[TUHS] Utility of C changes (Was: phototypesetter C)

Noel Chiappa jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu
Sat Dec 24 04:25:05 AEST 2016

    > of course some [of the changes to C in this time period] might have been
    > driven by general utility (e.g. the ability to initialize structures).

I was thinking about this, with my memory of the changes refreshed by
re-reading those 'changes to C' notes, and it's interested how many of them
were ones I personally (and most of the people working with me) didn't use.

Here is a list of the changes described in those 3 documents:


- Longs 
- Unsigneds
- Blocks (locals declared inside a non-top-level {} pair)
- Initialization of structures
- Initialization of automatic variables
- Bit fields
- Macro functions
- Macro conditionals (#ifdef)
- Arguments in registers
- Typedefs
- 'Static' scope


- Multi-line macros
- Undefine
- Conditional expressions (#if)
- Unions
- Casts
- Sizeof() on abstractions
- '=' in initializations
- Change binary operators from trailing to leading
- 'extern' does not allocate storage

(This note also includes unsigneds, blocks, and structure initializations,
from the earlier? note.)


- Structure assignment and argument/return-value
- Enum

Of these, I never really used quite a few: blocks, automatic initializations,
typedefs, unions, structure assignment/etc, or enum. I'm not sure if I ever
used bit fields, either. Some of these are understandable; e.g. automatic
initializations are just syntactic sugar (as are register arguments, but I did
use those).

Typedef is also effectively syntactic sugar; you can always use a macro and
get almost (entirely?) the same result. In fact, I devised an entire system of
types to make the code I was working on (almost entirely networking code, so
lots of packet headers from other machines, etc) more rigorous - and later it
turned out it had made it much more portable; it all used macros, not typedef.
I don't think I ever used typedef...

(The details of that might be of some interest: instead of int, long, etc we
had things of the form {type}{len}, where {type}pe} was 'int', 'uns', 'bit',
etc and length was 'b', 's', 'l', or two other interesting ones 'w' and 'f' -
'w' meant the machine's native word length, and 'f' meant whatever was fastest
on the machine. So 'unsl' mean '32-bit unsigned'. Depending on the machine,
the compiler couldn't always produce them all - e.g. the PDP-11 didn't have
unsl - so sometimes you had to live with non-optimal replacements. There were
also un-typed types, i.e. 'byte', 'swrd', 'lwrd' - 8, 16 and 32 bits - and
'word' - the machine's native length.)

Unions didn't get used much either, in our stuff, although one would think it
would be useful in network code - you get a packet with a pile of bits inside
it, which can be one of N different formats, seems like a perfect application
for a union. The problemis that it tied two different subsystems intimately
together. If you have protocol A and protocol B, if you use a union to define
the header format, the union has to have both A and B in it. Now if you want
to add protocol C, that requires modifying that union definition. It was much
easier to just take a pointer to the outer packet's data area, and assign
(with cast) it to a new pointer variable which was of the correct type for the
header you were trying to process.

Some of the new things were incredibly useful, though - or, in fact, one
couldn't get by without them. Casts were incredibly useful once the compiler
got pickier. Initialization of structures was huge - other than 'bdevsw'-like
hacks, there was just no other way to do that.


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