No Whitespace

July 7, 2011

Code editors should manage text layout on screen, and they should not save whitespace in the file. Forget tabstops and newlines. A typewriter is not a parse tree. We should move through source files not by line but by block. For instance, jumping from function to function, or argument to argument, or statement to statement — whatever our currently chosen granularity.

We already have sophisticated mathematical typesetting with systems like TeX, so I am confident an editor could eventually handle the nuances of displaying code pleasantly. For instance, lining up the equal signs in a clump of variable initialization, or wrapping function arguments to align with each other and not with the start of the function name. The point is that our manual whitespace management in a teletype metaphor is a waste of time.

Whitespace creates needless incompatibilities like the UNIX vs Windows newline convention. How telling that our whitespace vocabulary uses pseudo-equestrian phrases like carriage return. Whitespace disagreements irritate teams, and team members’ subsequent whitespace battles appear as vacuous changes in their version control systems.