Does Fortran matter?

Fortran gets a bad rap. It’s a great language. You could be forgiven for not liking it – if you have seen a piece of Fortran IV, or Fortran 77 code. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Fortran. You can’t beat up on it, just because it is kind-of old. I mean C *is only* 15 years younger. That’s nothing really. Coding in Fortran is pretty easy as well, probably easier to learn than C, largely because it is not inherently a low-level language. And there we have the crux of C (and some would say one of its benefits) – low level coding. Not everyone cares about coding at a low level, or what memory is doing for that matter. Operating systems, and compilers themselves have become so good at managing it, in some languages you don’t need huge memory handling skills.

Why does Fortran matter? Mostly because it is still heavily used in scientific fields (and the military), and a large repertoire of legacy code exists. It also has superior array handling capabilities (some of which I have mentioned before), and there is little need to worry about pointers and memory allocation. And it is fast. Maybe not as fast as C, but it follows on C’s heels. Remember recently when NASA was able to reprogram the thrusters on Voyager 1? Well Voyager 1 has spent 40 years in the vacuum of space running on computers programmed in Fortran and assembly language, and using 68K of memory.  Check out this paper describing the Fortran I compiler.

Fortran is a coding behemoth, in an era where legacy code is becoming ever more relevant, and individuals with the skills to deal with this code are becoming rarer.

Go on, use the Fortran. (Look some may say “May the Forth be with you”, but I would stay well clear of that Forth stuff – nasty! ).

 

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