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The Practice of Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing)


The Practice of Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing) Cover




Have you ever...

  • wasted a lot of time coding the wrong algorithm?
  • used a data structure that was much too complicated?
  • tested a program but missed an obvious problem?
  • spent a day looking for a bug you should have found in five minutes?
  • needed to make a program run three times faster and use less memory?
  • struggled to move a program from a workstation to a PC or vice versa?
  • tried to make a modest change in someone else's program?
  • rewritten a program because you couldn't understand it?

Was it fun?

These things happen to programmers all the time. But dealing with such problems is often harder than it should be because topics like testing, debugging, portability, performance, design alternatives, and style — the practice of programming — are not usually the focus of computer science or programming courses. Most programmers learn them haphazardly as their experience grows, and a few never learn them at all.

In a world of enormous and intricate interfaces, constantly changing tools and languages and systems, and relentless pressure for more of everything, one can lose sight of the basic principles — simplicity, clarity, generality — that form the bedrock of good software. One can also overlook the value of tools and notations that mechanize some of software creation and thus enlist the computer in its own programming.

Our approach in this book is based on these underlying, interrelated principles, which apply at all levels of computing. These include simplicity, which keeps programs short and manageable; clarity, which makes sure they are easy to understand, for people as well as machines; generality, which means they work well in a broad range of situations and adapt well as new situations arise; and automation, which lets the machine do the work for us, freeing us from mundane tasks. By looking at computer programming in a variety of languages, from algorithms and data structures through design, debugging, testing, and performance improvement, we can illustrate universal engineering concepts that are independent of language, operating system, or programming paradigm.

This book comes from many years of experience writing and maintaining a lot of software, teaching programming courses, and working with a wide variety of programmers. We want to share lessons about practical issues, to pass on insights from our experience, and to suggest ways for programmers of all levels to be more proficient and productive.

We are writing for several kinds of readers. If you are a student who has taken a programming course or two and would like to be a better programmer, this book will expand on some of the topics for which there wasn't enough time in school. If you write programs as part of your work, but in support of other activities rather than as the goal in itself, the information will help you to program more effectively. If you are a professional programmer who didn't get enough exposure to such topics in school or who would like a refresher, or if you are a software manager who wants to guide your staff in the right direction, the material here should be of value.

We hope that the advice will help you to write better programs. The only prerequisite is that you have done some programming, preferably in C, C++ or Java. Of course the more experience you have, the easier it will be; nothing can take you from neophyte to expert in 21 days. Unix and Linux programmers will find some of the examples more familiar than will those who have used only Windows and Macintosh systems, but programmers from any environment should discover things to make their lives easier.

The presentation is organized into nine chapters, each focusing on one major aspect of programming practice.

Chapter 1 discusses programming style. Good style is so important to good programming that we have chosen to cover it first. Well-written programs are better than badly-written ones — they have fewer errors and are easier to debug and to modify — so it is important to think about style from the beginning. This chapter also introduces an important theme in good programming, the use of idioms appropriate to the language being used.

Algorithms and data structures, the topics of Chapter 2, are the core of the computer science curriculum and a major part of programming courses. Since most readers will already be familiar with this material, our treatment is intended as a brief review of the handful of algorithms and data structures that show up in almost every program. More complex algorithms and data structures usually evolve from these building blocks, so one should master the basics.

Chapter 3 describes the design and implementation of a small program that illustrates algorithm and data structure issues in a realistic setting. The program is implemented in five languages; comparing the versions shows how the same data structures are handled in each, and how expressiveness and performance vary across a spectrum of languages.

Interfaces between users, programs, and parts of programs are fundamental in programming and much of the success of software is determined by how well interfaces are designed and implemented. Chapter 4 shows the evolution of a small library for parsing a widely used data format. Even though the example is small, it illustrates many of the concerns of interface design: abstraction, information hiding, resource management, and error handling.

Much as we try to write programs correctly the first time, bugs, and therefore debugging, are inevitable. Chapter 5 gives strategies and tactics for systematic and effective debugging. Among the topics are the signatures of common bugs and the importance of numerology, where patterns in debugging output often indicate where a problem lies.

Testing is an attempt to develop a reasonable assurance that a program is working correctly and that it stays correct as it evolves. The emphasis in Chapter 6 is on systematic testing by hand and machine. Boundary condition tests probe at potential weak spots. Mechanization and test scaffolds make it easy to do extensive testing with modest effort. Stress tests provide a different kind of testing than typical users do and ferret out a different class of bugs.

Computers are so fast and compilers are so good that many programs are fast enough the day they are written. But others are too slow, or they use too much memory, or both. Chapter 7 presents an orderly way to approach the task of making a program use resources efficiently, so that the program remains correct and sound as it is made more efficient.

Chapter 8 covers portability. Successful programs live long enough that their environment changes, or they must be moved to new systems or new hardware or new countries. The goal of portability is to reduce the maintenance of a program by minimizing the amount of change necessary to adapt it to a new environment.

Computing is rich in languages, not just the general-purpose ones that we use for the bulk of programming, but also many specialized languages that focus on narrow domains. Chapter 9 presents several examples of the importance of notation in computing, and shows how we can use it to simplify programs, to guide implementations, and even to help us write programs that write programs.

. . .

Copyright © 1999 Lucent Technologies. All rights reserved.


Product Details

Kernighan, Brian W.
Pike, Rob
Kernighan, Brian W.
Kernighan, Brian
Addison-Wesley Professional
Reading, MA :
Programming Languages - General
Programming - General
Programming (electronic computers)
Computer programming
Software Engineering - Programming and Languages
Edition Number:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Addison-Wesley professional computing series
Publication Date:
February 1999
Grade Level:
Professional and scholarly
9 x 7.4 x 0.8 in 417 gr

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The Practice of Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$38.00 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Addison-Wesley Professional - English 9780201615869 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , This book was written primarily for anyone who wants to hone their programming skills: students who have taken a programming course or two; professional programmers using C, C++, or Java; software development managers; and anyone else who cares about programming. That said, the generation of programmers who learned C from "K&R" and Unix from "K&P" will want to check out the advice offered from the people who wrote the book.
"Synopsis" by , The authors draw on their experience to help programmers be more proficient and productive. They discuss topics like good style, design, performance improvement, testing, debugging, and portability - in summary, how to write good programs.
"Synopsis" by , With the same insight and authority that made their book The Unix Programming Environment a classic, Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike have written The Practice of Programming to help make individual programmers more effective and productive.

The practice of programming is more than just writing code. Programmers must also assess tradeoffs, choose among design alternatives, debug and test, improve performance, and maintain software written by themselves and others. At the same time, they must be concerned with issues like compatibility, robustness, and reliability, while meeting specifications.

The Practice of Programming covers all these topics, and more. This book is full of practical advice and real-world examples in C, C++, Java, and a variety of special-purpose languages. It includes chapters on:

  • debugging: finding bugs quickly and methodically
  • testing: guaranteeing that software works correctly and reliably
  • performance: making programs faster and more compact
  • portability: ensuring that programs run everywhere without change
  • design: balancing goals and constraints to decide which algorithms and data structures are best
  • interfaces: using abstraction and information hiding to control the interactions between components
  • style: writing code that works well and is a pleasure to read
  • notation: choosing languages and tools that let the machine do more of the work

Kernighan and Pike have distilled years of experience writing programs, teaching, and working with other programmers to create this book. Anyone who writes software will profit from the principles and guidance in The Practice of Programming.


"Synopsis" by , This book was written primarily for anyone who wants to hone their programming skills: students who have taken a programming course or two; professional programmers using C, C++, or Java; software development managers; and anyone else who cares about programming. That said, the generation of programmers who learned C from "K&R" and Unix from "K&P" will want to check out the advice offered from the people who wrote the book.
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