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Heron-Centric: Ruminations of a Language Designer
When it comes to Computer Science, don't reference Wikipedia
by Christopher Diggins
July 31, 2005
Summary
One of my pet peeves is when people reference Wikipedia as an authoritative source for computer science defintions.

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I recently repsonded to a weblog entry by Venkat Subramaniam about Java generics, where he used the term "type-safety" interchangeably with "static type-checking". When I pointed out the error, he claimed that it depends on how we define "type-safety" and then referenced the Type Safety entry at Wikipedia. I followed the link and found the following:

In computer science, a programming language is type safe when the language does not permit the programmer to treat a value as a type to which it does not belong.

Well I didn't verify who wrote that, but it is a typically poor definition. The requirement for strong-typing is not that you can't treat a value as a type to which it does not belong, but that if you do treat a value as a type to which it does not belong, then the behaviour is well-defined.

This is not the first time a Wikipedia computer-science definition has made me want to pull my hair out. In the end I don't care, as long as people don't make the mistake of taking Wikipedia definitions seriously. Just remember that in Wikipedia the definitions are written by random people, and edited by random people, not experts.

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About the Blogger

Christopher Diggins is a software developer and freelance writer. Christopher loves programming, but is eternally frustrated by the shortcomings of modern programming languages. As would any reasonable person in his shoes, he decided to quit his day job to write his own ( www.heron-language.com ). Christopher is the co-author of the C++ Cookbook from O'Reilly. Christopher can be reached through his home page at www.cdiggins.com.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Christopher Diggins. All rights reserved.

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