- This article is about a class of programming languages, for the method for reducing the runtime of algorithms, see Dynamic programming.
Dynamic programming language is a term used broadly in computer science to describe a class of high level programming languages that execute at runtime many common behaviors that other languages might perform during compilation, if at all. These behaviors could include extension of the program, by adding new code, by extending objects and definitions, or by modifying the type system, all during program execution. These behaviors can be emulated in nearly any language of sufficient complexity, but dynamic languages provide direct tools to make use of them.
Dynamic languages and dynamic typing are not identical concepts, and a dynamic language need not be dynamically typed, though many dynamic languages are dynamically typed.
Limitations and ambiguity in the definition
The definition of a dynamic language is ambiguous because it attempts to make distinctions between code
as well as between compilation
which are not universal. Virtual machines
, just-in-time compilation
, and the ability of many programming languages on some systems to directly modify machine code
make the distinction abstract. In general, the assertion that a language is dynamic is more an assertion about the ease of use of dynamic features than it is a clear statement of the capabilities of the language.
There are several mechanisms closely associated with the concept of dynamic programming. None are essential to the classification of a language as dynamic, but most can be found in a wide variety of such languages.
is a term which was introduced in Lisp
, and refers to expression evaluation
, the process of executing instructions which are represented by data structures called S-expressions
. In its modern sense, eval or evalling
refers to the mechanism or process of executing any sort of instructions that are available to the program as text or non-machine code data. The evaluation of new program text is a common aspect of many languages that, unlike Lisp, do not make a distinction between reading text and transforming it into an internal form and further transforming that internal form into actions to be taken. These languages are often called interpreted languages
when the process of normal program execution is an eval.
However, Erik Meijer and Peter Drayton caution that any language capable of loading executable code at runtime is capable of eval in some respect, even when that code is in the form of dynamically linked shared libraries of machine code. They suggest that higher-order functions
are the true measure of dynamic programming, and some languages "use eval as a poor man's substitute for higher-order functions.
Object runtime alteration
A type or object system can typically be modified during runtime in a dynamic language. This can mean generating new objects from a runtime definition or based on mixins
of existing types or objects. This can also refer to changing the inheritance
or type tree, and thus altering the way that existing types behave (especially with respect to the invocation of methods
concepts are a feature of many dynamic languages, and also derive from Lisp.
One of the most widely used aspects of functional programming in dynamic languages is the closure
, which allows creating a new instance of a function which retains access to the context in which it was created. A simple example of this is generating a function for scanning text for a word:
function new_scanner (word)
temp_function = function (input)
scan_for_text (input, word)
Note that the inner function has no name, and is instead stored in the variable
temp_function. Each time
new_scanner is executed, it will return a new function which remembers the value of the
word parameter that was passed in when it was defined.
Closures are one of the core tools of functional programming, and many languages support at least this degree of functional programming.
Another feature of some dynamic languages is the continuation
. Continuations represent execution state that can be re-invoked. For example, a parser might return an intermediate result and a continuation that, when invoked, will continue to parse the input. Continuations interact in very complex ways with scoping, especially with respect to closures. For this reason, many dynamic languages do not provide continuations.
is common in many dynamic languages, and typically involves analysis
of the types and metadata of generic or polymorphic
data. It can, however, also include full evaluation and modification of a program's code as data, such as the features that Lisp provides in analyzing S-expressions.
A limited number of dynamic programming languages provide features which combine code introspection and eval in a feature called macros
. Most programmers today who are aware of the term macro
have encountered them in C
, where they are a static feature which are built in a small subset of the language, and are capable only of string substitutions on the text of the program. In dynamic languages, however, they provide access to the inner workings of the compiler, and
full access to the interpreter, virtual machine, or runtime, allowing the definition of language-like constructs which can optimize code or modify the syntax or grammar of the language.
Assembly, C, C++, early Java, and FORTRAN do not generally fit into this category.