Integrations Journal

 

 



Light Table Offers Whole New Way To Code


Written by  Natalie Smith | 15 November 2012
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lighttableCoders-on-the-go rejoice: Light Table is a revolutionary approach to visual Integrated Development Environments that offers a whole array (no pun intended) of benefits for anyone coding on a laptop. Here's what it's about.The premise behind Light Table is pretty simple.

Most designers, says entrepreneur Chris Granger (whose project attracted over 7,000 backers and $316,720 of funding on Kickstarter), build their creative projects using a large surface. By gradually reorganising elements visually, those designers create an ordered product from creative mess. Code, he says, should be no different. This is Light Table’s unique premise: you should never have to look for documentation; code should be organised according to function, not just according to when it was written; and typed code should be dynamically compiled (giving you immediate access to the result of the code). It’s a massively tall order – nothing like this has ever been attempted – but Chris Granger is confident of Light Table’s success.


“The tentative plan is to release a full beta around the turn of the year and have an official launch May of next year” says the San Francisco-based developer. Light Table will be completely multi-platform, supporting Windows, Mac OS and Linux ‘out of the gate’. It’s built using WebKit, so it’ll also run in a browser (but it’s designed as a stand-alone app).


Documentation is served up as you hover over snippets of code. This is a huge time-saver; developers have traditionally had to trawl through pages of documentation or Stack Overflow forum replies to find the information they’re seeking. What’s more, the documentation is tailored to your particular code: if you have variables inserted already, you can see the way those variables flow through your code. “There's no faster way to catch bugs”, says Chris, “than to watch your program work.”


The truly revolutionary promise of Light Table, though, is the ‘Code Bubbles’ idea of providing immediate visual feedback in a graphical way. If you’re coding a game, see how those variables flow through the game not only in written text, but in a window that shows the game running. Watch your code attach to objects you can manipulate in real-time, and watch the code alter as you do so. It’s halfway between an animation studio and an IDE: and it’s been a long time coming.


Developers who code on-the-go, either using a touch-screen device or more traditional notebook or laptop will find that Light Table turns coding on its head. Because it offers so many unique interaction aspects – ones that have never truly been explored in a development environment – it should not only speed up the development process, but also help devs to write concise, neat and reusable code. Light Table is headed your way by around May 2013, and will support JavaScript and Python out of the gate.

Natalie Smith

Natalie Smith

Natalie Smith studied International Relations in Glasgow, and currently works for a digital consulting firm in London. She writes tech and web design articles in her spare time, and also loves trying out new gadgets and reading the entertaining prose of P.G. Wodehouse and David Sedaris, her two favorite authors.

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