Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Scripting Language for the Base Technology Software Agent Server

Much of the processing for software agents in the Base Technology Software Agent Server occurs automatically down inside the server software itself, but occasionally a modest amount of procedural scripting is needed, as well as expressions for numerous parameters. The scripting language for the agent server is based on Java, with a number of simplifications and extensions.
Expressions and most statements follow Java fairly closely. Those who are familiar with expressions and statements in C, C++, and Java, should feel right at home. The ++, +=, and ? : operators are supported, for example.
Since the purpose of scripts is primarily "small snippets of code", there is no support for defining classes and other complex structures that are supported by Java and C++. On the flip side, since lists and collection of named data are so common, the 'list' and 'map' types are built into the language, and the built-in "web" type dramatically facilitates access to web resources. The expectation is that any complex structures should be constructed by developing collections of agents themselves. Also, simple map objects are very convenient for collecting related information, without any of the tedium of defining and implementing full-blown classes. That said, I am sure that some future stage of the agent server will add support for classes, in some form.
The scripting language does not have a 'new' operator, but lists and maps can be trivially constructed without it using list and map literals, more reminiscent of JavaScript than Java. Also, typed fields are automatically initialized to their specified type, so there is no need for 'new' simply to initialize an empty list or map.
As far as data types, the scripting language supports most of the Java primitive types, as well as built-in support for strings, lists, maps, and web objects. The various keywords for the types of integers supported by Java are supported, but are all mapped to one long integer type. Similarly, the various keywords for float and double are supported, but are all mapped to double. The 'char' type is supported but mapped to string. String literals may be enclosed in quotes or apostrophes (single quote.)
The scripting language also includes support for dates and money, although that support is not yet fully implemented. Strings can simply be mapped between ISO date/time format and RFC date/time format as well as integers.
Currently, scripts are simply named functions with no parameters. Syntactically, they are a Java block but without the braces. Nesting of statements and blocks with local variables is supported, much as in Java.
Unlike Java, elements of lists and maps map be referenced as if they simple arrays rather than require the explicit 'get' and 'put' method calls (which are still supported for compatibility and due to their familiarity.) Substrings or sub-ranges of strings and lists can easily be extracted using a pair of subscripts to specify the range.
Characters and substrings of strings can be accessed directly using square bracket subscripts as well rather than use the 'charAt' method (which is still available for compatibility.)
Another simplification is to treat the 'length' and 'size' methods identically regardless of whether the object is a string, list, or map. Further, the useless, empty parentheses can be omitted.
As an additional simplification, the value associated with a string map key can be directly accessed with the traditional C/C++/Java dot notation as if it were a class field. This includes both reading and assignment.
Quite a few of the Java string operations are supported, in addition to operations such as 'between' to find two substrings and return the text between them. The 'before', 'after' and 'between' operations also have regex-forms to allow very powerful but concise string manipulation, which makes it very easy to extract data from web pages, text files, and XML documents even without using the built-in HTML and XML parsing features. It is also easyt to extract word lists from HTML, XML, text, etc., as well as to generate strings from list and map structures.
One significant difference from the Java String class is that substrings can be modified in-place. Individual characters can be replaced, characters can be deleted, inserted, and substrings can be replaced with other substrings whose length may differ. Since the original string is modified, a copy of the string is made whenever it is stored in a variable.
Another improvement for strings is that the relational operators can be applied directly to string values, as opposed to resorting to the 'equals' method. The 'equals' method is still supported, as is the 'equalsIgnoreCase' method.
The Java library is a bit confusing as to when 'add', 'put', and 'set' are to be used in different classes, so we treat all three identically for list, map, and string.
All text is presumed to be UTF-8 encoded UNICODE. Explicit character codes code be embedded within string literals as in Java.
The so-called bit-wise operators (&, |, ^, ~) are not supported at this time, but the logical boolean operators (&&, ||, !) are supported. The shifting and bit rotation operators are also not supported at this time, although they may resurface in a future release.
One minor nuance is that types are all lower case since they are all built-in primitive types. This includes int, long, string, list, map, and web. There are no "boxed" types as in Java, nor any need for them.
Also missing is Java's extensive class library and third-party libraries. But, the built-in 'web' type greatly simplifies access to web resources, including HTML web pages, text files, XML files, RSS feeds, and REST API web services. A very rich set of functions and methods are already built into the scripting language and its runtime, especially with the flexibility of the built-in list and map types. Over time additional types and functions will be added as their need becomes apparent.
User-defined functions are supported within an agent. Unlike normal scripts which are Java-style blocks without the enclosing braces, a user-defined function has something very similar to the function header and block block syntax of Java.
The developer of an agent may optionally decide that selected scripts and functions are to be "public", which means that they can be called directly using the REST API. This presumes that the user provides the proper user ID and password, so this feature should be reasonably secure. And, of course, the developer can opt to make none of the scripts or functions public for maximum security.


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At 5:22 AM MDT , Anonymous Point of sale said...

I absolutely agree with Scripting Language is use for the Base Technology Software Agent Server. According to me scripting language does not have a 'new' operator. You have given lots of information about different scripting language.

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