09.03.11

Considering a new keyword for Bugzilla

Bug databases track issues at several levels.

There’s the level of the specific problem. For example: this sequences of graphics calls causes a crash.

Then there’s the level of the meta-bug: a bug tracking a number of different issues in some genre. For example, there might be a bug tracking, say, crashes involving some particular feature: graphics drawing functionality, for example. In Bugzilla this is known as a “meta-bug”, because it isn’t really a bug but rather a bug about bugs. In b.m.o such bugs are given the meta keyword.

Last, there’s the level consisting of bugs which track meta-bugs. For example, you might have a bug tracking a bug for crashes involving graphics drawing functionality, a bug for rendering glitches involving graphics drawing functionality, a bug for unimplemented functionality in the specification, a bug for performance problems involving graphics drawing functionality, and a bug tracking progress at investigating the relative stability of graphics functionality run on hardware with various graphics cards and driver versions. The logical progression is to call this a “meta-meta-bug”.

Therefore, shouldn’t Bugzilla have a meta-meta keyword to associate with such bugs? But let’s not be over-hasty: let’s have a fair discussion first. Perhaps people should comment or blog about this idea a bit. What do readers think?

06.03.11

JavaScript change in Firefox 5 (not 4), and in other browsers: regular expressions can’t be called like functions

Callable regular expressions

Way back in the day when Netscape implemented regular expressions in JavaScript, it made them callable. If you slapped an argument list after a regular expression, it’d act as if you called RegExp.prototype.exec on it with the provided arguments.

var r = /abc/, res;

res = r("abc");
assert(res.length === 1);

res = r("def");
assert(res === null);

Why? Beats me. I’d have thought .exec was easy enough to type and clearer to boot, myself. Hopefully readers familiar with the history can explain in comments.

Problems

Callable regular expressions present one immediate problem to a “naive” implementation: their behavior with typeof. According to ECMAScript, the typeof for any object which is callable should be "function", and Netscape and Mozilla for a long time faithfully implemented this. This tended to cause much confusion in practice, so browsers that implemented callable regular expressions eventually changed typeof to arguably “lie” for regular expressions and return "object". In SpiderMonkey the “fix” was an utterly inelegant hack which distinguished callables as either regular expressions or not, to determine typeof behavior.

Past this, callable regular expressions complicate implementing callability and optimizations of it. Implementations supporting getters and setters (once purely as an extension, now standardized in ES5) must consider the case where the getter or setter is a regular expression and do something appropriate. And of course they must handle regular old calls, qualified (/a/()) and unqualified (({ p: /a/ }).p()) both. Mozilla’s had a solid trickle of bugs involving callable regular expressions, almost always filed as a result of Jesse‘s evil fuzzers (and not due to actual sites breaking).

It’s also hard to justify callable regular expressions as an extension. While ECMAScript explicitly permits extensions, it generally prefers extensions to be new methods or properties of existing objects. Regular expression callability is neither of these: instead it’s adding an internal hook to regular expressions to make them callable. This might not technically be contrary to the spec, but it goes against its spirit.

Regular expressions won’t be callable in Firefox 5

No one’s ever really used callable regular expressions. They’re non-standard, not all browsers implement them, and they unnecessarily complicate implementations. So, in concert with other browser engines like WebKit, we’re making regular expressions non-callable in Firefox 5. (Regular expressions are callable in Firefox 4, but of course don’t rely on this.)

You can experiment with a version of Firefox with these changes by downloading a TraceMonkey nightly build. Trunk’s still locked down for Firefox 4, so it won’t pick up the change until Firefox 4 branches and trunk reopens for changes targeted at the next release. (Don’t forget to use the profile manager if you want to keep the settings you use with your primary Firefox installation pristine.)

26.02.11

The proper way to call parseInt (tl;dr: parseInt(str, radix))

Introduction

Allen Wirfs-Brock recently discussed the impedance mismatch when functions accepting optional arguments are incompatibly combined, considering in particular combining parseInt and Array.prototype.map. In doing so he makes this comment:

The most common usage of parseInt passes only a single argument

Code-quality systems like JSLint routinely warn about parseInt without an explicit radix. Most uses might well pass only a single argument, but I could easily imagine this going the other way.

This raises an interesting question: why do lints warn about using parseInt without a radix?

parseInt and radixes

Like much of JavaScript, parseInt tries to be helpful when called without an explicitly specified radix. It attempts to guess a suitable radix:

assertEq(parseInt("+17"), 17);
assertEq(parseInt("42"), 42);
assertEq(parseInt("-0x42"), -66);
// assertEq(parseInt("0755"), ???); // we'll get back to this

If the string (after optional leading whitespace and + or -) starts with a non-zero decimal digit, it’s parsed as decimal. But if the string begins with 0, things get wacky. If the next character is x or X, the number is parsed in base-16: hexadecimal. Last, if the next character isn’t x or X…hold that thought. I’ll return to it in a moment.

Thus the behavior of parseInt without a radix depends not just on the numeric contents of the string but also upon its internal structure, entirely separate from its contents. This alone is reason enough to always specify a radix: specify a radix 2 ≤ r ≤ 36 and it will be used, no guessing, no uncertain behavior in the face of varying strings. (Although, to be sure, there’s still a very slight wrinkle: if r === 16 and your string begins with 0x or 0X, they’ll be skipped when determining the integer to return. But this is a pretty far-out edge case where you might want to parse a hexadecimal string without a prefix and would also want to process one with a prefix as just 0.)

But wait! There’s more

Beyond cuteness lies another concern. Let’s return to the leading-zero-but-not-hexadecimal case:

parseInt("0755");

In some programming languages a leading zero (that’s not part of a hexadecimal prefix) means the number is base-8: octal. So maybe JavaScript infers this to be an octal number, returning 7 × 8 × 8 + 5 × 8 + 5 === 493.

On the other hand, as I noted in Mozilla’s ES5 strict mode documentation, there’s some evidence that people use leading zeroes as alignment devices, thinking they have no semantic effect. So maybe leading zero is decimal instead.

The wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from

According to ES3, a leading zero with no explicit radix is either decimal or, if octal extensions have been implemented, octal. So what happens depends on who wrote the ES3 implementation, and what choice they made. But what if it’s an ES5 implementation? ES5 explicitly forbids octal and says this is interpreted as decimal. Therefore, parseInt("0755") is 755 in bog-standard ES3 implementations, 493 in ES3 implementations which have implemented octal extensions, and 755 in conforming ES5 implementations. Isn’t it great?

What do browsers actually do?

On the web everyone implements the octal extensions, so you’ll have to look hard to find an ES3 browser that doesn’t make parseInt("0755") === 493. But ES3 is old and busted, and ES5 is the new hotness. What do ES5 implementations do, especially as the change in ES5 isn’t backwards-compatible?

Surprisingly browsers aren’t all playing chicken here, waiting to see that they can change without breaking sites. On this particular point IE9 leads the way (in standards mode code only), implementing parseInt("0755") === 755 despite having implemented parseInt("0755") === 493 in the past. Before I saw IE9 implemented this (although I hasten to note they have not shipped a release with it yet), I expected no browser would implement it due to the possibility of breaking sites. After seeing IE9’s example, I’m less certain. Hopefully their experience will shed light on the decision for the other browser vendors.

Conclusion

Precise details of browser and specification inconsistencies aside, the point remains that parseInt(str) tries to be cute when parsing str. That cuteness can make parseInt(str) unpredictable if inputs vary sufficiently. Avoid edge-case bugs and use parseInt(str, radix) instead.

03.02.11

Working on the JS engine, Episode IV

A testcase submitted to us today:

([][(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[][(![]+[])[+[]]+(![]+[]+[][[]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]+(!![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]][([][(![]+[])[+[]]+(![]+[]+[][[]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]+(!![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(![]+[])[+!+[]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]]()+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[][(![]+[])[+[]]+(![]+[]+[][[]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]+(!![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+([][(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[][(![]+[])[+[]]+(![]+[]+[][[]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]+(!![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]][([][(![]+[])[+[]]+(![]+[]+[][[]])[+!+[]+[+[]]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+[]]+(!![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(!![]+[])[+!+[]]]+[])[!+[]+!+[]+!+[]]+(![]+[])[+!+[]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]+(![]+[])[!+[]+!+[]]]()+[])[!+[]+!+[]]

The result according to ES3, plus a common implementation-specific behavior, is the string "job".

The result according to ES5, plus a common implementation-specific behavior, is a thrown TypeError.

31.01.11

Waiting for Superman

Tags: , , — Jeff @ 02:20

Hacks (if you’re into web developer-y things: subscribe!) has a post on the latest MDN sprint, a well-attended event with many fresh faces. This bodes well for Mozilla documentation. Sheppy always has more docs to write than time to write them. Even with recent help, there’s too much for documentation writers at Mozilla-the-corporation to handle. But Mozilla-the-community can get it done if people are willing to do it.

Yet there’s the rub: if. Some people who could absolutely kill writing documentation instead write patches, curate mailing lists or forums, run IRC channels, or translate. It’s no given that there will be writers sufficient to the tasks at hand. Even if there are, what will they choose to document? Will they write about ooh, shiny! or about technologies more abbreviation than word? Docs will probably get written, but it might take awhile, particularly if the change is hard to grok in short order.

Who will write critical documentation for your next great fix if Mozilla-the-corporation lacks the writers and Mozilla-the-community chooses to work on other important tasks?

You.

There is no cavalry, no Superman to save the day.

You know the technology in question, the nature of the fix. You’re the person who can best explain what you did. You don’t need to have the change explained to you in order to document it. The person uniquely suited to documenting your fix is you.

Maybe you’re not the best writer. Take a stab anyway. Write something hackish and dump it in a user sub-page, then mention it in the relevant bug when you add the dev-doc-needed keyword. Or edit the relevant page and ping a good writer for a once-over.

You know the ins and outs of the change. The expert writer doesn’t. Write up the change if you can. But if you can’t, just getting it out there, even in an unpolished state, makes it vastly easier for him to translate your expert knowledge into expert documentation.

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