Bender Development Diary 1: A Webdev Goes Native

🖊️ 🔖 code linux bender gnome vala 💬 0

I’ve been writing code using Linux as my main OS for over a decade now. Despite this long and fruitful relationship I have yet to do any real native development for this beloved platform.

I tell you what, I can whip up some damn good JSON APIs. But it’s time to try something new. I’ll be creating an application for Linux. Specifically for GNOME. Using GTK.

Picking a Language

From what I can tell there are a few options for developing on the GNOME platform: C, Rust, Python Javascript and Vala. The reason for this is GObject. When you are developing for GNOME, what you are working with are the C libraries that all start with G: GObject, GIO, Gee, etc. So the language you choose either needs to have bindings or be able to call into the C libraries directly.

I’m only considering languages with native bindings. I’m not elite enough to use FFI (although I would really love to program in Zig).

C C: I’m not smart enough 🙃

Rust Rust: Honestly long-term this is probably the way to go. But after looking at the GObject bindings and some GTK apps written in Rust I’ve decided I don’t really want to fight both GTK and Rust at the same time.

Python Python: I already write a ton of Python. So naturally, this is where I started. The GObject bindings look decent. Anything Async looks not great (network calls being the big one). Python has always been really bad at this. We have Asyncio now, but GObject does not support it. The concurrency model is based around callbacks. GNOME has it’s own network library, Libsoup. You could use Requests or HTTPX but then I think you are relegated to managing threads 🤢 (could be wrong on this). So as I see it, by choosing Python you don’t get to use any of the things that make writing Pyhon great like Asyncio or the excellent third party libraries. But you are stuck with Python’s bad parts: a runtime dependency, weak typing, etc.

Javascript Javascript: No. 💨

So that really only leaves…


Vala is a C#-esque language developed under the GNOME umbrella, designed specifically for creating GNOME apps. It compiles down to C and provides GObject bindings by default. The niche application (developing GNOME apps) is both it’s strength and weakness. The integration with GNOME technologies looks great. But Vala’s Stack Overflow presence is a barren wasteland.

This means there better integration, but less prior art to pull from. I might actually have to think and write code using documentation as a reference. It’s scary, but an opportunity for personal growth. I welcome the challenge (for now).

Is it a dead language? There is a lot of hand-wringing by people online that think so and one very infamous blog post that I could find. Maybe it is. But I don’t really care. There are some pretty awesome Vala apps under development right now and that’s good enough for me.