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From Daniel Dekany <>
Subject Re: The problem of "too human" text transformations
Date Thu, 31 May 2018 09:03:09 GMT
Thursday, May 31, 2018, 1:16:26 AM, David E Jones wrote:

> My general opinion on this sort of thing is there are lots of libraries and
> tools around in the Java world for doing string manipulations and such,
> they don't need to be built into a template language. Taking that one step
> further, I'd actually prefer that the expression syntax in the template
> language makes it easy to call an existing API vs trying to make everything
> built into the template language.
> For example in addition to using FTL I also use Groovy heavily and Groovy
> already has a great API including standard Java API augmentation for all
> sorts of things. Yes, FTL could use the Groovy String and other expanded
> objects as a reference for built in design and have a good set of commonly
> needed things, but why not just defer to Groovy for those that use it or
> whatever other API/library anyone might prefer.
> I know this is a VERY different direction from FM2. What I find most useful
> in FTL is features like macros and the extensive directives and other
> things that make a template language flexible and powerful. The built-ins
> are handy sometimes, but often don't do what I need anyway so other than
> things like ?has_content I don't use them a lot.

An important (and as far as I'm concerned, the main) reason for many
built-ins is/was that frameworks and other products drop in FreeMarker
for templates and then often don't give much attention to give tools
to the template authors. Then the poor people who actually has to
create templates come and ask, "I must do X... how can I do that in
FreeMaker?". The less often we have to say "Please pester the
developers (who are often from another company, or are on another
sub-project by now => you have near 0 chance) to expose such
functionality to the templates", the better. Instead we can say "Like
foo?x", and furthermore, ?x is documented, and people can actually
find its documentation, even years later. Surely if you have some
small company with the sharp people, this is not a problem for you.
Actually, then you very often don't want the one-size-fits-all
solutions anyway.

> I've mentioned this before but what would be a killer feature for FTL is to
> support pluggable expression evaluators. The FTL expression syntax isn't
> awful

(Yes it is... but that's besides the point until I have fixed it in

> but is not nearly as convenient as Groovy, especially when you are
> using it extensively elsewhere.

The theoretical problem is of course that both languages (the "outer"
template language and the language from where you rip off the
expression language from) have its own ideas, and so there will be
mismatches. The expression language in a language and other parts of
the language aren't separate in general anyway. Which leads to the
question that if you are using Groovy expressions, why not also use
for loops and whatnot from Groovy? (This is fairly common way of
creating template language, just taking an existing language, and add
some convenience syntax to embed it into the static text.) So then we
don't need our own #list, #if, etc. implementation either. But then,
the original idea was that a template language is a domain specific
language, and as such can have more specialized, say, loop constructs
for that domain. (I'm not saying that FM2 did great there, but there
was a lack of determination there as well.) If that's not the case

Anyway, when and if FM3 will be more mature, we can see if how doable
this is in reality. It's also a question if we are talking about a
syntax, that in 99% looks like Groovy, or we are talking about actual
Groovy. In the last case TemplateModel-s and the particular way null
handling will work will be an obstacle for sure. Not to mention
TemplateMarkupOutputModel-s, that AFAIK don't even have commonly used
equivalent (like a class in the standard Java API).

> If the default FTL expressions were not used you couldn't use
> built-ins and instead would just have expressions that are expected
> to evaluate to a boolean, string, or arbitrary object and can be
> whatever.

At least in FM3 built-ins will be just functions you have defined in
the "core" FTL namespace (whose content is specified in template
language Dialect you use) that's "statically linked" to the templates
(allowing some parse-time checks and somewhat faster calls). So
`foo?bar(1)` is basically just a shorthand syntax for `<#import core =
'freemarker://dialect-or-something'>` and `, 1)`. There's
a standard/default Dialect of course, which has the big advantage that
it's documented in the official Manual, is used in SO answers, etc.

> How important is this? Important enough that I've
> considered using a different template language. If FTL wasn't so
> darn convenience for XML transformation using macros I'd probably be
> using Groovy GString templates instead, and just for the far better
> syntax in Groovy.
> This also goes back to the object wrapping discussion which is another can
> of worms...

Yeah, it's one of the things that I really wanted to get rid of, but
it's a very disrupting transition to do. I don't mean for most of the
users, but for the source code. On the brighter side, what really
happens when you do that transition is that instead of something like:

  if (value is TemplateMapLikeModel) {
      ... ((TemplateMapLikeModel) value).get(k) ...

you, in first approach, rewrite it to something like:

  if (mop.isMapLike(value)) {
      ... mop.get(value, k) ...

Of course that would be a silly MOP API design, so this below is more
likely, but now it's visible that one comes from the other trivially:

  MapLike m = mop.tryGetAsMapLike(value);
  if (m != null) {
      ... m.get(k) ...

Hence when we have our TemplateModel-s cleaned up, it's easier to
migrate to the MOP approach. The "type system" (just a mental model
really) depicted be the TemplateModel still exists, you just use a MOP
to implement it.

> I don't mean to derail this discussion, but especially these days in a
> world of a huge number of great Java libraries out there it is often better
> to not try to do everything and instead focus on core strengths that you
> can't get anywhere else, and make it easy for people to use other open
> source projects for their core strengths. This could even go as far as
> FreeMarker builds that have dependencies on certain commonly used open
> source projects, there are many even in the ASF that do various things that
> FTL built-ins do but with far more options and well known behavior for the
> many who use them (like various Commons projects).

It's really the duty of the Dialects feature of FM3. You can put
together your "toolbox" from whatever you want, like call Apache
Commons. I mean it's unrelated to question of expression languages, as
far as I see. (Like, you can call plain Java methods from FM2 as

If we want to use Apache Commons etc. in implementing the functions of
the standard dialect... I *guess* we won't benefit from it much at
this point, but I need to see it case-by-case to tell, like, the FM
implementation of function x sucks, while Apache Commons StringUtils.x
is great, etc. In any case, users don't care, as far as they can call
?x and it does its job. My point in this thread is that we should be
able to tell users to "just write ?x" (see earlier), instead of add
your own solution somehow. (Also, if ?x works, they prefer if we have
less dependencies. Especially if we want to support Andorid.)

> Would supporting different expression languages cause huge problems for IDE
> support? Possibly, but IDEs these days have lots of support for language
> injection and layers that are meant for just this sort of thing.

At least looking from big enough distance it's easy. :) Note that so
far we fail to deliver an editor for Eclipse that integrates the
existing HTML editor functionality with FTL... :-> Please everyone go
and help out Angelo Zerr so that this will change:

Anyway, IDE support won't be the obstacle. At worse only the default
expression syntax will have reasonable IDE support.

> In theory FreeMarker itself could be a heck of a lot smaller and
> simpler and at the same time be far more flexible and powerful. IMO
> that could be a game changer in the world of Java-based template
> languages. Some of this would be more work than not supporting this
> sort of flexibility (ie support Groovy syntax as an option, ie
> without requiring the much larger Groovy jar files as dependencies
> by having a default built-in expression syntax), but by simplifying
> other things it would save a heck of a lot of work (including design
> work).

So, I'm not sure I follow what exactly are you proposing. To use
vanilla Groovy (the actual implementation) for expressions? How does
that blend with the directives (which mostly also have similar pairs
in Groovy), and other (planned) FM features? (And... why's the result
called FreeMarker at all? ;) )

> -David
> On Wed, May 30, 2018 at 5:50 AM, Taher Alkhateeb <
>> wrote:
>> I'm not a subject matter expert here, but I always thought sensible
>> defaults with the ability to override using configuration is a wise
>> move because you appeal to many people out of the box and then allow
>> minority to also not feel locked out when they need to override. Also,
>> as a general rule, I found from the projects we worked on that
>> internationalization is always a challenge, but you can also resolve
>> that with the same solution (sensible defaults with configuration
>> overrides); then you simply let the community adopt and improve the
>> code for non-English parts.
>> Of course then the challenge becomes, what's a sensible default? I
>> wish I had a dollar every time I asked that! I'd favor simplicity
>> where possible. In your example above maybe "No space f..." is the
>> simplest, and then people can get fancy if they want to?
>> My 2 cents, sorry for the noise :)
>> On Wed, May 30, 2018 at 11:59 AM, Daniel Dekany <>
>> wrote:
>> > There's this old frequently requested built-in,
>> > maybeTooLongText?truncate(n). Like "No space for such a long
>> > title"?truncate(13) would give "No space...". The problem with these
>> > is that there's no single algorithm for this that fits the need of
>> > everyone. Like maybe the result should be "No space f...", or "No
>> > space [...]", etc. This can even change depending on the current value
>> > of the `locale` FreeMarker setting.
>> >
>> > Now there's another similar wish, for "?title_case", which has the
>> > same problem, plus it's much more locale dependent. See:
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > We do provide locale dependent functions, like number and date
>> > formatting. This is pretty much an FM tradition, to treat non-English
>> > users as equals (well, except that the keywords aren't localizable).
>> > However, we push those tasks to the Java platform. But it doesn't
>> > support title case (as far as I know). Besides there can be different
>> > preferences even inside the same country, just as with ?truncate.
>> >
>> > So, it's acceptable to chicken out ;) saying that none of the above
>> > has a widely accepted default, so the correct solution is letting the
>> > user solve this. But I think in practice what happens is that people
>> > need the functionality (especially ?truncate), and then has to come up
>> > with some ad-hoc solution on the spot, which will be almost always
>> > worse than the default we could provide. So we might as well just
>> > provide some decent default, sparing time for lot of users. Then, then
>> > if they are particular about the algorithm (which is certainly rare
>> > nowadays), let them plug their own via the Configurable API. So there
>> > would be something like
>> > cfg.setTruncateImplementation(localToImplementationMap), where the
>> > parameter maps locale-s to Java functions and defines a fallback
>> > function. (I haven't worked out the API details, as you can see.)
>> >
>> > What do you think?
>> >
>> > --
>> > Thanks,
>> >  Daniel Dekany
>> >

 Daniel Dekany

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