I want to spend some time addressing the security implications of private reflection in response to recent comments, but that is a big topic that will take some time, and work is absolutely crazy busy right now. Design Change Request Season opens today — our last chance to get approved design changes (as opposed to mere bug fixes) into Whidbey before the betas go out. And as I’m on holiday at the end of the month, there’s a lot to do in little time.
Therefore, I might not get to it soon. Today, I’ve got something to get off my chest.
I got a question yesterday from someone who was trying to parse a config file. He was confused by a typo. The code was supposed to say
If LineText = “[Global]” Then
The typo was that he forgot the quotes
If LineText = [Global] Then
OK, that’s easy mistake to make when you’re typing fast, you get a parse error, go to that line, put the quotes in, right? Except here’s the confusing part: this code compiled and ran. Incorrectly, obviously, but it ran. What the heck?
Indeed, that’s perfectly legal. In VBScript, here are the rules for what makes a legal identifier:
IDENTIFIER : BRACKETIDENTIFIER or NORMALIDENTIFIER
NORMALIDENTIFIER : LETTER followed by 0 to 254 IDCHARs, but not a RESERVEDWORD
BRACKETIDENTIFIER : [ 0 to 255 BRACKETCHARs ]
LETTER : a-z, A-Z
IDCHAR : a-z, A-Z, 0-9, _
BRACKETCHAR : any Unicode character except newline, linefeed, the null string terminator and ]
RESERVEDWORD : And As Boolean ByRef Byte ByVal Call Case Class Const Currency Debug Dim Do Double Each Else ElseIf Empty End EndIf Enum Eqv Event Exit False For Function Get Goto If Imp Implements In Integer Is Let Like Long Loop LSet Me Mod New Next Not Nothing Null On Option Optional Or ParamArray Preserve Private Public RaiseEvent ReDim Rem Resume RSet Select Set Shared Single Static Stop Sub Then To True Type TypeOf Until Variant WEnd While With Xor, reserved words are case-insensitive
That bracket syntax is kind of weird, isn’t it? One reason to enable this syntax is so that you can write programs that look like this:
[Hey, how’re you doing dude? Working hard, or hardly working?] = [Ha, ha, ha, that’s very witty Eric!]
There are also two good reasons.
First, it lets you name a method after a reserved word.
Uh oh, that fails to compile. But aha,
is legal. This also lets you call methods on third-party objects which might be reserved words. Imagine the irksomeness if, say, IE had a method raiseEvent which you could then not call from VBScript. You never know what strange thing someone is going to put into an object model.
The other reason this is handy is because it enables developers who want to use characters which are not common in English in their identifiers. Accented characters, Chinese characters, etc.
The rules in JScript are slightly different, but I’ll go into them another time.
Which brings me to what I wanted to get off my chest. While I’m on the subject of reserved words, this seems like a good time to publicly document something that has been irking me for a long time. We tried to make VBScript a subset of VB6, but unfortunately there are a few “gotchas” — accidental differences which cause a particular VBScript program to not be a legal VB6 program. One of those gotchas is the fact that the reserved word sets are different. You’ll notice above that VBScript reserves RaiseEvent, even though there is no RaiseEvent feature in VBScript. That’s because (a) we anticipated that we might have to add it some day, and (b) “Dim RaiseEvent” isn’t legal VB6, so it shouldn’t be legal VBScript either.
There is only one word that goes “the other way” — an identifier that is illegal in VBScript but legal in VB6 — and that’s “Class“. I felt bad about doing that, but without reserving Class it is impossible to determine whether Class Foo means “call a method with one argument” or “introduce a new class” without creating enormous bogosity in the parser.
For the record, the words that are legal identifiers in VBScript but illegal in VB6 are:
Abs AddressOf Any Array Attribute CBool CByte CCur CDate CDec CDbl CDecl CInt Circle CLng Close CSng CStr CVar CVErr Date Decimal Declare DefBool DefByte DefCur DefDate DefDec DefDblDefInt DefLng DefObj DefSng DefStr DefVar DoEvents Erase FixFriend Global GoSub Input InputB Int LBound Len LenB LINEINPUT Local Lock Open Print PSet Put Return Scale Seek Sgn Spc String Tab UBound Unlock VB_Base VB_Control VB_Creatable VB_Customizable VB_Description VB_Exposed VB_Ext_KEY VB_HelpID VB_Invoke_Func VB_Invoke_Property VB_Invoke_PropertyPut VB_Invoke_PropertyPutRef VB_MemberFlags VB_Name VB_PredeclaredId VB_ProcData VB_TemplateDerived VB_VarDescription VB_VarHelpID VB_VarMemberFlags VB_VarProcData VB_UserMemId VB_VarUserMemId VB_GlobalNameSpace WithEvents Write
Once we failed to reserve them in VBScript 1.0, we couldn’t reserve them at any subsequent time without risking breaking existing scripts, which we did not want to do unless there was a clear benefit (such as adding classes). Argh.
There are other VB6 incompatibilities, some of them truly obscure, that I’ll document at a later date I’m sure.