
beilieve it is Good Thing (tm) to let the data production be stateless. In 
the long run it will bring its fruit.

Parsing: ambiguities; syntax as opt-in philosophy.

This and lots of similar extensions are in some time questioned by the 
parsing problems. For example:

  if (typeof window === "undefined") { server: true }
  else { broswer: true }
is interpreter as code, with two expression statements labeled "server" and 
"browser", both statements being "true", if encountered in code. When parsed 
in expression contexts (after assigment "=" or after function call "("), it 
parses as data production.
The condensed example of this phenomenon is:

If encoutered in code context, it is syntax error, because {} is code block 
and "." is unexpected token. If encountered in data context, it is the value 
of calling f method of {} object.
This untreatable ambiguity may render any proposals as this doomed. But it 
is not that. Even plain {} does not work - and we got used to put 
parentheses around it whenever it appears at the beginning of an expression 
statement (it is not so common to start an expression statement with object 
literal, but when it happens, almost always dot is following and it produces 
early syntax error). So this is annoying, but already known phenomenon, and 
we learn to live with it. Bottom line is, it is orthogonal to this proposal.

One possible parsing problem is combination of method declaration (f(args) 
{body)) with macro invoking (f(args)). But hopefully there will not be a 
problem, because the latter needs a comma delimiter unless last in the 

One paragraph for "syntax as opt-in" mindset, which seems to be part of 
ES.next. Conditionals and/or macro calls inside data production block are to 
be treated as ES.next syntax and, consequently, opt-it in. The same is the 
case of function@ and @-prefixed function and method names. The question of 
scope of opt-in is still debated, but overall, this proposal seems to favor 
program-wide opt-in. It needs the review of others to see full consequences 
for "syntax as opt-in" if this proposal is considered. It brings some (not 
breaking) changes to the basic ECMAScript matter, that is, to the object 
literal. Also, if there were parsing guesses based on containing if, switch 
or function call, they are invalidated.

3. Class is glorified declaration of prototype.

No offense meant. One of the motivation behind all this was the fact that 
class block was neither imperative nor declarative but (at least 
syntactically) something from both, and by need of having only two kinds of 
{...} - imperative (with all its consequences and common functionality all 
over) and declarative (ditto). And as I see it (I hope I am not alone), 
class is a way to describe the prototype (and constructor at the same time, 
but it is already nicely integrated). So taking example from class proposal 
(comments shortened),

class Monster {
  // The contextual keyword "constructor" ... defines the body
  // of the class’s constructor function.
  constructor(name, health) {
    public name = name;
    private health = health;

  // An identifier followed by an argument list and body defines a method.
  attack(target) {
    log('The monster attacks ' + target);

  // The contextual keyword "get" followed by an identifier and
  // a curly body defines a getter in the same way that "get"
  // defines one in an object literal.
  get isAlive() {
    return private(this).health > 0;

  // Likewise, "set" can be used to define setters.
  set health(value) {
    if (value < 0) {
      throw new Error('Health must be non-negative.')
    private(this).health = value

  // After a "public" modifier, an identifier ... declares a prototype
  // property and initializes it
  public numAttacks = 0;

  // After a "public" modifier, the keyword "const" followed by an 
  // and an initializer declares a constant prototype property.
  public const attackMessage = 'The monster hits you!';
we can embrace "just describe the prototype object" and do this instead:
class Monster {
  // A method defined with name "constructor" is processed specially:
  // tt _has_ [[Construct]] and is made a constructor of this class.
  // If not explicitly generated, empty one is provided.
  constructor(name, health) {
    public name = name;
    private health = health;

  // A method, as in every object literal.
  attack(target) {
    log('The monster attacks ' + target);

  // A getter, as in every object literal.
  get isAlive() {
    return private(this).health > 0;

  // A setter, as in every object literal.
  set health(value) {
    if (value < 0) {
      throw new Error('Health must be non-negative.')
    private(this).health = value

  // A property definition, as in every object literal.
  numAttacks: 0,

  // A "const" property definition, as in every object literal.
  // (syntax of const property production is not yet agreed upon,
  // just use any one which is selected in the end)
  attackMessage := 'The monster hits you!'
Apart from the different comments, which just show the different 
implementation provide semantically same result, the class code is nearly 
identical. Gone is (superfluous) public keyword in context of the prototype, 
I'd say it could go from constructor method as well (this.name = name; works 
fine and does not create any exceptional situations for 
constructor/non-constructor). If you see at it, the class block really only 
did (declaratively) describe the prototype. So let us make class Clazz 
[extends Superclazz] an operator on the generic data-production block, which 
creates the class machinery from it and returns constuctor function. It can 
be de-facto desugared to something like:

var _proto = (Superclazz || Object).prototype <| {
  ... the class body ...
if (!_proto.constructor) { _proto.{ constructor() {} } }
var _ctr = _proto.constructor;
_ctr.prototype = _proto;
return _ctr;
except for the __allowConstruct__ will be inherent, not issued afterwards. 
Pros are clearly visible: less kinds of abstraction, no management of making 
features in class and object literal work consistently (class declaration is 
an object literal, everything works automatically).
There are some open issues, definitely. The class proposal continues with 

class Monster {
  // "static" places the property on the constructor.
  static allMonsters = [];

  // "public" declares on the prototype.
  public numAttacks = 0;

  // Although "public" is not required for prototype methods,
  // "static" is required for constructor methods
  static numMonsters() { return Monster.allMonsters.length; }
which can be straightforwardly rewritten as
class Monster {
  // "static" places the property on the constructor.
  static allMonsters: [],

  // plain declares on the prototype.
  numAttacks: 0,

  // "static" is required for constructor methods
  static numMonsters() { return Monster.allMonsters.length; }
and yes, object literal needs to know static keyword if used in context of 
class operator. Yes, an exception, but pretty clear one. We can live with 
it. The question appears: "What about static in macros?", which is not 
really easy to answer. One possibility may be to allow it (and any use of 
static) and throw an error if it is not (directly or included) happening 
inside class operator.
Then there is private: one possibility is to treat it similarly to previous 
static solution - allow to write it anywhere, but throw an error if it is 
(directly or included) not inside class operator. Or it can be taken more 
broadly, to which there is dedicated special section below.

To end this paragraph more positively, if you define class block to be a 
data-production block, you can make the language more cohesive and features 
reused instead of coordinated, which should be a plus. Also adoption should 
be less fearful, because you do not any "class magic", you are simply 
"declaring the structure of a prototype" (while constructor and static (and 
also private, if it remains class specialty) are taken care by class 
operator for you).

Classes + macros = free trait-based composition.

Obvious sexy freebie. Put traits into macros (you can create middlemen by 
another macros importing and glueing some of them), and then use them in 
class production.

function @Pointish() {
  get r() { return Math.sqrt(this.x*this.x, this.y*this.y); }
  get phi() { return ... this.x }
  set r(newR) { ... }
  set phi(newPhi) { ... }

function @Circlish() {
  get area()  { return Math.PI*this.radius*this.radius; }
  get diameter() { return 2*this.radius; }
  get cirumference() { return 2*Math.PI*this.radius; }

function @Translatable() {
  translate(dx, dy) { this.x += dx; this.y += dy; }

function @Rotatable() {
  rotate(angle) { this.phi += angle; }
  grow(quotient) { this.r *= quotient; }

class BasicPoint {
  constructor(x, y) {
    this.x = x;
    this.y = y;


class Vector extends BasicPoint {
  constructor(x, y) { super(x, y); }

class Circle extends BasicPoint {
  constructor(x, y, radius) {
    super(x, y);
    this.radius = radius;


  grow(quotient) { this.radius *= quotient; }

And you can parametrize them, if you see the use (for example with names of 
properties to use for x, y, radius, ... while having defaults).
4. private reuse

The class specificity of private raises issues, as could be seen above. 
Also, private seems to be nice feature, which can be profitably used 
anywhere, not just in classes.

The nature of private is lexical boundedness. It only has reasonable 
semantics in the "scope", and is bounded to this scope. If it was made 
available to any function or object literal, what would be the scope? What 
would private(this) mean?

For now, the scope is always "the enclosing class block", which defines that 
private is class-specific. I think it should be possible to let its broader 

It is true that other constructor functions (beyond those created in class) 
do not need private at all - they have "lexical privates". But there is no 
reason not to let them use the keyword if it is there - if only for uniform 
look of the code. This can help maintainability and refactoring.

Let us allow any constructor function define itself as "private scope" by 
issuing private; at the beginning of the block. Like this:

function Foo (bar) {

  private bar = bar;
  this.built = this.maintained = new Date;
  this.upgradeBar(equipment) {
    this.maintained = new Date;
This function uses its own private scope. If it appeared without private; in 
the main level, an error should be issued, because private is used outside 
of any scope. On the other hand, if it was without private; but for example 
inside class operator, it would use the enclosing private scope - in it, 
private(this) is legal, but private bar=bar; is illegal.
The module is probably an imperative block, too. It may be worth thinking if 
it also could not have possibility of issuing private;, thereby defining 
itself as a private-scope and at the same time defining the private storage 
block. Then, anything defined inside this module could use private(this) to 
get to module private data.

Back to the data domain, any object literal (which can now define methods, 
and could put functions in properties before) could want to use private 
data. Of course you can again use lexical scope to allow "lexical privates". 
But the same as with constructor functions, why not let the object, if it 
wishes to, use the private in the same manner? Drawing from the code domain, 
let any literal use private, in the beginning of the block to make it 
private-scope and defining the private store, as well. So you can do

var counter = {
  get count() { return private(this).count; }
  increment() { private(this).count++; }
but count is not initialized. Drawing again form code private foo = "bar"; 
used in constructors (and when creating inline object, the literal that 
builds it is sort-of a constructor), we get:
var counter = {
  private count: 0,
  get count() { return private(this).count; }
  increment() { private(this).count++; }
That's it. Broader usage of private raises lots of open questions, see them 

Known problems, open questions.

What if I want to include a trait to class or sub-data into an object, but 
do not want to call a macro, which must be evaluated? For performance 
reasons, there should be some kind of direct import there.
Do not worry and use parameterless macros. Premature optimization is the 
root of all evil. Leave the evil to the compiler. If your macro does not 
rely on side-effects, its invoking can be considerably optimized by 
ECMAScript itself, down to one if from PIC and then inlining it. If you make 
the macro const, even that if can be probably eliminated.
I understand use of private(this) in module, but how does it initialize its 
private data?
See "What if such nested class's instances need their private store as 
well?" below.
Drawing parallels from constructor, wouldn't presence of private count: 0 be 
enough to make the literal a private scope?
Sometimes, private data is needed, but need not to be initialized. It may be 
possible to make private, optional if there are some private properites set 
up, but it may lead to forgetting it in case there are none. I'd rather see 
it required, but see also next two items.
Does class block need private, at the beginning?
This is in fact, a very good question. To complicate things, private, at the 
beginning of a class block would mean there is a private store for the 
prototype, not for the instances. Instances' stores are governed inside the 
constructor by its private;. I see little need for a prototype to have its 
own private store. It can be said that if you include private,, the private 
store for the prototype will be created and it is the lexical private scope 
as for any other object literal. Also see "What if such nested class's 
instances need their private store as well?" below, which may obsolete this 
question altogether.
Ok, does constructor method inside class block need private; at the 
This is in fact, a very good question. ;-) First, let's say the 
constructor's privateness should be promoted to the whole enclosing block 
(well, constructor has some personal advantages). Secondly, it seems 
constructor of class block has implicit private; since class is seen as 
private scope, always. But it is intriguing idea that the privateness of 
class is not automatic, for example to be able to create nested classes that 
do need to access private stores of their owners. Food for thought for 
private proposers and implementers (and users, of course).
But for the majority of cases, classes will be private;. By default, it 
should be on.
There may be an opt-out, for example !private; or delete private;.
What if such nested class's instances need their private store as well?
Very good question. It seems that "being a scope" and "having a store" is 
not the same thing. I do not see other solution than creating private store 
whenever private(foo) is encountered in runtime, it wants to write and the 
store does not exist (no need to create it to return undefined from read).
What if there is private, in class block, but also an implicit private; in 
See next.
What if private; for constructors was not implicit and there was private, in 
class block, but also private; in constructor?
Well, since constructor one's is promoted up, they conflict. I'd say they 
should be merged in this case, so they share private name for the store, but 
both instances and prototype have a private store.
Does the class itself have private store? That is, is static private 
Functions do not have private store, as yet. Only objects created from 
literals with private,, modules with private; and instances of classes with 
private; (explicit or implicit) in constructor have it. I'd say no (use 
prototype's private store). But again, see "What if such nested class's 
instances need their private store as well?" above. It suggests simple 
solution that invalidates all fears of this kind (and allows static private 
with no problems).
Bonus: arrays and generators.

This is just a bonus idea, which sprang up from including code-like features 
into data. The array literal was not enhanced any way yet. But it is 
natural - in array literal you rarely need to have some elements optional 
and some not. So no ifs here. As for the couterpart of a macro, let's 
postpone it for a while.

Arrays have "listish", "linear" feel. So does loops. ;-) But loops are not 
the right addition to the data production - they use variables and are very 
code-like. But there is another element, which is "listish" and "linear" - a 
generator. So, if you have defined some generator with

function* fib (upTo) {
why not to include it when bulding array literal, like:
[ "fibonacci", 10, *fib(10) ]
Not as sexy as traits though macros, but occasionally, usable. Especially in 
bare [ *gen(args) ] form to have intrinsic toArray. And generators are 
essentially macros of the array world, with a grain of salt.
And I think [ ..., *foo, ...] syntax could work for any iterable thing. Why 
only generators?

Thanks for patience, Herby 

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