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News & For Sale “Goodbye, Dennis Ritchie” by m1cnBot

 
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m1cnBot 5 years ago on 10/12/11

Story Originally Posted By: John Booty

I apologize for the proliferation of eulogies, but another giant has left the computing field. Dennis Ritchie has passed away.

He coauthored the greatest computer science book ever written. It is so much better than the rest that this is rarely debated. Even if you're a gamer and not a programmer, rest assured that a large percentage of the people that make the games you love would rank this book among the most indispensable things they've ever read.

Thank you, Dennis.

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Fflewddur Fflam 5 years ago on 10/12/11
Equipped: Tentacle named "Like I could... Take On The World!"
I just came here to post this. Definitely a sad moment for all of computing. There isn't really anything in the last forty years of computer technology that doesn't have connections to the work he's done.
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Johnny Landmine 5 years ago on 10/13/11
Equipped: Devo Hat named "Effective non-streaking protection from Space Junk"
I'm not a programmer, at least not beyond the "dabbler" level and sorely rusty for even that lately - but I am fascinated with instructional books and technical writing, so I appreciate his importance and influence (am I wrong, or was this book the origin of the "hello world" program?) in that sphere.
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Kumba 5 years ago on 10/13/11
Equipped: Portable Campfire named "Flame Imperishable"
The more I've gotten into messing with the Linux kernel and a few userland programs, I find C is be really good and fun -- when you don't have to debug pointers. It's simple to learn the basics, hard to know what to do with them. And it's got the flexibility to allow you to build almost anything, if you're willing to spend the time constructing it.

Outside of assembler, C is the core language for most modern day things. It either directly influenced languages like Java, C++, Javascript, C#, etc, or it caused someone so much grief, they went off and wrote an entirely new language just to get away from it.

<pre>#include <stdio.h>

int main(void)
{
printf("Goodbye, Dennis!\n\nRIP.\n");
return;
}</pre>
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John Booty 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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I should probably mention two of the reasons why this book is venerated.

1. C is a very thin layer on top of machine language, so it will pretty much always be around as long as we have CPUs. The K&R book (or a direct descendant of it) will probably literally be relevant 50 years from now.

2. It's a very thin book, unlike the 500 page back-ruiners you see on store shelves. 190 pages of text, including the table of contents, plus another 80 or so of reference. This is not some encyclopedic tome. As the famous preface to the second edition (sitting in my lap) says:

We have tried to retain the brevity of the first edition. C is not a big language, and it is not well served by a big book.


That's as close as you get to a poetic we're not fucking around in this industry.

Johnny said:
am I wrong, or was this book the origin of the "hello world" program?

Haha, I never knew that, but it looks like it's true!

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Johnny Landmine 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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Honestly, even if I never write a line of C after putting it down, this kind of makes me want to just read the book.
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Frito 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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This was my first college programming book :(
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The Operator 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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C was the first language I ever learned and this book actually helped me understand it better than my teacher could and was what drove me to learn more about computers. Goodbye Dennis, and thanks for the inspiration.
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xoring 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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Johnny Landmine said:
Honestly, even if I never write a line of C after putting it down, this kind of makes me want to just read the book.
The book was written before the C language was standardized so the version of C described in the book is known as "K&R C" and probably won't even compile in most modern C compilers. However that doesn't detract at all from the value of the book, or the lessons it teaches. C is still one of the most important languages, it has been ported to more platforms than any other language. It is often used as a lingua franca in the field of computer science, because it's expected at all computer scientists had to learn it and become familiar with it at some point (usually very early) in their education.

Without Dennis Ritchie we might still be writing operating systems in BASIC.
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John Booty 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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The book was written before the C language was standardized so the version of C described in the book is known as "K&R C" and probably won't even compile in most modern C compilers

What? No, that's not true at all, they should all work fine. The second version of the book has a big old ANSI C (the standard it was written to) logo on the cover. I just tried a few of them in GCC and they worked (or at least compiled and didn't explode when I ran them).

Subsequent versions of C are generally supersets of the older versions, I think, so the old stuff is all still valid.

So yeah, that's the beauty of this book: it's going to be relevant for decades.

Moderator John Booty Says:

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xoring 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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https://plus.google.com/101960720994009339267

Also, yes the second edition is ANSI C, the first was written before there was an ANSI C. Not all the examples from the original text will compile in modern compilers. Some versions of GCC still allow you to compile K&R (non-ANSI) C.
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Johnny Landmine 5 years ago on 10/13/11
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Why would I have been talking about reading the first edition instead of the one that's actually available, though?
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xoring 5 years ago on 10/14/11
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I still have a copy of the first edition, I never got around to buying the second... so I sometimes forget about it.
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Kumba 5 years ago on 10/14/11
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Modimus Prime said:

What? No, that's not true at all, they should all work fine. The second version of the book has a big old ANSI C (the standard it was written to) logo on the cover. I just tried a few of them in GCC and they worked (or at least compiled and did...

Yeah, gcc has a mode switch to force ansi: -ansi, and that can produce some interesting warnings/errors if used on code that isn't ANSI:
http://...gnu.org/...cc-4.6.1/gcc/Standards.html#Standards

Actually reading that some led to me realize that zero-length arrays are an extension...funny. I was using those in some protocol coding awhile back and thought they were totally legit.
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John Booty 5 years ago on 10/14/11
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xoring said:
I still have a copy of the first edition, I never got around to buying the second... so I sometimes forget about it.

Haha... "Still?" What, from when you went to school in the 70s'? The second edition came out in the 80's!
I find C is be really good and fun -- when you don't have to debug pointers.

Pointers are hard. Way hard. Traditionally, they were "the hump" you had to get over as a programmer - where everybody figures out if they should maybe consider switching majors or not. Once you're over that, fifty light bulbs activate simultaneously in your head and you realize My God, arrays are just pointers and forty-nine other things.

Whenever I talk about this stuff, please do not ever get the impression that I was a particularly good C/C++ coder in college. I was not. It's probably a good thing that modern languages don't make you deal with pointers, at least directly. At least for me.
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John Booty 5 years ago on 10/14/11
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xoring said:
Also, yes the second edition is ANSI C, the first was written before there was an ANSI C.

Also, thank you for giving me an excuse to compile and run some C for the first time in like, fifteen years! I would have been too lazy to otherwise and I felt like typing in some examples from K&R was a proper tribute to Dennis Ritchie.
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Kumba 5 years ago on 10/15/11
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Modimus Prime said:
Haha... "Still?" What, from when you went to school in the 70s'? The second edition came out in the 80's!

Pointers are hard. Way hard. Traditionally, they were "the hump" you had to get over as a programmer - where everybody figures out if ...

Since I've started to figure out gdb and ddd somewhat, getting around pointers has been fairly easy. Strings can still be a bitch at times, but largely, the hump I have yet to get over is hardware-level stuff in C. I tried re-writing the IRQ handler for an SGI machine and...through some flaw in space-time, I got it to almost boot. But, then bus errors started to appear. And I have no kgdb available because the serial ports are hidden behind a master device that attempts to violate the PCI spec wherever it can.

Other than that, probably the hard part in C is figuring out what you want to do. It's like Minecraft -- you struggle for a bit trying to learn the game's mechanics, but you slowly realize they're pretty simple. Then you realize you have this vast world at your fingertips and endless possibilities. And you have no idea what to do or where to begin. Nothing is built for you; you must build anything and everything you want from the ground on up.

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