nkanaev / Writing a polyglot script

So here’s the thing - I’m relatively good at Python. I somewhat know Ruby. Not good enough to write something complex, but enough to understand that it’s “a bit” different from Python. Yet both of the languages have similar syntaxes, which made me think whether I could come up with a script that’s valid in both languages.

The shortest valid script could be:

print("hello world")

I thought that was too easy, so I set a goal to write a script that would print the exact language used. After a bit of tinkering, I came up with this:

print(["ruby", "python"][(0 or 1)])

I’ve remembered that one of the main surprises the developers who switched from one language to another encountered was the fact that 0 is falsey in Python, whereas in Ruby it is truthy. So the expression 0 or 1 evaluates to 0 and 1 in Ruby and Python, accordingly. And if we use just that to get the value at the corresponding index of the specially crafted list, we can achieve the given task. As a side note, we would need to enclose the boolean expression in parentheses, because otherwise it’ll throw a syntax error in Ruby.

I could have settled here, but I decided to raise the bar higher. What if I try to come up with a script that could do more sophisticated things than just printing some values? Now that’s where things get more complicated, since you can’t just do anything in one languages that would be also correct in another. But I’ve finally managed to come up with a somewhat decent solution with a few neat tricks:

(0 and eval("""
3.times {
  puts 'ruby code goes here'
""")) or eval(compile("""
for i in range(3):
    print('python code goes here')
""", "", "exec"))

So what’s happening in here:

  1. The code above is a single statement of the form (0 and <expr1>) or <expr2>. Both Python and Ruby support short-circuiting for boolean expressions, therefore expr1 evaluates in Ruby and expr2 in Python only.
  2. It heavily relies on metaprogramming, by evaluating only a single function that could contain more complex code inside a string. Ruby’s eval needs to have a truthy value as the last statement, which is returned as the function’s value. If we fail to do so, Ruby will try to execute expr2. For Python we could have used expr, but I realised that it’s not available in Python 2 (which had not reached the EOL at the time when I was experimenting, so as a well-mannered Pythonista I had to support it as well).
  3. Using triple-quote strings is a nice addition to write more readable code without providing escape sequences for newlines where necessary. In Python it’s the only way to create multiline strings. Ruby, on the other hand, supports multiline strings by default with single and double quoted strings, and treats """foo""" as three separate strings "" "foo" "" which then get concatenated to one. This, however, makes using double (or single) quote characters tricky in the code placeholders.