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Literate Programming (Center for the Study of Language and Information - Lecture Notes)

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Computer programs arc fun to write, and well-written computer pro grams are fun to read. One of life's greatest pleasures can be the composition of a computer program that you know will be a pleasure for other people to read, and for yourself to read.

Computer programs can also do useful work. One of life's greatest sources of satisfaction is the knowledge that something you have created is contributing to the progress or welfare of society.

Some people even get paid for writing computer programs! Program ming can therefore be triply rewarding—on aesthetic, humanitarian, and economic grounds.

Of course I don't mean to imply that programming is easy. Easy things are often amusing and relaxing, but their value soon fades. Greater plea sure, deeper satisfaction, and higher wages are associated with genuine accomplishments, with the successful fulfillment of a challenging task.

I have spent a good deal of my life trying to help make computer pro gramming as rewarding as possible, in all three senses. At first, I thought programming was primarily analogous to musical composition—to the creation of intricate patterns, which are meant to be performed. But lately I have come to realize that a far better analogy is available: Pro gramming is best regarded as the process of creating works of literature, which are meant to be read.

Literature of the program genre is performable by machines, but that is not its main purpose. The computer programs that are truly beau tiful, useful, and profitable must be readable by people. So we ought to address them to people, not to machines. All of the major problems associated with computer programming issues of reliability, portabil ity, learnability, maintainability, and efficiency—arc ameliorated when programs and their dialogs with users become more literate.

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