By Donald E. Knuth, Jack N. Merner
Communications of the ACM,
Vol. 4 No. 6, Pages 268-272
The ALGOL 60 Report,* when first encountered, seems to describe a very complex language which will be difficult to learn. The “metalinguistic formulae” admirably serve the purpose of precisely specifying a language, but they are certainly not very readable for a beginner. However, experience has shown that once the report is explained it is in fact easy to learn ALGOL and to write algorithms in it. The language is so general and powerful it can handle an enormous class of problems.
It is not hard to learn those parts of ALGOL present in other compiler languages: how to write assignment and go to and for statements, etc. Indeed, a lot of the unnecessary restrictions imposed by other compiling languages have finally been lifted. But ALGOL also allows many unobvious things to be written, as we will see later, and herein lies a problem: ALGOL seems to have become too general. So many restrictions have been lifted that a lot of technical details crop up which are hard to learn and to use correctly. In this paper some of the more obscure features of the language are considered and their usefulness is discussed. Remarks are based on the authors' interpretations of the ALGOL 60 Report.
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