AsciiDots - A Language Like A Racetrack
AsciiDots - A Language Like A Racetrack
Written by Ian Elliot   
Sunday, 10 September 2017

It looks different - ASCII art that computes! AsciiDots is a fun language that might just have something interesting to show us.

asciidots

The basic entity in AsciiDots is the dot . which roughly speaking is a variable that rushes around a track made up of | and -. You can also use \ and / to make corners and + to make tracks cross over without interaction.  The symbols ><^V make T connections with the dot moving in the direction the symbols point at the T.

So, for example:

    /--------->-------
    |      |
    \------/

is a loop. A dot that come in on the right goes around the loop and exits the way it came in. A program starts with a dot and ends when it exits the track or when it passes over an &.

A dot starts off with a default id and a value of zero and as it races round the track it meets operators which change the value or id.

asciidotexample

For example: # sets the value and @ sets the id.

So:

---#7---

sets the dot's value to seven as it passes over.

The $ operator outputs a string to the console when the dot passes over so, at last, the "Hello World" in AsciiDots is:

.-$"Hello, World!"

Notice that programs don't have to go left to right and top to bottom. You can start a program from any location and the dot will follow the track. This is disturbing to most programmers.

The ? is an invitation for input and is only used after # or @. You can also use ( and ) to reflect dots back to where they came from. Be warned, * is not multiplication in the usual sense, instead it duplicates a dot and sets the copies off on alternative paths.

What about conditionals?

A language cannot be Turing complete without conditionals and AsciiDots has a very simple conditional - the tilde ~. This redirects the dot passing through it horizontally upward if the dot below is zero. You can turn that into a "not zero" by putting an exclamation mark below the tilde. So, using the example from the manual:

  /-$"The value is not equal to zero"
  |
.-~-$"The value is equal to zero"
  |
  ?
  #
  |
  .

This prompts the user for a value and prints an appropriate message.

There are lots of other operators you can use to change the value of a dot and you can find out about them in the manual. The key idea is that a dot will wait for other dot at an operator. For example, to add two values together:

.-#?-{+}-$#
      |
.-#?--/

 

There are some advanced features such as warps and libraries but this is the essence of the language.

There is one important thing to make clear - you can have multiple dots moving along tracks at the same time and a dot will wait for another dot when it meets an operator.

So great fun but why bother?

Well playing with languages, no matter how odd is a good way to fund out what might ore might not work. Asciidot is also an example of a data flow language where data flows though a network of operations as fast as it can go. It is a good way to implement parallel processing. Finally you can see the flow of control in Asciidot and it might be a good way to get beginners started.

My only comment after using it for a short while is that it is a bit tedious to have to keep on typing all those spaces needed to align characters vertically. It's a lot easier to build things horizontally. Can this be overcome by a custom editor? Also aligning vertically is difficult and finally don't try to show someone your program in a font that isn't mono-spaced.

Asciidots is an open source program and you can try it out online.

 asciidotsicon

 

More Information

AsciiDots - Esoteric Language

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