Every once in a while, somebody gets so frustrated by the modern dynamic linking ecosystem that they suggest just throwing it out entirely and going back to static linking everything. Seriously, the topic comes up occasionally in some very nerdy circles. I was inspired to write this blog post by a recent conversation on Twitter.
So, what’s dynamic linking? Why is it good? Why is it bad? Is it actually bad? What’s static linking, and how did things work before dynamic linking? Why did we mostly abandon it? And… What would static linking look like if we “invented” it today with some lessons learned from the era of dynamic linking? (And no, I am not talking about containers and Docker images when I say modern static linking. This isn’t one of those blog posts where we just treat a container image as morally equivalent to a static linked binary. Though I have some sympathy for that madness given that the modern software stack often feels un-fixable.)
Electron is somewhat controversial as an application development framework. Some people complain that the applications that use it aren’t very efficient. Others say they just use RAM and no sense letting it go to waste. So, which is it? Is the tradeoff of developer time for efficiency worthwhile?
We take it as an article of faith that newer cheaper better faster machines come out every year.
Sure, Moore’s Law doesn’t give the gains it once did. And sure, I am looking at buying a laptop today that has literally the exact same amount of RAM as my 10 year old desktop that seems to finally have died. And sure, modern laptops make RAM upgrades impossible because the RAM is soldered on, so I’ll have the same amount of RAM for the next several years over the lifespan of the laptop. So I’ll have the same amount of RAM in my main computer for somewhere between 10 and fifteen years depending on how long the new laptop lasts.
But faith says I’ll have more RAM over time no matter what!
We all like to think the whole Universe is centered on us. And thanks to relativity and whatnot, the whole observable universe really is centered on the observer! In science, the universe is constantly expanding, and every observer sees themselves as being at the center of that expansion.
You can’t see everything — you can only see a subset of the whole universe. Light doesn’t travel infinitely fast, and the universe isn’t infinitely old. That means you can only see a ting bubble of only about 15 billion light years around yourself. Aliens living in a distant galaxy half way across the universe can likewise only see a 15 billion light year bubble around themselves. And if those aliens are more than 15 billion light years away from us, we can’t see them and they can’t see us.
To clarify that a bit, it’s not just that we can’t see them with our eyeballs or our current telescopes — we can’t have any sort of interaction with them. We can’t ever have had any sort of interaction with them at any point in the past. And the things we are doing today can’t possibly be effected by any sort of interaction with those distant aliens. That is to say, they are beyond a metaphorical horizon, beyond which the events don’t matter to us and can’t be observed by us. Just like how you can’t see stuff below the Earth’s horizon. Hence, an Event Horizon.
So, why am I trying to shoehorn the concept of an Event Horizon into corporate life? When a corporation is small, everybody shares an event horizon. Three engineers wedged into one work room in a startup will hear each other’s conversations. When something breaks, they’ll all know about it. They all observe the exact same bubble in the universe. Their shared universe is small. And they can readily reach consensus about what’s important, what’s broken, and what’s working. They may disagree about what to do next, which Linux distribution or programming language is best, etc. But they exist in a shared universe and a shared understanding of basic facts. That shared universe which can not last forever. And the inevitable collapse of the shared perspective leads to all sorts of trouble that is, by its nature, impossible to observe directly.