Pascal

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Pascal: /n./ An Algol-descended language designed by Niklaus Wirth on the CDC 6600 around 1967--68 as an instructional tool for elementary programming. This language, designed primarily to keep students from shooting themselves in the foot and thus extremely restrictive from a general-purpose-programming point of view, was later promoted as a general-purpose tool and, in fact, became the ancestor of a large family of languages including Modula-2 and Ada (see also bondage-and-discipline language). The hackish point of view on Pascal was probably best summed up by a devastating (and, in its deadpan way, screamingly funny) 1981 paper by Brian Kernighan (of K&R fame) entitled "Why Pascal is Not My Favorite Programming Language", which was turned down by the technical journals but circulated widely via photocopies. It was eventually published in "Comparing and Assessing Programming Languages", edited by Alan Feuer and Narain Gehani (Prentice-Hall, 1984). Part of his discussion is worth repeating here, because its criticisms are still apposite to Pascal itself after ten years of improvement and could also stand as an indictment of many other bondage-and-discipline languages. At the end of a summary of the case against Pascal, Kernighan wrote:

     9. There is no escape
     This last point is perhaps the most important.  The language is
     inadequate but circumscribed, because there is no way to escape
     its limitations.  There are no casts to disable the type-checking
     when necessary.  There is no way to replace the defective
     run-time environment with a sensible one, unless one controls the
     compiler that defines the "standard procedures".  The language is
     closed.
     People who use Pascal for serious programming fall into a fatal
     trap.  Because the language is impotent, it must be extended.
     But each group extends Pascal in its own direction, to make it
     look like whatever language they really want.  Extensions for
     separate compilation, FORTRAN-like COMMON, string data types,
     internal static variables, initialization, octal numbers, bit
     operators, etc., all add to the utility of the language for one
     group but destroy its portability to others.
     I feel that it is a mistake to use Pascal for anything much
     beyond its original target.  In its pure form, Pascal is a toy
     language, suitable for teaching but not for real programming.
Pascal has since been almost entirely displaced (by C) from the niches it had acquired in serious applications and systems programming, but retains some popularity as a hobbyist language in the MS-DOS and Macintosh worlds.


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