Technical Dimensions of Programming Systems

Joel Jakubovic1 OrcidLogo, Jonathan Edwards2 OrcidLogo, and Tomas Petricek3 OrcidLogo

The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming, 2023, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Article 13

Submission date: 2022-09-30
Publication date: 2023-02-15
Full text: PDF


Programming requires much more than just writing code in a programming language. It is usually done in the context of a stateful environment, by interacting with a system through a graphical user interface. Yet, this wide space of possibilities lacks a common structure for navigation. Work on programming systems fails to form a coherent body of research, making it hard to improve on past work and advance the state of the art.

In computer science, much has been said and done to allow comparison of programming languages, yet no similar theory exists for programming systems; we believe that programming systems deserve a theory too.

We present a framework of technical dimensions which capture the underlying characteristics of programming systems and provide a means for conceptualizing and comparing them.

We identify technical dimensions by examining past influential programming systems and reviewing their design principles, technical capabilities, and styles of user interaction. Technical dimensions capture characteristics that may be studied, compared and advanced independently. This makes it possible to talk about programming systems in a way that can be shared and constructively debated rather than relying solely on personal impressions.

Our framework is derived using a qualitative analysis of past programming systems. We outline two concrete ways of using our framework. First, we show how it can analyze a recently developed novel programming system. Then, we use it to identify an interesting unexplored point in the design space of programming systems.

Much research effort focuses on building programming systems that are easier to use, accessible to non-experts, moldable and/or powerful, but such efforts are disconnected. They are informal, guided by the personal vision of their authors and thus are only evaluable and comparable on the basis of individual experience using them. By providing foundations for more systematic research, we can help programming systems researchers to stand, at last, on the shoulders of giants.

  1. University of Kent, UK

  2. n.n., n.n.

  3. University of Kent, UK / Charles University, Czechia