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Seebs usenet-nospam at
Thu Nov 4 21:11:36 CET 2010

On 2010-11-04, D'Arcy J.M. Cain <darcy at> wrote:
> Right.  If you mangle spaces in Python or mangle braces in C then
> recovery becomes impossible.  I don't think anyone is contesting that.
> What we question is the idea that somehow Python is special in this
> regard.  If you move files around in ways that change them then your
> tools are broken.  The fact that the breakage is somewhat "friendlier"
> to some types of files is interesting but irrelevant.

Again, why does "diff -b" exist?

It exists because so many things change whitespace unintentionally that
it's a common failure mode.  Thus, people developing data file formats
often put substantial effort into *guaranteeing* that they will survive
changes to the contents of blocks of whitespace -- it won't matter
whether you used spaces or tabs, or how many spaces there are.  This
is done because, if you don't do it, your files sometimes get broken.

I have never heard of a problem where sending something via a common
commercial mail client with its default settings resulted in the
destruction of braces.  I have regularly seen people report that one
mail client or another is losing or adding spaces, converting tabs
to spaces, converting spaces to tabs, or whatever.

To some extent, it may be largely a matter of convention; it is
conceivable that, had Python been a major and influential language
in 1970, tools in general would be much more careful about preserving
spaces.  But that's not what happened.  Python was created in a world
where the decision had already been made by many engineers (often
poor ones) that it was not a big deal to mess up spacing a bit.

I'd guess this decision goes back to early typesetting.  Spaces
are fungible; other content isn't.  The distinction that is tracked
is "was there space between these characters or not".  Given that
widespread presupposition, and that many file formats have been
adapted to that, I don't think it was a good choice to build
something which would be broken by that common failure mode.

It's not as though widespread spacing problems are a surprise.  They
are so commonplace that multiple utility programs provide, as standard
options, features to work around them.

Copyright 2010, all wrongs reversed.  Peter Seebach / usenet-nospam at <-- lawsuits, religion, and funny pictures <-- get educated!
I am not speaking for my employer, although they do rent some of my opinions.

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