Very High Level Language – So what?

When I first heard about Python I thought this is just great. I have had to listen to countless conversations about Java vs. C# and now we have to go through it all again with Python thrown in. I know Python is older than Java, but I only came across it after C++, Java etc. Python and Ruby are described as being Very High Level Languages (VHLL). When I heard that term for the first time I thought here comes another meaningless, yet ubiquitously used acronym. At first I did not pay much attention to these languages. I was very familiar with Java, C# and PHP. I figured Ruby and Python could not be too different from these languages. And sure, I may have been caught up in some Microsoft sales propaganda…

As with many developers, it was Rails that pushed me into learning Ruby. From the start, I really enjoyed Ruby – and still do. Dynamic scripting is a real eye-opener! Although I was enjoying this new dynamic paradigm, I still did not see much value in calling it a Very High Level Language.

This all changed at SPA. I attended “Agile Development for the Web and Elsewhere: A Tutorial in Python” presented by Nick Efford. In my opinion, this was the best session at SPA. Well organised and the content was spot on. It was a 6 hour session and Nick made many valuable points. He also explained the VHLL concept in great way. This was done with the use of this simple and effective slide.


This is when I had my first real VHLL a-ha! moment. Nick had placed Python and Ruby in a different class to Java and C#! I had realised that these languages were dynamically typed while Java and C# are (mostly) statically typed. I knew I was not comparing apples with apples, but I thought I was comparing apples with oranges. It turns out that I was comparing apples with apple pie.

When coding in C# you do not need to worry about the low level details that a C programmer needs to be concerned about. Similarly, when programming in Ruby you should not be concerned about the low level details that a C# programmer needs to worry about. Most of us are aware of the low level details a C programmer is faced with e.g. garbage collection. Now what low level details are there at the C#\java level? We can explore this with a simple example.

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Ruby and Ruby on Rails IDE

Ruby: “Say hello world to my little friend

Java has Eclipse, .Net has Visual Studio (with ReSharper) and now Ruby has NetBeans! The NetBeans IDE is fast becoming the IDE of choice when it comes to Ruby development. It supports auto-completion, smart navigation and refactoring. In addition to this, NetBeans supports Ruby on Rails!

NetBeans IDE

There are numerous ways to get up and running. In a previous post I suggested Instant Rails as a quick start. You can use NetBeans and Instant Rails together; Brian Leonard’s Blog explains how to do this. If you download the Ruby bundle of NetBeans you can skip some of the steps in Brian Leonard’s tutorial.