Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dennis M. Ritchie, RIP

Dennis M. Ritchie, creator of the C programming language, co-author of The C Programming Language, and one of the creators of the UNIX operating system, died on October 8.

UNIX is not that visible to most persons who don't work with technology, unless of course they use Apple computers--OS X is Berkeley UNIX under the hood. Yet a lot of the servers on the Internet, not to mention a lot of the machines that handle details one just doesn't see--the databases for banks, reservation systems, phone systems--use some UNIX variant.

It is most unlikely that anyone can read this post without using some software that was written in C--a large fraction of the web servers on the Internet run UNIXes or Linux, which are largely written in C; most of the rest likely use the Microsoft stack, and I dare says that a great deal that  in C, with much of the rest in C's descendants C++ and C#.

C has its flaws. It was written by people who worked at Bell Labs for their use and the use of others who worked at Bell Labs, i.e. really smart people. In the hands of the careless--occasionally including the Bell Labs staff--a language that assumed you knew what you meant could lead to trouble. C didn't care whether you checked your bounds or the return values from your system calls. Want to scribble all over your stack? No problem! Want to read 10 pounds of data into a 5 pound bag? Sure! UNIX also has its quirks, some of them C-related, some related only by the priorities of the creators.

But there are an awful lot of us who have made our livings working with the products Dennis Ritchie had a large hand in. Believe me, I'm grateful to the man.

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