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Elements of Programming Style Paperback – 1 Jun 1978

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Inc.,US; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 Jun 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0070342075
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070342071
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 15.2 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,338,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 May 1998
Format: Paperback
Although this book was needed in its day (copyright 1978, 1974), many of the examples are so dated that they've lost their relevance. Steve Maguire's more recent "Writing Solid Code" covers the very same material, but uses examples written in C rather than Fortran and PL/C. I recommend it instead.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent service! Highly recommended.
I have been looking for this book for a long time. It has academic value even now 36 years after publication.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 31 Mar 1998
Format: Paperback
This was the definitive work on programming style when first written, and is still a standard reference. However, it desperately needs updating, mainly in the examples, which are based on PL1 and a now-obsolescent version of Fortran.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
All programmers should buy this book 13 Oct 2001
By A Williams - Published on
Format: Paperback
I firmly believe that computer programming is a craft, perhaps an art but certainly not a science. As you learn the craft you need to learn the wisdom of those that have gone before you. This book becomes essential.
It spells out, first with a counter example found in a piece of code published elsewhere and then with the code rewritten, over 70 pearls of wisdom that should be engraved into our consciousness; for many years every morning when I logged on to start work as a commercial Unix programmer one of these rules was randomly chosen as my message of the day, if I didn't understand the short rule I dragged out the book and refreshed my memory.
Brian Kernighan has co-authored three books almost essential to learning our craft, this volume, "Software Tools" and "The Unix Programming Environment". "Elements of Programming Style" spells out the fundamental rules, "Software Tools" shows you how to apply them to a number of simple projects and extends the rules to software design and finally "The Unix Programming Environment" shows you how to use them in an operating system designed to reward you for your effort.
The examples in either PL/I or Fortran expound the simple rules clearly and expertly in a manner typical of Kernighan's writing. That the languages used are old and most of the rules long accepted lore are not a drawback to this volume. Anyone who knows C, Pascal or even Perl should easily understand the code and programmers turn out code just as bad today in any number of languages.
These things make this book highly recommended reading for anyone who wishes to call them self "programmer." A final word of warning, don't lend this book to anyone, you'll never get it back - I've bought four copies so far.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A classic programming book 15 Feb 2001
By Daniel Mall - Published on
Format: Paperback
Published in 1978. 168 pages. These 77 rules represent the definitive basis of good programming style and best programming practices. Included in this famous set of rules are gems such as "say what you mean", "write clearly", "use the telephone test", "make sure comments and code agree", and "make it right before you make it faster". Each rule is described in the context of a small program or code fragment. The authors expertly illuminate their rules by correcting these deficient programs. All of the example code in FORTRAN or PL/I was taken from prior publications. The rules are programming language independent (76/77); the only exception is "avoid the FORTRAN arithmetic IF." This book solidified many of the ideals expressed in the structured programming movement.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Many rules still apply 18 Sep 2006
By alkmaar - Published on
Format: Paperback
I dare say many rules Mr. Kernighan preached almost three decades ago are still NOT followed by the programming community at large. For examples, "Modularize. Use subroutines." "Each module should do one thing well." and "Don't patch bad code--rewrite it." A widespread, bad practice of 90% of the programmers today is still writing functions that are way too long! And they very often keep modifying existing functions--inserting new logic into them--to make already bad code even worse; they seldom give it a second thought about rewriting the whole damn crap!

Another set of rules from the book: "Make sure code and comments agree." and "Don't over-comment." Many programmers seldom do the first thing, resulting in widespread mismatches between the actual codes and surrounding comments. This applies to Java code as well. The comment style recommended by Java--that is, mixing code and comments that can be extracted into so-called self documentation--is an outright violation of the "don't over-comment" rule. (This is intended to be a criticism of Java-style comments.) Good code should document itself clearly; with perhaps a little help from judiciously added few comments that are not self-evident from the code itself.

The book uses FORTRAN and PL/I code examples. There are things that no longer apply today. But the fundamental rules and styles are still well applicable today and in the future.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Some good rules for us all, still valid after so many years 23 Nov 2004
By Jill Malter - Published on
Format: Paperback
I think this little book is still relevant today, over thirty years after it first appeared.

Yes, some people claim that computer programming is taught a little better today, and we all learn better habits. Actually, I'm not sure how true that is. People may be better at telling kids how to tidy up their rooms, but I've seen some rather messy rooms!

And people may say that FORTRAN and PL/I are absurd languages to use as examples today. I'm not so sure about that. As a programmer, you may very well see old and confusing programs written in either language, especially FORTRAN. And anyone who can program in more modern languages ought to be able to read the programs.

It's easy to read, it's still interesting, and it raises some issues of style that are worth thinking about. Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) is still worth reading. And so is this.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Still an excellent book after all these years. 25 Aug 1998
By Ralph Corderoy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Despite its age, this book still has much to offer that other books, like Writing Solid Code, miss. Even though it uses languages from a bygone age in its examples, it points are still very valid. Coupled with the clear, lucid, writing it is a joy to read. If you think your code is the bee's knees, think again unless you've read Elements of Programming Style.
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