Security Demands Simplicity (was: Private Slots)

David Bruant bruant.d at
Sun Jan 20 11:12:45 PST 2013

Le 20/01/2013 18:54, Allen Wirfs-Brock a écrit :
> On Jan 20, 2013, at 3:04 AM, David Bruant wrote:
>> Le 20/01/2013 05:27, Allen Wirfs-Brock a écrit :
>>> Weakmaps and symbol keyed properties (private or not) are very different mechanism.  They each have a variety of uses and differing implementation and performance characteristics.  It really is a distraction to focus exclusively on a single use case that might be supported by two different mechanism and use it to argue that only one of the mechanism is needed.
>> What are the different uses of private symbols?
> Branding is the important one.
> Secure private communications between "friend" objects is another possible one.
Secure private communication between friend objects can be achieved 
simply and efficiently with functions or weakmaps already. Why is there 
a need for an additional construct for that use case?

>> More specifically: what are the remaining explicit uses of private symbols in a language with private syntax in classes?
> But we don't have such a language.  There are no harmonious proposals for such a syntax.  Getting classes into ES6 via the max-min class proposal was possible because we agreed not to debate that issue.
Will we ever? If the answer is yes, my point stands. TypeScript has 
private syntax in class. People want it. The ES6 cut-off was too short 
for TC39 to settle on private in class, but the pressure is here so it's 
going to happen sooner or later (Mark was saying ES7).

> We we were going to talk about adding support for addition semantics to  classes we should start at the level of the object model.  Not with syntax. ES6 class syntax is good because it is defined in terms of the object model and more basic operations that are defined in the language.  You don't have to use class syntax to define a class equivalent. So, if we are going to introduce private object state the first step is to define how it works at the object model level.
Does defining how it works at the object model level commits the 
language to expose a runtime construct allowing to use the lowest-level 
feature directly?
I think it does not. You think it does, hence private symbols:
* For which benefits?
* One downside is that it brings along more complexity to the 
language... well... to proxies at least. I understand and somewhat agree 
with your argument that complexifying proxies isn't a problem, but at 
least, there should be a benefit.
Also, given that private-in-classes aren't in ES6, why would it be 
necessary to add private symbols in ES6? Until there is a feature that 
demands to be desugared as private symbols (I don't think there is, but 
you probably know better, so tell me if so), it might be wise to put 
them on hold.

> IMO and for reasons I've already presented, saying that private state is just relationships defined via WeakMaps is a non-starter.
I disagree with your arguments on WeakMaps, because choosing to desugar 
the syntax to WeakMaps doesn't commit neither the implementation nor the 
spec to actually use weakmaps to spec or to implement the feature.

>> I think symbols were introduced given experience in ES5 and assuming being an improvement on top of ES5 as we know it. On top of pure ES5, private symbols make a lot of sense. In ES5+class-with-private-syntax, I'm much more skeptical.
> Actually experience with a number of languages.  But like I said, there is no ES5+class-with-private-syntax so I don't see how that is a useful argument.
There will be.

>> Also, private syntax as private symbol makes the proxy story complicated [1], because the class or its instances need to publicize private symbols so that proxies can add them to their whitelist when wrapping class instances. I don't think leaking abstraction is a valid option, so it means that only 2 out of the 3 following can be kept in the language:
> I don't have a problem at all with making the proxy story more complicated.
"complicated" was an expression. Either proxies don't work with class 
instances, making them vastly pointless or classes need to publicize 
their private symbols (or maybe expose something like 
"myClass.acceptProxy" which is marginally better), thus ruining their 
own encapsulation.

> Proxys are an expert feature designed for some specific use cases.  they are probably an attractive nuisance.  I would advise most JS programmer that if they are going down the road of using a Proxy, they are probably making a mistake.  In that light,  placing the extra complexity within the Proxy story seems just fine.
To the point of making proxies useless when interacting with class 
instances or ruining class encapsulation?

>> 1) proxy-wrapping class instances (without leaking abstractions)
>> 2) private syntax in class
>> 3) private symbols
>> We can probably predict in advance that JavaScript authors will largely not want to give up on 2) (even if it comes only in ES7). Should 1) or 3) be given up? Unless relevant use cases different than class-like usages are provided, 3) can disappear in my opinion.
> If the above was the only choice (and I don't think it is)
Which other choices do you think are available?


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