Choosing a Language

In my last post I decided I’d try to write a small web app to serve as a relay for URLs called from my app, Snow Day. The first decision I needed to make was: what language should I use?

I wasn’t the only person thinking about this. I saw this conversation between Chris Adamson and Marco Arment:

Like Chris, I found the idea of pursuing Swift interesting, but thought it was a bit too premature at the moment. Python seemed interesting to me for a few reasons:

  • Many of my colleagues have begun to look at Python as an alternative to MATLAB for data set processing, and have been raving about tools such as Anaconda.
  • Blogs I read (like Dr. Drang’s site) often recommend Python for basic scripting tasks.
  • There are a few stable, well documented frameworks available for web services.
  • There are great tools for working with Python on iOS, like Pythonista.

Based on all of this, Python seemed like a reasonable choice for getting started.

Anaconda (or not)

I started by installing Anaconda 3.5, which was a mistake for at least one reason. The Python community is split into two camps: those still using Python 2.7, and those who are using Python 3. It looks like Python 2.7 is the right place to jump in, since both the Flask framework and Pythonista still require Python 2. My goal is to work with Python 2, while writing code that is forward compatible with Python 3.

The second reason installing Anaconda may have been a mistake is that it’s just more overhead than I need as I’m getting started. I was immediately trying to learn both a new language and a new tool.

So I uninstalled Anaconda, and fell back to using the Python version that shipped with OS X 10.11. I began working through the tutorials at Python Programming Language, to get a grasp of the language.


Based on this Stack Overflow comment, it seemed like Flask would be a good framework for trying to build my URL redirection service. I worked through the installation instructions on the Flask website. They recommend using Virtualenv to handle the Python configuration, and setup was easy on the Mac:

  • Install Virtualenv1: sudo easy_install virtualenv
  • Create a new environment: virtualenv venv
  • Activate the environment: . venv/bin/activate
  • Finally, install Flask in the new environment: pip install Flask

With Flask installed, I started working through the Quickstart guide.

Next Steps

In future posts I’ll detail the application I’ve built so far, and after that I’ll examine deploying it to an Ubuntu VPS.

  1. On an Ubuntu server, this step is: sudo apt-get install python-virtualenv