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C Syntax

Why is C syntax so uneasy on the eye?

In its day, was it _really_ designed by snobby programmers to scare away
potential "n00bs"? If so, and after 50+ years of programming research,
why are programming languages still being designed with C's syntax?

These questions drive me insane. Every waking minute...
Nov 14 '05
177 7123
In article <ca***********@ sunnews.cern.ch > Da*****@cern.ch (Dan Pop) writes:
In <Hz********@cwi .nl> "Dik T. Winter" <Di********@cwi .nl> writes: ....
It certainly is, when you expect *consistent* behaviour from vi on all
platforms. The *last* thing I want to do when using vi is remembering on
which platform I am and what is the right solution for my problem.


Wrong. You expect consistent behaviour from vi and vim, two completely
different programs. That vim is called vi on some platforms is irrelevant.


I don't expect it, I'm doing my best to configure vi in such a way that it
becomes consistent across platforms. I couldn't care less about the real
name of the program I get when I invoke vi (at some time in the past,
elvis and later nvi were the "vi" of the Linux distributions I was using).


In that case you should coplain that something that is not 'vi' is called
'vi' on some platform. Not complain that the real 'vi' does not conform
to the behaviour of what is called 'vi' on some platform.

I once used a program called 'ed' that in the case of an error did not
just print a question mark, but printed a long line explaining the error.
But I did *not* complain that there was no portable way to avoid that
behaviour... (The worst thing was that it was coming through a 1200 baud
link to Argonne in Chicago.)
It is already bad enough that Solaris comes with an ancient, BSD-style
vi that doesn't recognise the cursor keys in input mode...


Why, exactly, is this bad? And to be sure, I know of only one vi, the old
BSD-style one.


That's due to your ignorance. There are also SystemV vi, POSIX vi, SUSx
vi.


Probably. The first System V box I met in, say, 1985. By that time I had
already used BSD for some 6 years. The BSD subset I was comfortable with,
so when I first saw a System V vi, I did not feel the urge to find what it
could do more than BSD vi.
From the Solaris man page:

The standard Solaris version of vi will be replaced by the
POSIX.2-conforming version (see standards(5)) in the future.


Yup, and if you had looked further you would have known that
/usr/xpg4/bin/vi is that POSIX.2-conforming version (I think).
This portion of the man page only says that /usr/bin/vi will be
replaced by /usr/xpg4/bin/vi.
Others are clones under different names.


OK, what are the "real" names of "the standard Solaris version of vi",
SystemV vi, POSIX vi and SUSx vi?


Those are not clones. But 'vim' very definitely *is* a clone, and
originally not very conforming to 'vi' behaviour either.
This is similar
to complaining that cc under Solaris does not do exactly the same as cc
under Linux.


It is similar to complaining that a system supposend to follow a standard
doesn't follow it completely. See the above quote from the vi man page
on Solaris.


I do not know. Is "set expandtabs" in Posix.2 vi? What has Posix.2 to
say about shifting lines? So I do not know in what way 'vi' does not
follow standards. The 'vi' in /usr/xpg4/bin on Solaris (which is
ostensibly Posix.2 complliant) acts the same way.

That Bill Joy decided that a shift would mean recalculation of the total
indent is perhaps unfortunate, but understandable for that time (1978).
Moreover, at that time adding four spaces at the end of white space
already containing four spaces and not replacing things by a HT would
indeed mean a waste of resources. (Note that it adds nothing to an
empty line either...) On the other hand, which way you do it in a
number of cases you have to replace white-space characters in the
original by other white-space characters anyway.
--
dik t. winter, cwi, kruislaan 413, 1098 sj amsterdam, nederland, +31205924131
home: bovenover 215, 1025 jn amsterdam, nederland; http://www.cwi.nl/~dik/
Nov 14 '05 #171
In article <Hz********@cwi .nl>, Dik T. Winter <Di********@cwi .nl> wrote:
That Bill Joy decided that a shift would mean recalculation of the total
indent is perhaps unfortunate, but understandable for that time (1978).


26 years, and we're still waiting for vii.

-- Richard
Nov 14 '05 #172
Richard Bos <rl*@hoekstra-uitgeverij.nl> wrote:
Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> wrote:
On Wed, 26 May 2004 22:02:42 +0100, C# Learner <cs****@learner .here> wrote:
> Why is C syntax so uneasy on the eye?
>
> In its day, was it _really_ designed by snobby programmers to scare away
> potential "n00bs"?
No, but the programmers who designed it didn't care about "n00bs";
their target audience was people who worked at Bell Labs. They were
all very very smart.


Erm...
> If so, and after 50+ years of programming research,
> why are programming languages still being designed with C's syntax?


Profound anti-intellectualism among practitioners, and cargo-cult
imitation.


...don't you think these two statements are contradictory?


No.

The question is why are OTHER languages still designed and promoted
with C's syntax?

If it had been a Bell Labs research project to make ergonomic language
syntax suitable for broad use they would have done actual empirical research
with subjects who were not only other Bell Labs researchers.

In some small ways actual empirical testing have been done a few
times, but the results are generally ignored by commercial firms.
That's what I mean by "profound anti-intellectualism ", and the
"cargo-cult" imitation is the Microsoft (and Sun) manager arguing that
"it has to look like C to be successful", because C was successful.

In particular, the Fortran 90/Ada syntax for 'if then else' was preferred
over C or Pascal.

if something then
x1
x2
else
y1
y2
endif


Richard

Nov 14 '05 #173
In <sl************ *************** ****@lyapunov.u csd.edu> Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> writes:
The question is why are OTHER languages still designed and promoted
with C's syntax?
And the answer is obvious: because C syntax proved to be far more popular
than the syntax of any other HLL.
If it had been a Bell Labs research project to make ergonomic language
syntax suitable for broad use they would have done actual empirical research
with subjects who were not only other Bell Labs researchers.


The point is that C was designed with a concrete application in mind,
by the same programmers who used it to implement that application.
And its design was influenced by another language, designed for the same
purpose, by the same people, but for a different class of computers.

So, the language designers were not at their first attempt and had
excellent user feedback ;-) I doubt that an "ergonomica l" language
designed by a committee, based on world-wide empirical research, would
have been more popular among programmers.

Dan
--
Dan Pop
DESY Zeuthen, RZ group
Email: Da*****@ifh.de
Nov 14 '05 #174
On 23 Jun 2004 13:16:30 GMT, Dan Pop <Da*****@cern.c h> wrote:
In <sl************ *************** ****@lyapunov.u csd.edu> Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> writes:
The question is why are OTHER languages still designed and promoted
with C's syntax?
And the answer is obvious: because C syntax proved to be far more popular
than the syntax of any other HLL.


but why?

is ther eanything good about the syntax other than that it was popular?
If it had been a Bell Labs research project to make ergonomic language
syntax suitable for broad use they would have done actual empirical research
with subjects who were not only other Bell Labs researchers.


The point is that C was designed with a concrete application in mind,
by the same programmers who used it to implement that application.
And its design was influenced by another language, designed for the same
purpose, by the same people, but for a different class of computers.

So, the language designers were not at their first attempt and had
excellent user feedback ;-) I doubt that an "ergonomica l" language
designed by a committee, based on world-wide empirical research, would
have been more popular among programmers.


I think the popularity is because of the things which come attached
to the language, namely access to operating system features.

If the language syntax had been better cognitively, people would be
making fewer mistakes with the popular language.


Dan
--
Dan Pop
DESY Zeuthen, RZ group
Email: Da*****@ifh.de

Nov 14 '05 #175
"Dr Chaos" <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> wrote in message
news:sl******** *************** ********@lyapun ov.ucsd.edu...
If the language syntax had been better cognitively, people would be
making fewer mistakes with the popular language.


;-) good one!
Nov 14 '05 #176
In <sl************ *************** ****@lyapunov.u csd.edu> Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> writes:
On 23 Jun 2004 13:16:30 GMT, Dan Pop <Da*****@cern.c h> wrote:
In <sl************ *************** ****@lyapunov.u csd.edu> Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> writes:
The question is why are OTHER languages still designed and promoted
with C's syntax?
And the answer is obvious: because C syntax proved to be far more popular
than the syntax of any other HLL.


but why?

is ther eanything good about the syntax other than that it was popular?


If it was bad, why did it become popular in the first place?
If it had been a Bell Labs research project to make ergonomic language
syntax suitable for broad use they would have done actual empirical research
with subjects who were not only other Bell Labs researchers.


The point is that C was designed with a concrete application in mind,
by the same programmers who used it to implement that application.
And its design was influenced by another language, designed for the same
purpose, by the same people, but for a different class of computers.

So, the language designers were not at their first attempt and had
excellent user feedback ;-) I doubt that an "ergonomica l" language
designed by a committee, based on world-wide empirical research, would
have been more popular among programmers.


I think the popularity is because of the things which come attached
to the language, namely access to operating system features.


Plenty of other languages predating C provided access to operating
system primitives. The need to access them without resorting to
assembly programming became clear far before Ken Thompson decided to
design and implement an OS for that unused PDP-7 sitting in a corner.

Even the idea of writing an OS in a HLL predates both Unix and C.
If the language syntax had been better cognitively, people would be
making fewer mistakes with the popular language.


The syntax-related mistakes are relatively few, once people learn the
language, and the compiler must diagnose all of them. The real problem
is caused by the semantic mistakes and they have nothing to do with the
language syntax.

Dan
--
Dan Pop
DESY Zeuthen, RZ group
Email: Da*****@ifh.de
Nov 14 '05 #177
Dr Chaos <mb************ ****@NOSPAMyaho o.com> wrote:

If the language syntax had been better cognitively, people would be
making fewer mistakes with the popular language.


I find the language syntax good cognitively (with a few rare exceptions,
such as pointer to array of functions returning pointer to array of
function pointers, etc.)

If you don't, then maybe you are influenced by other languages with
similar syntax and have trouble keeping them separate in your head?
The only significant language I learned before C was line-number BASIC.
C's syntax is far superior for anything but the most basic (no pun
intended) expressions.
Nov 14 '05 #178

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