Parrot 1.0 Said to Speak Your Virtual Language

Mar 19, 2009

After years of development, version 1.0 of the Parrot virtual machine has arrived for Perl, Python and other dynamic languages. Whether the Parrot will take a firm foothold in software development is still up in the air.

Success will come to those who wait, if indeed Parrot 1.0 delivers what it promises. Over the years it has been securing a reputation ever closer to that of GNU Hurd or Duke Nukem -- a lot of hot air. Most of the time we've heard more about worn out project managers than actual successes.

It all started with an April Fool's joke in 2001 that announced that the competing Python and Perl programming languages were merging into a Frankenstein-like monster named "Parrot." The prank then took off in seriousness and Parrot morphed into a project that implemented a virtual machine not only based on Perl and Python, but optimized for all sorts of other languages. For this purpose the VM should also support operations to implement language constructs such as closures and continuations, unlike, for example, Java VM.

Not all promises were kept, as is clear from the current list of Parrot-based language implementations. Some are, in fact, not implementations at all, but are marked "dormant" and may never emerge from that state. Officially Parrot 1.0 supports Python, Ruby and Perl 6, as well as the less known APL (A Programming Language). The Subversion repository currently has about an additional 20 more or less widespread languages.

Parrot 1.0 relies on a stable API that should theoretically help in getting the virtual machine word out. In practice, however, Parrot has recently got some competition from .NET Mono and even Java VM has shown some improvements. Finally, Dalvik, the Google Android VM with the same register-based technology, has shown some recent strides to give Parrot additional competition. Who knows, maybe the polyglot Parrot will find its eventual niche in the free software ecosystem, as long as it finds enough users.

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  • Parrot 1.0 Said to Speak Your Virtual Language

    To say that Parrot "officially" support Python, Ruby, Perl 6 and APL is simply not correct: Parrot provide an infrastructure for people wanting to implement a compiler for high level languages. Parrot have been designed principally to responds to the needs of implementors wanting to develop dynamically typed languages (like Perl 6, Ruby or Python), but if you really want it to, you can also implement statically typed languages as well, even if it is not optimised for that happy
    Historically, proof of concept high level language implementations developped for pre version of parrot were on the same repository but most of languages supported by their implementors have now "left the nest" and are now maintained in their respective repositories. The few languages left in the subversion repository are mainly just proof of concept languages without maintainers.
    As parrot has just recently reach the 1.0 mark, the state of the current high level language implementations should not be used as a metrix for measuring the maturity of the parrot project itself.
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