Squiggle - a JS language

Squiggle: a compile-to-JS programming language.


This was originally posted on Medium.com on July 1, 2015, but I’m reposting it on my personal blog on May 8, 2019.


Yeah, I know: yet another programming language.

Still with me? You might be wondering why I decided to make a programming language. Here’s a few reasons:

  • I can.

  • I’ve never written a compiled language before (Only an interpreted one: LatteScript).

  • I wanted an expression-oriented language.

  • I wanted immutable data (That is also transparently usable from JS).

  • I wanted constant variable bindings (Makes code easier to reason about).

  • I wanted function arity (argument count) checking (Fix common source of mistakes with callbacks and such).

  • I wanted a powerful runtime type system (TypeScript only enforces checks at compile time, forcing library authors to perform additional manual runtime checking to avoid processing incorrect data).

  • There’s a chance I might make something useful.

Here’s the “Hello, World!” program:

console.log("Hello, World!")

“But that’s just JavaScript without a semicolon,” you think. “Are they just making another CoffeeScript?” No.

Factorial Example

Let’s look at a more involved example:

let (
    factorial = ~(n)
        if <(n, 2)
        then 1
        else *(n, factorial(-(n, 1))),
    main = ~() factorial(4)
) in {"main": main}

We have a program where the main function computes factorial(4). Please excuse the prefix notation on the math operators, that’s likely to change in the future.

If I were to hand write the JavaScript for this module, it would look something like this:

function factorial(n) {
  return n < 2 ? 1 : n * factorial(n - 1);
function main() {
  return factorial(4);
module.exports = { main: main };

This probably looks cleaner than the Squiggle version, even if I had to say return everywhere. But the output of Squiggle is a bit more involved than this.

Here is the JavaScript output from Squiggle, with the Squiggle internal and standard library functions removed for clarity:

module.exports = (function () {
  var factorial = function (n) {
    if (arguments.length !== 1) {
      throw new LANG$$js_Error("...");
    return $lt(n, 2) ? 1 : $star(n, factorial($minus(n, 1)));
  var main = function () {
    if (arguments.length !== 0) {
      throw new LANG$$js_Error("...");
    return factorial(4);
  return LANG$$object([["main", main]]);

Notice how < becomes $lt, and * becomes $star? These are internal Squiggle functions that wrap JavaScript’s built-in operators and will eventually provide type checking. No more (3*'hi') giving you NaN. This will throw an error. The operator ++ will call .concat() if its arguments are both strings or both arrays.

Functions you create automatically have arity checking inserted. No more forgetting the argument to factorial and getting NaN. No more passing extra ignored arguments accidentally. There’s even plans to add runtime value assertions (pre- and post-conditions), as follows (subject to change):

let (
    nonempty = ~(xs) >(xs.length, 0),
    first = ~(xs: nonempty) xs[0]
) in {"first": first}

Also, LANG$$object creates an object using Object.freeze, so no one can ever mess up your values. And because it’s a function, not an object literal, keys can be computed values, not just string literals.

This code would assert that nonempty(xs) is true every time first is run, ensuring that the preconditions have been satisfied, or throwing an exception. The precondition could be any function returning a boolean value, allowing you to easily reuse constraints across many functions to ensure clean APIs in programs you write.

Unlike TypeScript, this would not detect any errors at compile time, but also unlike TypeScript, this would detect errors at runtime, even by plain JavaScript consumers.

What’s Next?

I already have a decent amount of language implemented, so my next post will probably be a dive into the concepts available in Squiggle.

You can find the source on GitHub.