Taking the grunt work out of Web development

New programming language automatically coordinates interactions between Web page components.

A Web page today is the result of a number of interacting components — like cascading style sheets, XML code, ad hoc database queries, and JavaScript functions. For all but the most rudimentary sites, keeping track of how these different elements interact, refer to each other, and pass data back and forth can be a time-consuming chore.

In a paper being presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, CSAIL researcher Adam Chlipala describes a new programming language, called Ur/Web, that lets developers write Web applications as self-contained programs. The language’s compiler — the program that turns high-level instructions into machine-executable code — then automatically generates the corresponding XML code and style-sheet specifications and embeds the JavaScript and database code in the right places.

In addition to making Web applications easier to write, Ur/Web also makes them more secure. “Let’s say you want to have a calendar widget on your Web page, and you’re going to use a library that provides the calendar widget, and on the same page there’s also an advertisement box that’s based on code that’s provided by the ad network,” Chlipala says. “What you don’t want is for the ad network to be able to change how the calendar works or the author of the calendar code to be able to interfere with delivering the ads.” Ur/Web automatically prohibits that kind of unauthorized access between page elements.