Should anyone ask, some thoughts on application development

In 1984, Bob Scheifler and Jim Gettys set out the early principles of X:

  • Do not add new functionality unless an implementor cannot complete a real application without it.

  • It is as important to decide what a system is not as to decide what it is. Do not serve all the world’s needs; rather, make the system extensible so that additional needs can be met in an upwardly compatible fashion.

  • The only thing worse than generalizing from one example is generalizing from no examples at all.

  • If a problem is not completely understood, it is probably best to provide no solution at all.

  • If you can get 90 percent of the desired effect for 10 percent of the work, use the simpler solution. (See also Worse is better.

  • Isolate complexity as much as possible.

  • Provide mechanism rather than policy. In particular, place user interface policy in the clients’ hands.


The first principle was modified during the design of X11 to: “Do not add new functionality unless you know of some real application that will require it.”

X has largely kept to these principles since. The reference implementation is developed with a view to extension and improvement of the implementation, whilst remaining almost entirely compatible with the original 1987 protocol.

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