High Level Languages

High-level language. The chief reasons for using a high-level language are productivity and debugging speed. We have discussed productivity earlier (Chapter 8). There is not a lot of numerical evidence, but what there is suggests improvement by integral factors, not just incremental percentages.

The debugging improvement comes from the fact that there are fewer bugs, and they are easier to find. There are fewer because one avoids an entire level of exposure to error, a level on which one makes not only syntactic errors but semantic ones, such as misusing registers. The bugs are easier to find because the compiler diagnostics help find them and, more important, because it is very easy to insert debugging snapshots.

For me, these productivity and debugging reasons are overwhelming. I cannot easily conceive of a programming system I would build in assembly language.

Well, what about the classical objections to such a tool? There are three: It doesn’t let me do what I want. The object code is too big. The object code is too slow.

As to function, I believe the objection is no longer valid. All testimony indicates that one can do what he needs to do, but that it takes work to find out how, and one may occasionally need unlovely artifices.

As to space, the new optimizing compilers are beginning to be very satisfactory, and this improvement will continue.

As to speed, optimizing compilers now produce some code that is faster than most programmer’s handwritten code, Furthermore, one can usually solve speed problems by replacing from one to five percent of a compiler-generated program by handwritten substitute after the former is fully debugged.

Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month, pg. 135

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