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Houyhnhnm Computing

In my various professional endeavors, I had to deal a lot with build systems: programs like Unix Make , Common Lisp’s ASDF , or Google’s Bazel , but also package managers like rpm , dpkg or Nix , with which developers describe how to build executable software from source files. As the builds grew larger and more complex and had to fit a wider diversity of configurations, I particularly had to deal with configuration scripts to configure the builds, configuration script generation systems, build extensions to abstract over build complexity, and build extension languages to write these build extensions. Since the experience had left me confused, frustrated, and yearning for a better solution, I asked Ngnghm how Houyhnhnms dealt with these issues. Could they somehow keep their builds always simple, or did they have some elegant solution to deal with large complex builds?

Once again, Ngnghm wasn’t sure what I meant, and I had to explain him at length the kind of situations I had to deal with and the kind of actions I took, before Ngnghm could map them to processes and interactions that happened in Houyhnhnm computing systems. And his conclusion was that while Houyhnhnms computing systems certainly could express large builds, they didn’t possess a “build system” separate and distinguished from their normal development system; rather their “build system” was simply to use their regular development system at the meta-level, while respecting certain common constraints usually enforced on meta-programs.

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