Compilers for statically typed languages like C# and F# maintain data about types from programs. This type data is used at design time to provide IntelliSense and during compilation to generate new types and bind to existing types. We can think about this type data in the abstract as data about data, or Metadata. In statically typed languages the typed Metadata is typically imported and generated from typed programs.
What if a compiler could be augmented with metadata from other sources, say a database or an XML DTD or a DSL?
Then we could map to data easily inside our programs without resorting to either late binding or a code generation step!!!
Examples of accessing attributes of an XML element
1: Late-binding with string literals (F#)
let person = XElement.Parse("<Person Name=\"Bob\"/>")
let name = person.Attribute(XName.Get "Name").Value
2: Late-binding with dynamic lookup (F#)
// Define dynamic lookup operator
let (?) (el:XElement) (name:string) = el.Attribute(XName.Get name).Value
// Lookup Name attribute
let name = person?Name
3: Code generation using XSD.exe (C#)
string xml = "<Person Name=\"Bob\"/>";
var s = new XmlSerializer(typeof(Person));
var person = s.Deserialize(new StringReader(xml)) as Person;
var name = person.Name;
4: Hypothetical code binding (F#)
let person = XmlProvider.LoadXml("<Person Name=\"Bob\"/>")
let name = person.Name
The first 1st and 2nd methods using late-binding in effect use string-literals so lack type safety. The 3rd method required a code generation step that generated a whopping 62 lines of C# code to map 1 XML element with a single attribute.
The 4th (hypothetical) method provides all the immediacy benefits of a dynamic language like Python with the compile time safety and ease of use of a statically typed language.
PDC 2010: The Future of F#: Data & Services at Your Finger Tips – Don Syme:
Programming today exhibits a voracious appetite for information, and one of the most important trends in languages today is to make access to data and services fluent and seamless. Come and see the latest from the F# team, and learn how we are extending F# to embed the analytical programmer instantly in a world of typed data and services, whether they be web, enterprise, client or local.
From the slides that are now up on the PDC site, it looks like F# 3.0 is about to deliver!