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PureBasic 5.30 is out !

That’s it, PureBasic 5.30 final version is out ! The beta phase was longer than usual and even if it’s holiday and summer time, it’s not a valid excuse ;). So let’s jump a bit in PureBasic development internals, so you can better understand why.

First of all, the IDE is now fully unicode. It looks like a no brainer as in PureBasic it’s more or less a checkbox to enable to have your program working in unicode, right ? Well, not this time. The (new) IDE is around for almost 10 years now (09/21/2005) and it grew out of proportion by including tons of features. We heavily use raw pointers to process string buffers quickly, and when switching to unicode, all the strings went to UCS-2 (16-bit character). The stuff here is Scintilla is working internally in UTF-8, so all our comparisons between PB strings and Scintilla internal
didn’t work anymore as one side was UTF-8 and the other UCS-2. Also, all the Scintilla commands which needed a buffer as parameter needed to be changed as we mostly used a pointer to a PB string for this. We also had API calls here and here which required some adaptation work, and there was no compiling error or runtime warning, so usually a nice crash was awaiting us when missing one and reaching this code section. To be honest, it was quite a bit depressing to see a solid IDE get back to a shacky shape. This looks brighter now, and the unicode switch allowed us to fix long standing IDE issues which is cool. It was a needed update, especially for the internal debugger which can now handle unicode programs. There is will be probably some quicks left but it should be ironed out in future versions.

We also made important internal compiler changes to enable runtime serialization trough the XML and new JSON lib. It doesn’t seem like a big deal from the user point of view, but actually it is. What is runtime serialization ? In a nutshell: you have your nice linked list of complex structured elements (which can contain dynamic map, array etc.) and you want to save it, so when you quit your program, you wont loose these data. To do that, you had mostly only one way until now: walk the list, write all the fields of your structure to either a file or a database. It can be time consumming to write this, and if you add a new field in your structure, you have to update both your load and save routines. With 5.30 serialization functions, you can do that with only one command. The compiler will flag your structure as a runtime one so it gets all needed information (like fieldname, fieldtype etc.) and build special information table to allow full recursive analysing and dumping of the structure data. We made this change generic in the compiler, so any command (even user libs) can use this feature. To allow this, we needed to support ‘shadow parameters’ in PB function call. Basically, when we declare a command parameter as “Runtime Structure” like in InsertJSONStructure(), one hidden parameter is added to the function call to add more information to the structure. The same is done to when a runtime list, map or array is need like in InsertJSONList/Map/Array(). Adding such a core feature in the compiler is always tricky and can creates new hard to track issues (like stack mis-aligment), and that’s why the IDE didn’t started anymore on some Windows x64 computers.

And finally, a word about LTS (Long Time Support). The 5.30 is the first version which is released in parallel than an LTS version. That means than we had to update our build servers and deployment tools to handle 2 concurrents versions (when building and when releasing). The website also needed some update to handle this properly. It’s small things but it does add-up and it in the end, it takes time to get everything right and properly working.

As a side note, all the doc are now updated to the new format in every languages and I would like to thank Andre and Mesa for the huge work done on this. A programming langage without a good doc is not a good programming langage.

I hope you didn’t fell asleep when reading this, enjoy the new version !

LTS

Since PureBasic 5.20, we introduced a new LTS suffix after the version name. Some of you wondered what it means, and what was the purpose of it. Basically, a LTS (Long Term Support) version will be supported for 2 years trough bug fixes release without any command or compiler modification. If you need stability in your development, you can choose to stick to an LTS version and then when the support is over go to the next one. We will provide clear migration path when going from one LTS version to another one. The advantage here is you don’t have to worry about code adpation when developping and still have stabilisation releases to have a rock solid development enviromnent. The disadvantage is you don’t get the new features of new major release until the next LTS version is out. That’s a balance to find and a decision to make, but now the choice is yours !

Following API changes

PureBasic uses a commandset built on top of the OS API, using generic commands to abstract it from you, the developer. One of the most daunting (and boring) task for us is to follow underlying API changes. A famous example was Cocoa support replacing old Carbon API on PureBasic for OS X. Another one is the DirectX11 support for the Sprite/Screen library on Windows. Linux isn’t left behind, with the recent GTK3 support for the whole commandset. All this requiers a lot of work, new knownledge to learn, and tons of testing, just to provide functionnalities which already work in the current API. From the PureBasic developer point of view, there is nothing fancy as the commands works as usual, only the implementation under the hood has been completely reworked. That’s one of the great strength of PureBasic: you can upgrade your program without worrying it about the technology used behind by just using a new version. OK, you will probably have some adjustements to do here and here, but it’s really nothing compared to migrate a whole program from one API to another.

Which brings us to a somewhat recurrent issue with PureBasic upgrade: commands are sometimes renamed, changed, or even removed. It often makes the developer angry as a working code needs to be modified to run again with the new version, and we don’t like to change working code. Agreed. But I would like to explain why it happens, and why it is important for PureBasic future. One important thing to understand: we don’t change the commandset unless it’s really necessary. It’s not our goal to mixup the whole stuff only to bother you. That said, the technology is always evolving and an high level programming language like PureBasic needs to follow the evolution as well. If not, it will be left behind, and a new language, using more modern API will take over. Let me use the sprite library as an example to illustrate my thoughs:

– API designed on Amiga in 1998 with no 3D acceleration. Was quite simple: sprite only, no zoom, no rotation, and many software only routines.
– Later, with DirectX7 on Windows, we got some 3D accelerated functions for some cards, so we added the ‘sprite3d’ library to support it. It was optional, as it didn’t work everywhere. That made the sprite lib a bit more hard to use, as you had to create 3D sprite using a real sprite with texture mode. DirectX7 mainly worked with 2D acceleration using DirectDraw, so we couldn’t switch to full 3D
– Nowaday DirectX9/DirectX11/OpenGL offers much better support for 3D only sprites, and 2D acceleration is not supported anymore. So all the sprites are now natively in 3D, even if we use it in 2D mode. What the purpose of having a ‘sprite3d’ lib as regular sprites are 3d anyway ? This one was obsolete, so we had to remove it to cleanup the library and have easier sprite handling, for you and for newcomers.

A new language won’t even think about separating sprite in 2 libs as it makes no sens: all is 3D now, even cheap phones handle its GUI in 3D mode. That was legacy and if we want to have PureBasic around in the future, we have to think ‘new’, and adapt the current commandset to new technology, even if it slightly breaks code. If we stick with older functionalities/design for compatibility sake, we will be slowing dying. Indeed, old PureBasic versions are available in the museum section of your online account, if you just need to do maintainance on a software.

Anti-virus plague

Ironic isn’t it ? Nowaday, anti-virus are becoming more and more intrusives, and ‘thanks’ to heuristic approaches, the false positives raise a lot, while eradication or real virus are less and less common. When was your last real virus detection ? Mine was may be 5-6 years ago. Since then, i got many alerts, but all were just dumbs. Microsoft has made giant progress to counter virus spreading and execution with modern iterations of Windows (see ASLR, DEP, user mode, etc.).

My concern about anti-viruses is the famous heuristic approach which often flag legit PureBasic programs as contamined. I don’t know exactly how works an anti-virus, but I bet it builds a database with some code patterns found in real virus, and if this code pattern is found in an executable it will raise an alert. And here is really the problem: if PureBasic is used to make a trojan or a virus, then chances are high than the code pattern will be actually a purelibrary command, meaning than every other PureBasic program using this command will be flaged as well. It’s really a poor detection mechanism and I can’t understand why anti-virus maker don’t try to find other methods to detect threats. Since several years now, PureBasic programs (and even the official IDE) are regulary flagged as virus with no reasons, and such threads often popup on officials forums. I can imagine the face of a potential customer wanting install the demo version of PureBasic when a big alert saying ‘Warning Trojan.bigvirus.1337’ popup.

So what to do ? Actually a very few things can be done:
– always send false positives to the your anti-virus maker. The more they get, bigger are the chances they will improve their detection routines.
– change your anti-virus. well, some are better than other. If it doesn’t work with PureBasic, you can consider it as a bad one 🙂

I hope it will change, somewhen. Ha, dreams…

Big Christmas Interview with Fred…

“Surprise!” – yes, after a long time I have done a new interview with Fred. And this has become really huge (around 80 Q & A!), in which Fred tell us more about himself, but above all about the history, current situation and future development of PureBasic. I was able to elicit some things from him, which will be included in the forthcoming (as beta) version 5.10…

Read more in the News on PureArea.net

Cocoa, Apple and PureBasic

PureBasic on Apple computers is now a long history but was not always a love story. Back in october 2005, the first version of PureBasic for OS X was released. We spent almost a year to write the PowerPC support for the compiler, which was a real challenge. Believe it or not, 4 months later, the first x86 mac was out with Apple touting all the benefits of the new new x86 processors and letting down the good old PowerPC. That’s was quite a shock for us and it was obvious than all the hard work put in the PowerPC version was lost, as no major mainstream OS run on these processors. So far so good, as x86 was already support on Windows and Linux version of PureBasic, we thought it would be a peace a cake to support OS X. Not really. It was a nightmare to make it work, as Apple forced all API call to have the x86 stack 16 bytes aligned ! PureBasic indeed wasn’t designed for such stack alignment on function calls, as Windows and Linux don’t need such strict rules (btw, it was never mentioned in the Intel doc as well). So we overhauled all the calling code in the compiler to add exception when calling a function or procedure in PureBasic OS X x86. It definitely took some time, as the first public version to support it was released in http://www.purebasic.com/news55.php”>december 2008 (granted, we did some other thing in between but it gives an idea).

But that’s not the end of the story. When we started the port of PureBasic on OS X in 2003, we decided to use the Carbon framework as it was the advised framework for C programmer. All PureBasic functions are done in C on other platforms so it was the right choice at the time. Doing all the GUI commands (Window, Gadget, Menu, ToolBar, StatusBar, 2DDrawing, Drag’n’Drop etc.) for Carbon requiered a lot of efforts, as these libraries are big and fully featured. The Carbon API isn’t very well designed, old school, and morever plagged with redraw and clipping bugs. We added tons of fix only to have something almost working. But if you look in the PureBasic bug forums for OS X, you will find a lot of small remaining issues. Ok, it wasn’t perfect and hard to achieve, but it was working. And Apple ditched it once again. In 2007, Apple announced than the Carbon based application won’t be supported in 64 bit mode. Adobe, Microsoft and several other major companies complained about this fact but the decision was made and here again we knew we would one day rewrite the whole PureBasic command set using the Cocoa alternative. We don’t have that many user on OS X, as it still have nowaday a small user base compared to Windows, but the work put to support OS X outweigh the other OS by a great factor. That’s interesting to understand how companies handle their user base. Apple, which both do hardware and software always push the software forward quickly, and deprecate its hardware in the same time. You want the new OS ? Buy a new mac. The developers are advised to follow as well, and if they don’t want to, that’s not Apple problem. Microsoft on the other side don’t do hardware, so they want their OS to run on any possible PC. Very old PC can still run Windows 7, granted you get enough memory. Microsoft takes care of their developers and of backward compatibility. Here is a small quote from Joel’s blog which resumes the thing:

I first heard about this from one of the developers of the hit game SimCity, who told me that there was a critical bug in his application: it used memory right after freeing it, a major no-no that happened to work OK on DOS but would not work under Windows where memory that is freed is likely to be snatched up by another running application right away. The testers on the Windows team were going through various popular applications, testing them to make sure they worked OK, but SimCity kept crashing. They reported this to the Windows developers, who disassembled SimCity, stepped through it in a debugger, found the bug, and added special code that checked if SimCity was running, and if it did, ran the memory allocator in a special mode in which you could still use memory after freeing it.

Microsoft don’t deprecate an API, they still support it, side by side with the new one. That’s more work for them, but million of developers don’t have to rewrite they code from scratch at every major Windows version. And more important, binary executable still work, without a change. That’s two way of handling progress, and none are really bad. Indeed from the PureBasic point of view, we prefer to focus on new features than rewriting our working toolkit in another technology.

That said, we do care about our community and we promized a Cocoa support for OS X some time (years) ago. As Apple is pushing even more with the MacOS X AppStore which will soon banish Carbon applications, it was the right time to dive into Objective-C and the new framework. Timo (Fr34k) did the base framework for the Gadget and Window library in Cocoa and run prelimary test between regular C libraries and Objective-C one. The results were concluding, and I take back his work and continued it. After one full week and half on the Cocoa framework, I have to admit that’s it’s much superior to Carbon, and I would like to share this experience with you. Once you get used to the very strange bracket based Objective-C syntax, you can achieve the same work in much less coding lines:

ScrollAreaGadget
Carbon: 487 lines
Cocoa: 163 lines

SpinGadget
Carbon: 379 lines
Cocoa: 254 lines

ButtonImageGadget
Carbon: 290 lines
Cocoa: 110 lines

We got similar result in other gadget files. Ok, but the Carbon API is known to be verbose due to callback and old design. How does it compare with other OS ?

ScrollAreaGadget
Cocoa: 163 lines
GTK: 323 lines
Win32: 570 lines

SpinGadget
Cocoa: 254 lines
GTK: 487 lines
Win32: 331 lines

ButtonImageGadget
Cocoa: 110 lines
GTK: 284 lines
Win32: 480 lines

All in all, Cocoa wins hands down. Why is that ? To be honest, Win32/GTK PureBasic implementation are for now more mature and tested, so it includes many little fix here and here. That said, Cocoa is a modern API compared to Win32 and GTK, and is object oriented, which means you can chain the calls. For example:

[[[NSTabView alloc] initWithFrame:NSMakeRect(x, y, Width, Height)] autorelease]

In traditional C, you will have 3 lines:

alloc()
initWithFrame()
setAuroRelease()

Which brings us to another nice feature: the autorelease pool. Objective-C use reference counting to automatically free the objects when no-one is using it. So you don’t have to track every free, and in the end it does save some code.

Ok, that’s all for now, Cocoa is on the track and we are making great progress. That means than the next major release of PureBasic will probably brings it as default toolkit and, as a bonus, introduce 64 bit support !

Back in business !

As you probably have noticed, the pace of PureBasic development has slowed down these last months due to full time job for Timo and myself. I’m very aware of the situation and I decided to get back at fulltime on PureBasic early in april ! As always after taking some distance from a project, we have many new ideas to tests and implement and I’m quite excited to get back on core development. We will probably ship one or two bug fix versions and then a new major with a priority for the 64 bit Cocoaified OS X version (which is already running here, but not yet finished/tested). After that, may be some big surprises 😉

Have fun !

PureBasic development

Some questions raised on the forums about the current pace of PureBasic development. The update are less frequent and some users are wondering if it’s not the end of PureBasic. No, it’s definitively not. We want to explain here, why it took longer than usual to release a new version (we had a very fast release cycle for this kind of software): first the current version to release, 4.60, is a big one: it has a lot of new commands, especially on the 3D side, and all these commands needs to have a proper documentation. And I write this documentation. You guess it, it’s boring, and i’m not really enjoying that part. Now, that’s not an excuse to have 2 months between two beta version right ? It should have something else. And you are right. We have since the beginning of the year a daily job, which means less time for PureBasic. We have nothing to hide here. Like most of you, we need to have a real job for a living. And it’s not the first time it happens: during the 10 years of PureBasic development, I have worked 5 years on a daily job, without big impact on PureBasic. So no need to panic, PureBasic is here and will continue to grow. We are also confident that its now a mature and very capable product. To finish on the ‘PureBasic end’ things: if we decide to stop PureBasic (which is very unlikely), we will release it to the community, either in Open Source form, or to a small group which could take over the development.

Some asked for our future plans. Here we go: we plan to release the 4.60 version early on september and a 4.61 bug fix version somewhen in november. In between, we will continue to work on the new features for the next version, we have quite some projet to make it better. So stay tuned !

Coding standards

I’m currently working on a C++ project and the coding standard problem raised again. And again, nobody in the team agree about the style/naming format to adapt. C++ sounds somewhat cursed on this topic. After so much years of existence, no precise coding rules has emerged and everyone is almost authorized to code as he wants to, making the whole project source code quite very heterogeneous and obviously hard to maintain. Java has a clean coding rules and almost everybody is following it without arguing. C# seems to have also a common coding standard, but it doesn’t seems to be that followed. That could be my very small experience in C#, I stand to be corrected. Back to C++. You may think: ‘what a big deal, just pick some rules and stick to it’. That’s the ultimate goal, thanks for your input ! But then, you have to please everyone habit and it’s not that easy. So you’re going to compromize on many thing and at the end, nobody is really happy with the result.

But wait, it’s a PureBasic blog, no ? That’s right and I wondered if we needed strict PureBasic coding standard, but after some thoughts it doesn’t seem to be needed and i will explain why:

– PureBasic comes with a big command set, which implicitly set the the name rules for the function/procedure naming: CamelCase. One down. In C++ you have to choose how to name your functions, your methods and your class. Candidate are numberous: myMethod(), MyMethod(), my_method(), mymethod() and so on.

– The constants are prefixed by a ‘#’ in PB, so it can’t clash with variables or anything else. PureBasic comes with a lot of predefined constants, all in CamelCase as well, setting a de facto standard. Again in C++ you have many way to name them: MyConstant, MY_CONSTANT, kMyConstant etc.

– PureBasic help and demo examples are very consistent and always share the same syntax rules which helps to guide the newcomers to format the code the same way.

– There is no “{}” in PureBasic, so the flamewar between K&R and GNU style is avoided, thanks !

When looking at the code snippet pasted on the forums.purebasic.com, I feel there is a common style and it’s very cool to see that. It doesn’t take long to get a grip on someone else code, and that’s a very important part of a programming tool.

Merry Christmas !

Turning ten !

If you take a quick look to the history page on www.purebasic.com, you will see this:

PureBasic 1.60 (AmigaOS) (09/09/2000)

9 september 2000. Seriously. So PureBasic is officially haunting the web since 10 years, which is kind of amazing, for different reasons. Let’s try to step back, catch a time machine, and see what and how it happened.

I got the chance to have a computer very young, at twelve. It was an amstrad CPC 6128, with a very low resolution but colored screen and strange disk format. My main attract was games, games and games. I spent countless hours playing many games (Barbarian anyone ?!). On a side note, in the book sold with the computer, there were some listings to type yourself a game using the build-in BASIC (an old school one, without procedure or even label, so you have to specify the line number to jump at when using GOTO or GOSUB). Out of curiousity, i tried to make it work. It was a ‘dart’ game, and it took forever to type back the printed listing to the computer. The result was rather disappointing, and the game was pretty bad.

A few years later, a friend got an Amiga 500 and when i looked at the games running on it, it was just unbelievable. The graphics and the sounds were way above anything else, and the games availables were just stunning. After a lot of negotiations, my brother and I get the precious, and a brand new Amiga 500+ hit our desk ! We used it a lot as an advanced gaming console, and had a lot of fun. Then the number of games released on the platform decreased to almost zero very quickly due to Commodore bankruptcy, and then my main point of interest changed.

I started programming somewhen in 1994. At first, it was some small tools programmed in, guess it, Basic. When the PureBasic project started, early in 1998, it was a quick attempt to support new PowerPC processors freshly available on the Amiga in a Basic language, with a syntax based on BlitzBasic which was discontinued. It was very small, with few features and very tied to the AmigaOS. It got about 200 build-in commands, an ‘IDE’ which was mostly only a text editing area and a ‘Compile/Run’ menu and a rudimentary runtime debugger. The whole commands were programmed in 680×0 asssembly code, which was the rules on the Amiga to have optimized code. And as the AmigaOS didn’t have memory protection, better check your code twice before running it, especially when dealing with pointers, or it will immediately reboot ! So far i got some positive comments from the internet community (yes, we had internet in 1998, even if it wasn’t fast) about PureBasic and the choice was made to do a Windows and Linux version as soon as possible. I was studing computer science and learned the C programming language, so it was a good time to recode everything in a ‘portable’ way. I didn’t knew so much about real world programming and i made a lot of mistake when porting it in C, and hopefully learned quite a bit from it.

Late in 2000, we publicly released the first Windows version and it was a real achievement, for me and for the future of PureBasic. The real deal started here, as the Windows audience was way larger than the AmigaOS one. We got a lot of feedback (compared to what i expected) and it was a great source of motivation. André jumped into the boat and since then handle the german part of PureBasic. The plan was to add as much as commands as possible to reach the critical mass which could attract users and let them do a complete software without hassle. The releases iteration was much faster than what it is now, because the shipped code was lower quality and we didn’t do synchronized releases between platforms. The development of the different versions on linux, windows and amigaos was very time consuming, as the build was not unified and nothing was virtualized. On Windows, all the libraries were coded in x86 assembly, which was obviously a wrong choice: much longer/harder to develop, not significant size/speed gain most of the time and more important not portable on x64. Timo joined the team and helped a lot to refactor the libs and the build structure.

Then we added quite a number of features, dealing with a lot of API and we reached in 2006 another important mark in PureBasic history: the 4.00 release.  I think than the project took a professional turn at this point. It took 6 years to reach it but then we had some interesting features:

– Flexible commandset, with more than 900 build in commands
– Support for the 3 major operating system (Windows, Linux, OS X), with an high compatibility level
– Buildin unicode & thread support
– Full featured, modern IDE
– Robust debugger, which comes in 3 flavours (console, standalone GUI and IDE integrated)

Four years later, we are at 4.51, which is a general refinement of 4.00. More commands, more stability, more fun. Internally, we have enhanced many things, making our development easier, faster and more robust. Time flies, but it’s great to see what have been achieved. We have very high expectations for the future, there is so much things left to do !

So far, thank you to all the PureBasic folks which are actually using it and make all this possible. See you in 10 years…