[TUHS] Comments on "C"

Norman Wilson norman at oclsc.org
Thu Sep 1 19:17:46 AEST 2016

Every time someone starts spouting about how unsafe
C is, and how all the world's problems would be solved
if only people would stop using it, I think of Flon's
Axiom, for 35 years my favourite one-liner about
programming and languages:

  There does not now, nor will there ever, exist a
  programming language in which it is the least bit
  hard to write bad programs.

Flon's Axiom comes from a short note On Research
in Structured Programming, published in SIGPLAN
Notices in October 1975.  It's just as true today.

Over the years I've seen people misinterpret the
Axiom as an argument against looking for better
programming languages at all, but that's not what
it means.  (Read the original note--it's a page
and a half--for full context; it is, alas, behind
ACM's Digital Library paywall.)  There are certainly
languages that make certain sorts of mistakes easier
or harder, or are easier or harder to read, but in
the end most of that really is up to the programmer.

Programming well requires a lot of thought and care
and careful rereading, and often throwing half the
code out and re-doing it better, and until we can
have a programming community the majority of whom
are up to those challenges, we will continue to have
crashes and security vulnerabilities and other
embarrassing bugs aplenty, no matter what language
is used.

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON

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