Customizing Host IDE for Non-programming Users of Pure Embedded DSLs: A Case Study

Milan Nosáľ, Jaroslav Porubän, Matúš Sulír

Pure embedding as an implementation strategy of domain-specific languages (DSLs) benefits from low implementation costs. On the other hand, it introduces undesired syntactic noise that impedes involvement of non-programming domain experts. Due to this, pure embedded DSLs are generally not intended for, nor used by, non-programmers. In this work, we try to challenge this state by experimenting with inexpensive customizations of the host IDE (Integrated Development Environment) to reduce the negative impact of syntactic noise. We present several techniques and recommendations based on standard IDE features (e.g., file templates, code folding, etc.) that aim to reduce syntactic noise and generally improve the user experience with pure embedded DSLs. The techniques are presented using a NetBeans IDE case study. The goal of the proposed techniques is to improve the user experience with pure embedded DSLs with a focus on the involvement of non-programming domain experts (or non-programmers in general). The proposed techniques were evaluated using a controlled experiment. The experiment compared a group using Ruby and non-modified RubyMine IDE versus a group using Java and NetBeans IDE customized to use the proposed techniques. Experiment results indicate that even inexpensive host IDE customizations can significantly alleviate issues caused by the syntactic noise: Java with its inflexible syntax performed better than Ruby with its concise syntax.

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