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A Generic Back-End for Exploratory Programming

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Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNTCS,volume 12834)


Exploratory programming is a form of incremental program development in which the programmer can try and compare definitions, receives immediate feedback and can simultaneously experiment with the language, the program and input data. Read-Eval-Print-Loop interpreters (REPLs) and computational notebooks are popular tools for exploratory programming. However, their usability, capabilities and user-friendliness are strongly dependent on the underlying interpreter and, in particular, on the ad hoc engineering required to ready the underlying interpreter for incremental program development. To break this dependency, this paper adopts a principled approach and implements a so-called exploring interpreter as a back-end to support various development environments for exploratory programming.

This paper contributes by presenting a generic Haskell implementation of the exploring interpreter – applicable to a large class of software languages – and demonstrates its usage to develop a variety of interfaces with a shared back-end, including command-line REPLs, computational notebooks and servers with reactive APIs. The design of the back-end is evaluated by defining a variety of interfaces for existing languages, including eFLINT, a domain-specific language for normative reasoning, and Funcons-beta, the language developed by the PLanCompS project to enable component-based operational semantics.


  • Interpreters
  • Development environments
  • Operational semantics
  • Read-Eval-Print
  • Definitional interpreters

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-83978-9_2
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    A definitional interpreter for a language is an interpreter that simultaneously implements and defines the language’s operational semantics, often defined in a meta-language or language workbench in the context of domain-specific languages.

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    With the exception of the node itself, in case of a cycle.


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The work in this paper has been partially supported by the Kansen Voor West EFRO project (KVW00309) AMdEX Fieldlab, the NWO project (628.009.014) Secure Scalable Policy-enforced Distributed Data Processing (SSPDDP) and has been executed in a collaboration with the Agile Language Engineering (ALE) team (

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Correspondence to Damian Frolich .

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Frolich, D., van Binsbergen, L.T. (2021). A Generic Back-End for Exploratory Programming. In: Zsók, V., Hughes, J. (eds) Trends in Functional Programming. TFP 2021. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 12834. Springer, Cham.

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