Fortran: 7 Reasons Why It's Not Dead - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Software // Enterprise Applications
News
7/5/2015
12:06 PM
100%
0%

Fortran: 7 Reasons Why Itís Not Dead

In the 1950s, IBM programmer John Backus invented a programming language called Fortran. It's still in use today, and here's what you need to know about it.
Previous
1 of 9
Next

Fortran: Where general-purpose programming began.

(Image: Bostomi via Wikipedia)

Fortran: Where general-purpose programming began.

(Image: Bostomi via Wikipedia)

The list of high-tech tools in continuous use since the early 1950s isn't very long: the Fender Telecaster, the B-52, and Fortran.

Fortran (which started life as FORTRAN, or FORmula TRANslator) was first created by IBM programmer John Backus in 1950. By the time John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, FORTRAN III had been released and FORTRAN had the features with which it would become the predominant programming language for scientific and engineering applications. To a nontrivial extent, it still is.

Whereas COBOL was created to be a general purpose language that worked well for creating applications for business and government purposes in which reports and human-readable output were key, FORTRAN was all about manipulating numbers and numeric data structures.

Its numeric capabilities meant that Fortran was the language of choice for the first generation of high-performance computers and remained the primary development tool for supercomputers: Platform-specific versions of the language power applications on supercomputers from Burroughs, Cray, IBM, and other vendors.

[Is COBOL dead? The answer is no.]

Of course, if the strength of Fortran was in the power of its mathematical processing, its weakness was actually getting data into and out of the program. Many Fortran programmers have horror stories to tell, most centering upon the "FORMAT" statement that serves as the basis of input and output.

While many scientific applications have begun to move to C++, Java, and other modern languages because of the wide availability of both function libraries and programming talent, Fortran remains an active part of the engineering and scientific software development world.

So how can you get your hands on Fortran? It's actually pretty easy. This isn't an exhaustive list of all the Fortran compilers in the world, but rather a survey of some of the packages easily available to those who want to learn the language or use it in their own projects (plus a couple that you're likely to run into if you land that Fortran programming job you're hoping for).

If you're looking for a programming language in use on everything from $25 computers that fit in the palm of your hand to the largest computers on earth you only have a couple of choices. If you want that programming language to be the same one your grandparents might have used when they were beginning his or her career, then there's only one option. Welcome to Fortran, the once and future language of scientific computing.

Our tour starts on the next page. Let me know which packages I left out and how you're still using the Fortran skills you learned "back in the day." If you can do that while using a FORMAT statement, everyone here will be impressed. Really.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Previous
1 of 9
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Li Tan
50%
50%
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
7/6/2015 | 6:26:53 AM
A good recap
Thanks for the author - this is a very good recap for Fortran. Fortran is not dead since it's still being used today, especially in mainframe world. Similarly COBOL is still used nowadays in banking/financial IT area.
Whoopty
100%
0%
Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
7/6/2015 | 6:54:15 AM
Interesting
An interesting read. I had no idea a programming language could last so long.

Still, I can't help but feel that the mainstream news is about to get all confused again. "Fortran, is that like that hacker 4chan?"
ANewNickname
100%
0%
ANewNickname,
User Rank: Strategist
7/6/2015 | 9:26:28 AM
FORTRAN: progamming comfort food
I learned FORTRAN overnight, literally. I had a job as a machine operator in a university computing center, and was offered $25 to write a simple program. "Do you know FORTRAN?" she asked. "Of course," I replied, and was hired. But I had heard of it, at least, and found a copy of McCracken in the Computing Center Library (I still have it), so by morning I had earned $25 and a reputation as a crack FORTRAN programmer. The good old days...
ErrolG871
50%
50%
ErrolG871,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 9:38:48 AM
Fortran 5
I used so called Fortran 5 on our Data General Mini running RDOS in the 1980's. It was unique in that it was multitasking. I wrote software to control a Wild BC1  analytical stereoplotter, with real-time subroutines running in the background. It was only available to run on Data General computers.

Errol Greer
douglasjp3
50%
50%
douglasjp3,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 9:49:55 AM
Miss 80-column cards and short varible names
I learned FORTRAN IV with 6 hrs. of instruction in a statistics class at LSU.  Our mid-term assignment was to read a tape with sample student data and print the mean height and weight of the student population.  Our final project was to print a table of binominal probabilities.  I programmed in 1977 using TSO terminal and used punched cards on IBM 370 until 1980.  Worked briefly on IBM 1800 and converted to FORTRAN 77 on a DEC 11/34 until 1996.  Now, I am a DBA and work with MS SQL Servers.

Joe D. 
BJAY550
100%
0%
BJAY550,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 9:50:23 AM
Fortran Still Lives
I am 71 and still working full time as a developer, primarely in Visual Basic.

I first encountered FORTRAN on an IBM1620 in 1964 at Minnesta's St. Cloud State College (now St. Cloud University).  It was the "high level" language available.  As I recall, this was a FORTRAN variant developed at the University of Toronto and was called "UTO Fortran".  This may be significant as I recall many references over the years to that University contributing to FORTRAN  We also wrote in assembler.

It has often been said that FORTRAN was primarily used by the scientific community, but I spent much of my career programming for the commercial world where COBOL dominated, and I often would write specific applications in FORTRAN over the years if the language gave me the capabilities needed.  I don't think I was unusual, in that FORTRAN was included in college courses for many years, and many COBOL programmers also knew FORTRAN and could choose between the languages.

I would be surprised, however, unlike COBOL, if much "new code" is developed in FORTRAN.  The list of compilers referenced in this article I strongly suspect exist to support legacy applications originally developed in FORTRAN, not for new development.  It would be interesting to know if any new applications are being developed in FORTRAN VS other more powerful and modern languages so widely available?  If so, why FORTRAN?

Bud Jay
jtaff922
50%
50%
jtaff922,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 11:53:24 AM
Fortran used with Alpha Machines and OpenVMS.
I work at a large Water Utility. I still use Fortran to program and maintain our SCADA Telemetry Control System. I use it on our VAX and Alpha Computers running HP OpenVMS. We are going to go to a Windows System soon. This will require several more servers just to do what I do now with my Alpha Machines. I guess that's progress. 
dperley
50%
50%
dperley,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 12:11:45 PM
FORTRAN memories
 

My memories of FORTRAN are bittersweet.  I spent the summer of 1978 working for McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, California, bringing with me my large FORTRAN interactive surrogage simulation program.   However when we tried to run it on their CDC Cyber mainframe we got wall-to-wall errors on every line.   The reason - unknown to me, my university's XEROX Sigma 9 computer ran a version of FORTRAN which used proprietary extensions (beyond ANSI-66 FORTRAN) such as WRITE (108,K) where value of K tells format line for the output or else things like IF (Arugment) DO THIS; DO THAT; GO SOMEWHERE.   Neither of these worked on the Cyber and we had to overcome the problem by re-writing the entire thing in ANSI FORTRAN.  The above features did not become part of standard FORTRAN until FORTRAN-77 was released in 1979.  

Best regards,

 

Dan Perley

 

 
pattrick
50%
50%
pattrick,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 2:00:46 PM
Brings Back Memories
The article brings back memories.  I wrote a LOT of FORTRAN code many years ago for an IBM S/360 when I worked as a statistician.  I later wrote a bunch of FORTRAN code for an IBM 1130, including a payroll system. (Getting with sums to balance was a challenge with a compiler that only supported floating point in those days!)  I always enjoyed prograamming in FORTRAN.  Thanks for the article.
enviroman
50%
50%
enviroman,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/6/2015 | 2:26:40 PM
first fortran experience
I first learned Fortran on an IBM 360 while a student at Florida Atlantic University in 1969. We were allowed two batch submits per day on 80 column cards. There were no college classes in Fortran at that time. I would go into the batch submit room and look at printouts of successful runs by other students. That is how I learned Fortran.

We had DEC machines at the Westinghouse Tech Center in the 1970s. Card decks were prepared in the key punch room. The advent of a full screen editor for code writing was a huge improvement.

My first experience with Fortran on a PC was on a TRS 80 machine using a version of Microsoft Fortran in 1981. That was a three step compiler. You could not do the heavy lifting on the TRS 80 that you could do on the DEC, but it allowed you to do test runs to debug your code before going to the DEC.

Fortran is still the preferred programming language for numerically intensive applications. USEPA maintains their air quality dispersion models in Fortran. Weather forecasting with MM5 or WRF is done in parallel processing Fortran code.

I work with air quality dispersion models like AERMOD and CALPUFF using Compaq Visual Fortran V6.6A. I also have Lahey Fortran 95 on one of my machines and Intel Fortran on another machine. I have worked with Fortran for 46 years and do not expect it to disappear any time soon.
Page 1 / 5   >   >>
Commentary
Gartner Forecast Sees 7.3% Shrinkage in IT Spending for 2020
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/15/2020
Slideshows
10 Ways AI Is Transforming Enterprise Software
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  7/13/2020
Commentary
IT Career Paths You May Not Have Considered
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  6/30/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
Key to Cloud Success: The Right Management
This IT Trend highlights some of the steps IT teams can take to keep their cloud environments running in a safe, efficient manner.
Slideshows
Flash Poll