Backus on designing Fortran

“As far as we were aware, we simply made up the language as we went along. We did not regard language design as a difficult problem, merely a simple prelude to the real problem: designing a compiler which could produce efficient programs. Of course one of our goals was to design a language which would make it possible for engineers and scientists to write programs themselves for the 704.”

John Backus

“The history of Fortran I, II, and III”, ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 13(8), pp.165-180 (1978)

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One thought on “Backus on designing Fortran

  1. codeinfig says:

    > “As far as we were aware, we simply made up the language as we went along. We did not regard language design as a difficult problem, merely a simple prelude to the real problem:”

    yes! i appreciate that there is art, and science, at work when people are designing modern computer software. what i cant stand is that people use this as an excuse to not try things, to not explore possibilities.

    there are still people who think you need to know machine code to write a compiler (there are several ways to avoid that, whether you want the ultimate output to be low-level or not) or assume that you need to understanding parsing grammar– which throws lots of people and is only there to help you get things done!

    too many assumptions lead to only-one-wayism, which is an unscientific prejudice that did nothing to assist (or create) our computing pioneers, nor the wright brothers. assuming nothing may not work out to really assuming nothing, but starting there is more likely to take you where you want to go. it also means you have fewer reasons to say “i cant.”

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