Parrot is just a virtual machine, an engine that's intended to run other programs and facilitate inter-operation between them. It's a facilitator for other programs and compilers and technologies; a linchpin for a whole new software environment. Getting compilers to run on it and communicate with each other is one goal: Getting them to all work seamlessly with a large assortment of native libraries is another.
We don't just want Parrot to be a cool program, we want it to enable a whole ecosystem of cool languages, programs, and libraries. I write a program in Perl6, use your framework that you've written in Cardinal, include it in a PHP webpage, and everybody gets to use system libraries written in C. To do that, we need people to create cool compilers, write cool programs, and write wrappers around cool native libraries. Seriously, everything cool.
One big part of this puzzle is Plumage, Parrot's module ecosystem manager. If you haven't already, check it out. Once registered with Plumage, any Parrot user should be able to download any compiler or any library that targets Parrot with only a few simple commands. It's like CPAN for Perl5, except has the potential to get bigger. Much bigger. With Plumage in place, we can really start building up the addons: PIR code libraries, native code library wrappers, compilers, applications, etc. The possibilities are endless, and provide a huge number of openings for new Parrot developers to get started on.
What native libraries do you use? What libraries do you wish Parrot had easy wrappers for? The first thing we need is a list of libraries that people want to use, and possible some use-cases for them (if they are obscure or rare enough that our developers won't be familiar with them). Post suggestions here in the comments of this blog, or on the Wiki, or in Trac, or wherever.
Darbelo put together the DecNum library wrapper for his GSoC project. I've been (with lots of help!) trying to put together wrappers for the BLAS and LAPACK linear algebra libraries. Eventualy we will be able to easily install these things through Plumage, and then other projects will be able to use them as dependencies. These are just two examples, and are both math-centric, but are certainly not the only libraries that need some attention. So ideas and suggestions for new libraries to target would be a great help.
Are you familiar with a popular library? Better yet, are you familiar with APIs and internals? We could use your help writing a wrapper around that library for Parrot. The benefit of course is that once you write a wrapper for the library once, it will be usable from programs written in all languages on Parrot. People writing in Ruby, Perl6, Tcl, and even eventually Perl5 will be immediately able to use your work.
Writing a library wrapper is relatively easy and straight-forward, although there isn't a lot of good documentation about the process. Actually, that would be another cool thing for newbies to do: Take a look at the documentation we do have and help point out areas that are confusing or short on details. Tell us what's hard to understand and we can help improve things so other new users will be able to get started faster.
Austin has been working on a new project called Kakapo that's a library of runtime helper function specifically for NQP. This is an example of another class of extension: a pure-parrot library module. Pure-Parrot modules are ones that are written in PIR, or another language that runs on top of Parrot. These modules have the benefit that they don't need any other compiled binaries besides Parrot, which is great for platform interoperability. Write once, use anywhere. This is the power of Parrot.
Parrot ships with a small set of libraries, although these are mostly utilities that Parrot itself needs for building or testing. There is plenty of room open for creating new libraries as well to do all sorts of things. Need some ideas? Look at CPAN. There are thousands of libraries there which could be rewritten in PIR or NQP, which would immediately open them up for use with other languages as well. Writing cool libraries like this is a great way to get started using Parrot, and a great way to contribute back to the rest of the community.
The Parrot ecosystem is growing at an incredible rate. New language compilers, libraries, projects, and applications are springing up all over the place that use the tools Parrot provides. It's a compelling platform, and is demonstrably useful for a number of different types of projects. If you're interested in getting started using Parrot, non-core projects like this are a great way to get acclimated.
If you start a cool new project, or if you join a preexisting one, please let me know so I can highlight it on my blog.