Happy Dennis Ritchie Day.

Dennis Ritchie Day on the couch

Happy Dennis Ritchie Day! (It’s the day before Halloween, so we decided to leave the spooky dog in the picture.) Here’s the close up:

Dennis Ritchie Day, sign of appreciation

If you don’t know who Dennis Ritchie was, or why he has a day, this post by Tim O’Reilly is a good place to start.

Ritchie, who died this October 12th, was a pioneering computer programmer who had an exceptionally good sense of taste and an instinct for where to invest it. Collaborating with colleagues (something his career was notable for), he designed long-lasting systems that programmers could get things done in. He helped create both the Unix operating system — which, depending on how you look at it, either is or is inside today’s GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Macintosh OS X, and many other environments that you probably interact with all the time — and the C programming language, which is still the lingua franca for systems programming more than thirty years after its first release.

Some other appreciations:

There are many, many other such tributes to be found on the Net today. Some of us are using the hashtag #DennisRitchieDay on identi.ca and Twitter to mark the occasion.

Unix was the first operating system I really learned, and it’s what I’ve been using ever since (Debian GNU/Linux now, after various other Linux distributions starting from 1992). C was my first programming language. My copy of Kernighan and Ritchie’s “The C Programming Language” (always called simply “K&R” among programmers) is probably the most well-thumbed book I own, and looks it. I can’t really imagine what the computing universe would be like without Ritchie.

Maybe this is something Ritchie wouldn’t have celebrated. After all, whatever computing environments he first learned in, he clearly was able to imagine something else. Perhaps the best way to honor his contributions is to retain the ability to imagine something else, and to act on it when the time feels right, as he did.

Rest in peace, Dennis Ritchie.


  1. My copy of Kernighan and Ritchie’s “The C Programming Language” was also the most used reference I have. The best $15.95 I spent on computer related stuff. I even bought a second copy to keep the first from getting to worn out. I recently purged out some old computer books but not my 2 copies of “The C Programming Language”.

    My college degree was in EE. I learned assembly language programming while building my S100 Z80 system back in 1975 or so. At work we were using a LSI-11. I realized that C was just a easy way to program the LSI-11 instruction set (like the auto increment i++ had a corresponding LSI-11 machine instruction) I was hooked. When I found a C compiler for my home brew Z80 system I was in heaven!

    Today I only run Linux systems! …what would you expect. Thanks Dennis for all the work you did which created the backbone of the Internet and most of the systems we use today.

  2. Hear, hear, Bob. I had a similar same book purge experience a few years ago: I got rid of a bunch of computer books I just wasn’t using, but when I ran across the K&R, I knew there was no way I was letting that go!

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