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The FORTRAN Programming Language

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One of the oldest programming languages, the FORTRAN was developed by a team of programmers at IBM led by John Backus, and was first published in 1957. The name FORTRAN is an acronym for FORmula TRANslation, because it was designed to allow easy translation of math formulas into code.

Often referred to as a scientific language, FORTRAN was the first high-level language, using the first compiler ever developed. Prior to the development of FORTRAN computer programmers were required to program in machine/assembly code, which was an extremely difficult and time consuming task, not to mention the dreadful chore of debugging the code. The objective during it's design was to create a programming language that would be: simple to learn, suitable for a wide variety of applications, machine independent, and would allow complex mathematical expressions to be stated similarly to regular algebraic notation.

While still being almost as efficient in execution as assembly language. Since FORTRAN was so much easier to code, programmers were able to write programs 500% faster than before, while execution efficiency was only reduced by 20%, this allowed them to focus more on the problem solving aspects of a problem, and less on coding.

FORTRAN was so innovative not only because it was the first high-level language, but also because of it's compiler, which is credited as giving rise to the branch of computer science now known as compiler theory. Several years after it's release FORTRAN had developed many different dialects, (due to special tweaking by programmers trying to make it better suit their personal needs) making it very difficult to transfer programs from one machine to another.

These problems lead the American Standards Association (now known as the American National Standards Association) to release it's first Standard for a Programming Languagein 1966. This first standardized version has come to be known as FORTRAN '66 (aka.. FORTRAN IV).

Despite this standardization, a few years later, various new dialects began to surface again, requiring the Standards Association review the language again. This version is known as FORTRAN '77. This version was released in 1978 (it was called '77 because the Association began it's review in 1977), with several new features. Some of the more notable properties were; new error handling methods, and mechanisms for managing large-scale programs.

The latest version; Fortran '90 (released in 1990, using the new capitalization scheme) added even more new features, such as support for: recursion, pointers, and for programmer-defined data types. {Fortran 90's future - Current research in complier theory involves equipping compilers to generate object code, that is able to exploit the capabilities of massively parallel computers. Thr Fortran 90 compilers are key targets of such research}

Significant Language Features

Some of the more significant features of the language are as listed below:

  • Simple to learn- when FORTRAN was design one of the objectives was to write a language that was easy to learn and understand.
  • Machine Independent- allows for easy transportation of a program from one machine to another.
  • More natural ways to express mathematical functions- FORTRAN permits even severely complex mathematical functions to be expressed similarly to regular algebraic notation.
  • Problem orientated language
  • Remains close to and exploits the available hardware
  • Efficient execution- there is only an approximate 20% decrease in efficiency as compared to assembly/machine code.
  • Ability to control storage allocation-programmers were able to easily control the allocation of storage (although this is considered to be a dangerous practice today, it was quite important some time ago due to limited memory.
  • More freedom in code layout- unlike assembly/machine language, code does not need to be laid out in rigidly defined columns, (though it still must remain within the parameters of the FORTRAN source code form).

Areas of Application

FORTRAN is useful for a wide variety of applications, some of the more outstanding ones are as follows:

  • Number crunching- due to the more natural (like it's true algebraic form) way of expressing complex mathematical functions and it's quick execution time, FORTRAN is easy and efficient at processing mathematical equations.
  • Scientific, mathematical, statistical, and engineering type procedures-due to it's rapid number-crunching ability FORTRAN is a good choice for these type of applications.
  • Basically FORTRAN is most useful for applications that are "computational-bound" rather than "I/O bound".

Sample Program

Source Code: (Hello World)
******Ouput for Hellow World

WRITE(6,*)'Hello world'
STOP
END

This program has NOT been tested due to the inability to locate the necessary compiler. It is posted here just to give you an example of what Fortran source code looks like. Compare it to the other example listed to see the syntactic differences that exist in the language.

This code demonstrates the simplicity of outputing a line of code, in this case "Hello World."

 

 

 

 


 



 

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