2
   

Rest in peace, Dennis Richie!

 
 
Thomas
 
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 10:07 pm
Dennis Richie, co-inventor of the Unix operating system and the C programming language, died this last weekend. It's hard to explain to non-techies what that means. Unlike Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Richie was content just writing code; he had no interest in promoting his accomplishments to the general public. Suffice it to say that without the C programming language, MacOS and Windows would lose the language they are implemented in. Without Unix, Steve Jobs's would lose the operating system on which he built NextStep, and later MacOS. (Incidentally, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NextStep station.) And half the world's web servers run on some variant of Unix as well. That's what a big deal Dennis Richie was.

The computing community has lost one of his pioneers. Nobody on TV will take notice. And that is probably just as Richie would have wanted it.
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 10:11 pm
@Thomas,
Rob Pike, Richie's colleague at Bell Labs and now at Google, has an obituary with more details.
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 10:27 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
That's what a big deal Dennis Richie was.


You pretty much can't find any major computing platform that doesn't have his significant touch on it. Even things like the iPhone. Runs an OS that takes from his heritage and apps are coded in Objective C, a derivate of his C language.

UNIX and C are veritable cornerstones of computing. I honestly don't know if there is a bigger computing giant out there.

It's kinda sad that the fathers of modern computing are now fading away. It's something I think we're going to have to get used to (the industry is so young, that it hasn't dealt with a lot of this yet).
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 10:36 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:
You pretty much can't find any major computing platform that doesn't have his significant touch on it.

I agree.

The New York Times has an excellent obituary.
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 11:00 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Quote:
C was designed for systems programmers who wanted to get the fastest performance from operating systems, compilers and other programs.

[NY Times obit]


I guess that I probably couldn't google it, and not being at all conversant with computer language, did you guys use C to program A2K, Robert?
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Thu 13 Oct, 2011 11:12 pm
@JTT,
No, these days C isn't typically a "high-level" (high in the stack, it's more fundamental and lower in the stack) language for use in a project like this. So, for example, the interpreter of the language that a2k uses is written in C (along with a bunch of other underlying internals).

A2K runs on a bunch of things that were developed on top of his innovations though. Pretty much every piece of our stack is influenced by his contributions in some, fundamental or significant way.
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 12:09 am
@Robert Gentel,
Could you say that again, this time in English?

Just jokin', Robert. This stuff is way beyond me.

But as ignorant as I am on this, I have to admit it definitely intrigues me.
Robert Gentel
 
  2  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 01:06 am
@JTT,
An "interpreter" is a program that executes code. While a2k is not coded in C, the program that executes its code is, as is much of the rest of the internal plumbing of the server (which runs an operating system which is a clone of his UNIX operating system).
Thomas
 
  3  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 09:01 am
@Robert Gentel,
Now that you mention it, Robert, I think Able2Know is the perfect example for illustrating Richie's influence. (The illustration would look barely different for other websites.)

  • According to Netcraft, an internet monitoring site, the server that hosts A2K runs an operating system called Linux. Linux is written in C, a language Richie invented. Linux is also an open-source clone of the Unix operating system, which Richie invented (together with Ken Thompson).

  • On top of A2K's Linux machine runs the Apache webserver, which sends out A2K's pages to your computer. Apache was written in C, which Richie invented (as I already mentioned).

  • Apache gets its content from a database in which A2K stores your posts. It accesses this database through MySQL, an open-source program written in C, the aforementioned language invented by Richie. (This is according to the error messages I get when the A2K server is overloaded.)

  • The "business logic" of A2K is implemented in some high-level, interpreted language. ("Business logic" defines what a thread is, how users' home pages are organized, how to ignore users or to follow them as friends, and all that. "High-level" means human-readable and abstract rather than computer-readable and speaking of concrete hardware instructions. "Interpreted" means. . . well, it's complicated, and I can't explain it better than Robert already did.) I'm guessing that this high-level language is PHP, though it could just as easily be Perl, or Python, or server-side JavaScript, or Java Server Pages. In any event, the language would have been implemented in C, and its grammar would itself be more or less profoundly influenced by C.

  • A2K controls the appearance of the page in your browser in a language called JavaScript, which is significantly influenced by C and implemented in C.

  • So much for the server. Now for the computer on which you're reading A2K. If it's a Windows machine, your operating system was written partly in C, partly in C++, a language built on top of C. (The "++" suffix is the C language's "increment" operator. So the name "C++" means "successor of C".)

  • Your browser, be it Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari, is written in C or C++.

  • If you read A2K on a Mac, your operating system is Unix with a glitzy, proprietary user interface. Both were implemented in C and Objective C, another spinoff from C.

  • If you read A2K on a smart phone, be it an iPhone or an Android, your operating system is a Unix, and the software that runs on it will be written in C or a derivative of C like Objective-C or Java.

There, that should give you some idea.
George
 
  3  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 09:32 am
Ask any geek of my generation where his "Kernighan and Ritchie" is, and
he'll know exactly what you mean and exactly where it is.

(It's The C Programming Language, the little white book that
describes C.)
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 06:39 pm
@George,
You can even just ask him where "K&R" is.
George
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 07:34 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Yep.
(Mine's in a box of stuff I'm moving from old to new work location.)
0 Replies
 
Robert Gentel
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 08:41 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Now that you mention it, Robert, I think Able2Know is the perfect example for illustrating Richie's influence. (The illustration would look barely different for other websites.)


Even better are those enormous internet companies that we now take for granted. Things like Google and Amazon run on similar stacks and might not look the same today without him.

Pretty much the whole internet does. It's an awe-inspiring breadth of influence.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 14 Oct, 2011 08:44 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:
Pretty much the whole internet does. It's an awe-inspiring breadth of influence.

And the telephone network. I just re-read Pike's obit. I'm not surprised, given that he worked for Bell Labs, but I hadn't known it.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Tue 25 Oct, 2011 06:39 pm
@Robert Gentel,
Robert Gentel wrote:
It's kinda sad that the fathers of modern computing are now fading away. It's something I think we're going to have to get used to (the industry is so young, that it hasn't dealt with a lot of this yet).

You should check if there are any job openings for prophets!

John McCarthy, 84, Dies; Computer Design Pioneer (New York Times)

Just as I'm rediscovering my affection for Lisp. . . .

Unrelated to John McCarthy's passing, Paul Graham's website has an insightful article on what McCarthy actually discovered when he accidentally invented the language.
0 Replies
 
 

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