June 21, 2007 The programming language Fortran celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, having touched the lives of millions of programmers and billions of people in the half century since. A proposal from IBM employee John Backus to develop an efficient alternative to assembly language for programming the company’s IBM 704 mainframe computer in 1953 resulted in the first specification for the IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System in 1956. The first FORTRAN compiler appeared in April 1957 and the rest is history. To mark the occasion, a special issue of Scientific Programming on the role of Fortran in the scientific programming discipline is being published by IOS Press this month. The issue is dedicated to Fortran creator John Backus and Ken Kennedy, pioneer of Fortran compiler optimization and parallelization. Both highly esteemed scientists died earlier this year.

The first issue of the 15th volume of Scientific Programming is entitled ‘Fortran programming language and Scientific Programming: 50 years of mutual growth.’ Editor-in-Chief Boleslaw Szymanski: “Over half of the century of its existence, the evolving Fortran has been the traditional and major language for scientific programming and it has played a significant role in the research on programming languages and compilers for scientific computing.”


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The language was designed by John Backus and his colleagues at IBM with the goal to reduce the cost of programming scientific applications by providing an ‘automatic programming system’ to replace assembly language with a notation closer to the scientific programming domain. Although the first specification of the Fortran language was released in 1956, IBM delivered its first compiler in 1957, hence this year marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Fortran to users.

FORTRAN is a general-purpose, procedural, imperative computer programming language that is especially suited to. Originally developed by IBM in the 1950s for scientific and engineering applications,

Fortran came to dominate the area of numeric computation and scientific programming early on and has been in continual use for over half a century in computationally intensive areas such as climate modeling, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), computational physics, and computational chemistry.

Fortran encompasses a lineage of versions, each of which evolved to add extensions to the language while retaining compatibility with previous versions.

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