Thursday, 13 October 2011

Dennis Ritchie, RIP

With the media obsessing over the sad news of Steve Jobs's death, the passing of a man who had much more of an effect on the computer industry has gone virtually unnoticed.

You will certainly not have heard of Dennis Ritchie. His was not a household name, and he was not eulogised in the same way as Jobs. Yet he undoubtedly altered the world. I first heard of him when learning the programming language, 'C'. The bible on the earliest incarnations of the language was known colloquially as 'K&R'. As you may have guessed, the 'R' refers to Ritchie, who co-authored the book with fellow engineer Brian Kernighan.

Ritchie created the C programming language whilst working at Bell Labs in the early 1970s and, later, co-wrote the Unix operating system with Ken Thompson. C and its successor C++ are two of the most popular programming languages in use today, and Unix is used in a massive number of devices (even Apple's computers are based upon it).

Both inventions are far from flawless. They were created in the 1970s, when the computing world was very different. The C programming language is particularly flawed, and its extreme flexibility makes it difficult to write secure software. Yet that same flexibility led to its success, whilst many other technically superior languages have come and gone.

Someone once told me: "Anyone can program in Java, but C is for real men". If that is true, then Ritchie was a God.

The Register had a good obituary of the great man.

RIP Dennis Ritchie, and thank you.


maxsoftprojects said...

int year;
for (year=1941; year<2011; year++)
printf("Year %d, Ritchie creates and enhances the C language\n", year);
printf("\nYear %d, Dennis Ritchie RIP\n", year);
printf("Incredible. A milestone in computing\n");

while (1)
printf("Year %d, Thanks a lot Dennis\n", year);


David Cotton said...


Excellent! It's even K&R-compatible C. None of that ANSI rubbish!

(although I really would make year an unsigned int. )