In computer science, the term automatic programming identifies a type of computer programming in which some mechanism generates a computer program to allow human programmers to write the code at a higher abstraction level.
There has been little agreement on the precise definition of automatic programming, mostly because its meaning has changed over time. David Parnas, tracing the history of "automatic programming" in published research, noted that in the 1940s it described automation of the manual process of punching paper tape. Later it referred to translation of high-level programming languages like Fortran and ALGOL. In fact, one of the earliest programs identifiable as a compiler was called Autocode. Parnas concluded that "automatic programming has always been a euphemism for programming in a higher-level language than was then available to the programmer."
Program synthesis is one type of automatic programming where a procedure is created from scratch, based on mathematical requirements.
Mildred Koss, an early UNIVAC programmer, explains: "Writing machine code involved several tedious steps--breaking down a process into discrete instructions, assigning specific memory locations to all the commands, and managing the I/O buffers. After following these steps to implement mathematical routines, a sub-routine library, and sorting programs, our task was to look at the larger programming process. We needed to understand how we might reuse tested code and have the machine help in programming. As we programmed, we examined the process and tried to think of ways to abstract these steps to incorporate them into higher-level language. This led to the development of interpreters, assemblers, compilers, and generators--programs designed to operate on or produce other programs, that is, automatic programming."
Generative programming is a style of computer programming that uses automated source code creation through generic frames, classes, prototypes, templates, aspects, and code generators to improve programmer productivity.[not in citation given] It is often related to code-reuse topics such as component-based software engineering and product family engineering.
Source code generation is the process of generating source code based on an ontological model such as a template and is accomplished with a programming tool such as a template processor or an integrated development environment (IDE). These tools allow the generation of source code through any of various means. A macro processor, such as the C preprocessor, which replaces patterns in source code according to relatively simple rules, is a simple form of source code generator.Source-to-source code generation tools also exist.
Over the past decade,[better source needed] a new class of automatic programming has emerged targeting sophisticated end users and IT departments looking for rapid development. These tools allow development of applications in very short periods of time (weeks rather than months). In many cases, the applications are pre-developed but customizable. Products are sometimes targeted at end users, dissatisfied with turnaround times or with IT departments looking for major productivity enhancements. These tools typically operate at a higher level of representation than code generation tools for programming languages.
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Some IDEs for Java and other languages have more advanced forms of source code generation, with which the programmer can interactively select and customize "snippets" of source code. Program "wizards", which allow the programmer to design graphical user interfaces interactively while the compiler invisibly generates the corresponding source code, are another common form of source code generation. This may be contrasted with, for example, user interface markup languages, which define user interfaces declaratively.
Besides the generation of code from a wizard or template, IDEs can generate and manipulate code to automate code refactorings that would require multiple (error prone) manual steps, thereby improving developer productivity. Examples of such features in IDEs are the refactoring class browsers for Smalltalk and those found in Java IDEs like Eclipse.
A specialized alternative involves the generation of optimized code for quantities defined mathematically within a Computer algebra system (CAS). Compiler optimization consisting of finding common intermediates of a vector of size requires a complexity of or operations whereas the very design of a computer algebra system requires only operations. These facilities can be used as pre-optimizer before processing by the compiler. This option has been used for handling mathematically large expressions in e.g. computational (quantum) chemistry.
Jenifer is a full-scale code generator that provides a pattern called template, from which the code is generated. After definig screens, menus and reports, Genifer creates the data files, index files and programs.
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