Visual Regular Expressions

Steve Oualline wrote a nifty little Perl program to graph regular expressions. And Oliver Steele wrote an even niftier OpenLaszlo app to show how regular expressions work.

Together, they make the best (unintended) argument I’ve seen for visual programming languages. As Oualline writes in his article, “Humans can process images far faster and better than any computer. We don’t do so well when it comes to text.” His demonstration with a 359-character regular expression for validating email addresses proves the point.

Programmers need better tools to help them visualize code. Architects and engineers have been using highly sophisticated CAD tools for years. Why don’t programmers have the same tools?