[TUHS] History of popularity of C

Dave Horsfall dave at horsfall.org
Sat Jun 6 06:57:06 AEST 2020

On Wed, 27 May 2020, Greg A. Woods wrote:

> Sadly most compilers, including GCC and Clang/LLVM will, at best, warn 
> (and warnings are only treated as errors by the most macho|wise); and 
> compilers only do that now because they've been getting flack from 
> developers whenever the optimizer does something unexpected.

Don't talk to me about optimisers...  That's not the code that I wrote! 
I've seen code simply disappear, because the "optimiser" though that it 
was cleverer than I was.

> The Linux kernel example I've referred to involved dereferencing a 
> pointer to do an assignment in a local variable definition, then a few 
> lines later testing if the pointer was NULL before using the local 
> variable.  Unoptimised the code will dereference a NULL pointer and load 
> junk from location zero into the variable (because it's kernel code), 
> then the NULL test will trigger and all will be good.  The optimizer 
> rips out the NULL check because "obviously" the programmer has assumed 
> the pointer is always a valid non-NULL pointer since they've explicitly 
> dereferenced it before checking it and they wouldn't want to waste even 
> a single jump-on-zero instruction checking it again.  (It's also quite 
> possible the code was written "correctly" at first, then someone mushed 
> all the variable initialisations up onto their definitions.)

Typical Penguin/OS behaviour...

> In any case there's now a GCC option:  -fno-delete-null-pointer-checks 
> (to go along with -fno-strict-aliasing and -fno-strict-overflow, and 
> -fno-strict-enums, all of which MUST be used, and sometimes 
> -fno-strict-volatile-bitfields too, on all legacy code that you don't 
> want to break)

I'm sure that there's a competition somewhere, to see who can come with 
GCC's -fmost-longest-and-most-obscure-option flags...

> It's even worse when you have to write bare-metal code that must 
> explictly dereference a NULL pointer (a not-so-real example:  you want 
> to use location zero in the CPU zero-page (e.g. on a 6502 or 6800, or 
> PDP-8, etc.) as a pointer) -- it is now impossible to do that in strict 
> Standard C even though trivially it "should just work" despite the silly 
> rules.  As far as I can tell it always did just work in "plain old" C.

I've programmed a PDP-8!  'Twas way back in high school, and I found a bug 
in my mentor's program; it controlled traffic lights...

> The crazy thing about modern optimizers is that they're way more 
> persistent and often somewhat more clever than your average programmer. 
> They follow all the paths.  They apply all the rules at every turn.

Optimisers...  Grrr...

-- Dave

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