[TUHS] History of popularity of C

Noel Chiappa jnc at mercury.lcs.mit.edu
Fri May 22 04:28:17 AEST 2020

    > From: Tyler Adams

    > C is so prolific and influential because it's so easy to write a C
    > compiler.

I'm not sure the implied corollary ('it's _not_ easy to write compilers for
other languages') is correct.

As a datapoint, I pulled "Algol 60 Implementation" (Randell and Russell) off
the shelf, and it reveals that the Algol 60 compiler discussed there (for the
KDF9), using lessons from the Algol compiler for the Electrologica X1, was
3600 words (roughly 3 instructions/word). So it was small.

Now, small is not necessarily equivalent to easy, but it was clearly not a
mountainous job. I imagine early BCPL, etc compilers were roughly similar.
The only language from that era which I can think of which was a slog,
compiler-wise, was PL/I.

I suspect the real reason for C's sucess was the nature of the language.
When I first saw it (ca. 1976), it struck me as a quantum improvement over
its contemporaries.


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