Luna, the visual way to create software

Data processing domains

Data processing software is around us. Self driving cars, automatic delivery drones, real-time health monitoring watches or light bulbs tracking your position to call elevators and manage air conditioning. Even if you press your car’s accelerator, you’re no longer controlling the throttle directly, the software does it for you. Human-software symbiosis is everywhere and we are so used to it that we often do not even notice it anymore.

What is Luna?

Luna is a WYSIWYG visual and textual, purely functional data processing language. Its goal is to revolutionize the way people are able to gather, understand and manipulate data.

Language design principles

A well-designed domain-specific language, or a language in general, empowers people with the ability to both express their thoughts in a rapid and concise way as well as understand the feedback response easily. It is especially important to research because it directly affects how fast you can iterate — test new ideas and understand intermediate results. Fast iterations make it possible to test a wider range of parameters including those that should not work at first glance, allowing you to much better understand the domain you are investigating. Thus the language design directly affects not only the total time needed to solve a problem in a non-linear way, it often is the key to find the solution at all.

  • People need an immediate connection to what they are making
    This principle was first publicly introduced by Brett Victor, a human-computer interaction visionary, during his talk Inventing on Principle. Any violation of this principle alienates the user from the actual problems he is trying to solve, which consequently decreases the understanding and increases the number of mistakes.
  • People cannot be limited by the tool they are using
    People tend to reject any tool which obviously limits their expressiveness. This is the exact reason why so many WYSIWYG solutions, like website creators, game creators or visual programming languages, never catch up. Any DSL more complex than a WYSIWYG text editor can easily violate this principle by providing its users with a too limited set of predefined, high-level components. Even if these components can be extended by writing code, the need to resort to some underlying programming language spoils the design and makes it unusable for a less technical audience.

Principle violation

Violation of any of these principles always leads to a suboptimal solution. Let’s consider the graphic design again. Is using Photoshop always better than writing HTML, Sass and JavaScript code? Arguably. These solutions violate the first and the second principle respectively. Photoshop provides a WYSIWYG digital canvas with a limited set of predefined, hardly extendable tools. HTML, Sass and JavaScript, on the other hand, provide a text interface, and thus, alienate the user from its real creation but do not set a tight restriction on the expressiveness. Let’s consider two use cases:

  • A website design. There are five, evenly arranged items in the menu bar. If you want to add a new item and change the color palette of the website, all you have to do is modify a single line in HTML and a color variable in Sass. No matter how complex the website is, every element will update automatically. Doing the same in Photoshop requires several orders of magnitude more time — create a new menu item, use an alignment tool to arrange the elements, manually change the colors and probably re-apply some transformations and filters in more complex website areas.
  • An artistic painting. Using HTML, SVG and Sass within a text editor to express an artistic vision would hardly be possible. The more creative and discoverable the process is, the more important the WYSIWYG toolset and instant feedback loop become.

The curse of DSLs

If we know the very basic principles for a perfect domain specific-language, why are the available domain specific tools not there yet? Why are we not living in an unlimited WYSIWYG world?

Luna, the language

The guidelines for domain- specific languages to follow the first principle are clear. In order to deliver the immediate connection between people and their creation, domain-specific languages need to combine rich data visualization and intuitive data manipulation in a single, smooth experience. There is, however, no rule of thumb how to do it correctly. It strongly depends on the particular domain and the user’s preferences, which makes the second paradigm, the ability to customize components, even more important.

  • Data visualization and manipulation environment
    From the highest perspective, Luna allows you to visualize and manipulate data using interactive and extensible WYSIWYG components. Moreover, Luna provides a way to easily define new components, modify existing ones and share them with the community.
  • Data flow graph
    You can literally zoom out to see how the high-level components are wired together forming a data flow graph. You can rewire them or insert new components to redefine how the graph works. Luna delivers components which spread over all levels of abstraction, from high to low. From painting a canvas over statistical functions to bitwise operators
  • Nested data flow graphs and code representation
    Every component in Luna is built out of other components, without exception. You can always dive all the way down to the desired level of abstraction and fine tune it to your needs. You can also collapse several connected components into a new, more powerful one and share it with others. Moreover, Luna provides its users with a very unique capability to switch between representations — from the data flow graph to code and vice versa. It implies a very important truth — the graph is as powerful as the code.

Additional resources

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Enso (formerly Luna)

Enso (formerly Luna)

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Hybrid visual and textual functional programming for data processing.