Professional Programmer's Guide to Fortran 77

Peter Kitson

ISBN : 0273028561

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Sample Chapter From Professional Programmer's Guide to Fortran 77
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What Is Fortran?

Fortran is the most widely used programming language in the world for numerical applications. It has achieved this position partly by being on the scene earlier than any of the other major languages and partly because it seems gradually to have evolved the features which its users, especially scientists and engineers, found most useful. In order to retain compatibility with old programs, Fortran has advanced mainly by adding new features rather than by removing old ones. The net result is, of course, that some parts of the language are, by present standards, rather archaic: some of these can be avoided easily, others can still be a nuisance.

Early Development

Fortran was invented by a team of programmers working for IBM in the early nineteen-fifties. This group, led by John Backus, produced the first compiler, for an IBM 704 computer, in 1957. They used the name Fortran because one of their principal aims was ``formula translation". But Fortran was in fact one of the very first high-level language: it came complete with control structures and facilities for input/output. Fortran became popular quite rapidly and compilers were soon produced for other IBM machines. Before long other manufacturers were forced to design Fortran compilers for their own hardware. By 1963 all the major manufacturers had joined in and there were dozens of different Fortran compilers in existence, many of them rather more powerful than the original.

All this resulted in a chaos of incompatible dialects. Some order was restored in 1966 when an American national standard was defined for Fortran. This was the first time that a standard had ever been produced for a computer programming language. Although it was very valuable, it hardly checked the growth of the language. Quite deliberately the Fortran66 standard only specified a set of language features which had to be present: it did not prevent other features being added. As time went on these extensions proliferated and the need for a further standardization exercise became apparent. This eventually resulted in the current version of the language: Fortran77.