Tabs versus Spaces in Source Code ('semantic' vs. arbitrary indentation)

achates aylwyn at
Thu May 18 01:13:54 CEST 2006

Carl J. Van Arsdall wrote:

> The converse can also be said, "it's difficult to make sure everyone
> uses spaces and not tabs".
> I think we've just about beat this discussion to death... nice work
> everyone!

Yeah - we've got to the repeating ourselves stage.

But that's the problem with this issue: it's really hard to get the
space-indenters to actually think about it and to address what is being
said. Every time it comes up, there's always a few people trying to
explain why tabs give are a good idea, facing a whole raft of others
spouting stuff like:
    'mixing spaces and tabs is bad so use spaces only'
    'tabs are x spaces and I like to use y spaces'
    'tabs are bad end of story'
and these non-arguments are repeated over and over within the same
thread. At times it's like talking to a child - and not a bright one at

Does it matter? Perhaps not if we can use tools which enable us to
bridge the divide, like indent auto-detection in emacs and vim. I'm
prepared to do that in cases where I have to work with an existing
group of coders uasing spaces.

But unfortunately the situation is worse than that: tab indentation
needs to be actively defended. Most of the coding 'style guides' you'll
find (including Python's) advocate spaces only. There are plenty of
people who would like tabs removed from the language as an acceptable
indentation method - look at the responses to Guido's April Fools blog
entry last year.

Unlikely perhaps. I hope so. It's a cruel irony that Python's creator
didn't appreciate the benefits that tab indentation would bring to his
own language - the only major language in which indentation levels
actually have semantic significance.

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