Standard ML in Travis CI

June 4, 2019

For one of my recent projects (multi-grep) I went through the work to get Standard ML building in Travis CI. It turned out to be not too hard—in fact, the hardest part is already done, and I’m happy to share how it works.

Features

The way I set up my builds, I can:

Apart from some scripts to install things on each operating system, under the hood it’s powered by Symbol, which is a build tool for Standard ML I wrote which factors out most of the project-agnostic stuff.

The core setup

Rather than paste the code into a snippet here and wait for it to get out of date, see my multi-grep project on GitHub for all the up-to-date files. In total, there are three files in that repo which set the whole thing up:

  1. .travis.yml (kicks off the build)
  2. Brewfile (deps for macOS build)
  3. tests/travis-install.sh (deps for Linux build)

If you haven’t used Travis CI before, you’ll probably also want to check out the Travis CI docs to get a feel for how to actually set things up, and where these pieces fit in.

Why write a whole build tool?

I mentioned above that I’d written a build tool for Standard ML, called Symbol. Why? It started as a shell script + Makefile for multi-grep and then I realized that these scripts could be useful in any Standard ML project.

SML/NJ and MLton are already great compilers with their own build tools. It’s useful to be able to build a project with both (SML/NJ for faster builds and a REPL, and MLton for faster compiled executables). All Symbol really does is put SML/NJ and MLton behind a unified, very stripped down interface.

There’s more information in the README, but some key points:

Again, there’s way more information in the README, so definitely check it out if you’re thinking about setting up a new Standard ML project. The usage looks something like this:

# initialize a new project:
❯ symbol-new hello
cd hello

# build with SML/NJ:
❯ ./symbol make
❯ .symbol-work/bin/hello
Hello, world!

# or, build with MLton:
❯ ./symbol make with=mlton
❯ .symbol-work/bin/hello
Hello, world!

Why Standard ML in the first place?

I’ll probably get around to writing about multi-grep (and related tools like diff-locs and multi-sub) but at the end of the day: SML is a really pleasant language to use in a lot of ways:

Standard ML was my most commonly used programming language throughout all of my university courses, so there’s a definite soft spot in my heart for it. There are features that I wish it had sometimes, but it’s the only language that I’ve used that doesn’t feel fundamentally broken in some way.

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