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

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7/5/2015
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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.
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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

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douglasjp3
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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. 
ErrolG871
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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
ANewNickname
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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...
Whoopty
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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?"
Li Tan
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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.
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