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  C - the language that made Unix possible and changed everything.

The programming language C changed many things.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, programmers working for computer manufacturers had developed proprietary, purpose-specific, programming languages that were difficult to maintain and suffered from low productivity. This era spawned families of languages optimised for Job Control, Time Sharing, Scientific applications or business.

The 1978 paper in which the inventors first described the C language was written by D.M. Ritchie, S.C. Johnson, M.E. Lesk, and B.W. Kernighan.

Kernighan and Ritchie would go on to write the definitive book about C, still sought after by students and practitioners.

  The advent of microprogramming in the 1960s created a new layer of programming in which the instruction set of the core machine could be re-purposed to suit different types of application, requiring yet another set of programming languages.

The world began to despair of having enough programmers to configure the machines that would be needed later in the century if programmer productivity did not soon exceed the 10 debugged lines per day plateau it seemed to have reached. Early ideas on structured programing began to emerge along with methods of quality assurance like peer review, structured walkthrough and inspection, all designed to reduce or eliminate the ego that had become central to programming. The industry began to move towards high and very high level languages in the search for higher effective programmer productivity.

Minicomputers, using early forms of LSI (large scale integration), made the problem worse by making computer time accessible to engineers and other users who had not yet learned to respect the problems. In their search for real-time efficiency on limited power 12 or 16 bit machines they would often program in machine codes that were even more difficult to debug and maintain, further reducing apparent productivty.

Microprocessors threatened to begin the cycle again as early devices could only process 4 or 8 bits in size, requiring even more mental gymnastics from their programmers.

From this apparent chaos, the C programing language emerged from the Bell Laboratories in the late 1970s.

Compact in size, it featured many of the modern control expressions and data structures that facilitated good programming style although its cryptic instructions confused many and led to competitions on the most complex, and impenetrable, function that could be performed by a C program written within one line of 256 characters.

Developed initially for the 16-bit PDP11 minicomputer running the Unix operating system, it was rapidly ported to many other architectures due to its flexibility. Its own compiler was written in C as was the Unix operating system and many of the early Unix applications.

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