structure editors (David Lamb)
Tue, 4 Jul 89 14:28:09 EDT

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From: (David Lamb)
Newsgroups: comp.compilers,comp.editors
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 89 14:28:09 EDT
Followup-To: comp.editors
Organization: Queen's University, Kingston Ontario

Can anyone point me to references in the open literature that supplies
evidence one way or the other on the following question:

I've heard people claim that "structure editors" that provide only
editing operations corresponding to creating portions of an abstract
syntax tree are inferior in user-friendliness to "text editors" that
let people type the way they're used to, especially if the "text
editor" provides operations that let you fill in boilerplate when you
choose to do so. Is there any evidence, other than anecdotal, one way
or the other on this question?

I'm hoping to invest some of my research assistants' time this year in
extending my batch-style compilation tools to assist in building
interactive compiler-like programs, so would like to decide which
approach to take fairly soon.

David Alex Lamb
Department of Computing and Information Science
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7L 3N6
(613) 545-6067

ARPA Internet:
uucp: ...!utzoo!utcsri!qucis!dalamb

[This used to be quite a hot topic of debate. Personally, I tend toward
the text approach, see "Z - the 95% program editor," by Steve Wood in the
proceedings of an ACM text processing conference about 1981. The arguments
in favor of the structure editors is that the editor always knows what's going
on, the program being edited is always syntactically correct except for leaf
nodes that haven't been filled in yet. The argument in favor of the text
approach is that there are a lot of operations that are easy to do as text
editing but hard as structure editing, e.g. changing (a-b)-c to a-(b-c), and
the cost of parsing on demand is low enough not to be a problem. I've seen
plenty of papers describing various kinds of editors, but none trying to
compare them. Has anyone else? -John]

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