Cover by Ben Klemens

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Chapter 7. C Syntax You Can Ignore

I believe it is good Let’s destroy it.

Porno for Pyros, “Porno for Pyros”

In the 1980s, the synthesizer became a common, viable tool for musicians. Now, it’s not hard to recognize music that made use of the then-new technology as being decidedly ’80s. A similar but somewhat more subtle thing happened with the drum machine in the late 1990s. Compare with dance music up to the swing era, which was all about horns that could carry in a music hall before we had all this electronic equipment amplifying the instruments.

There was a time when C was a cutting-edge language, intended to replace assembly code and compete with FORTRAN, COBOL, and other all-caps languages that have not withstood the test of time quite as well as C (which, when you think about it, also has an all-caps name). But looking at C code from the 1980s, you can tell it was written then.

This isn’t about stylistic details like where we put the curly braces. Yes, older code tends to be more sparse, like:

if (x > 0)
{
    return 1;
}

whereas scripting languages tend toward compressing these four lines into a one-line thought, like:

if (x > 0) return 1;

but I have no interest in telling you where to put your curly braces.

Rather, more fundamental features of C that made sense at the time have a real effect on the readability and maintainability of code. In many cases, the textbooks on the market haven’t been updated to mention some of the conveniences added to C in 1999, meaning that they do things ...

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