C programming language creator Dennis Ritchie dies at age 70

By Lee Kaelin on October 13, 2011, 4:00 PM

Pioneering computer scientist Dennis Ritchie passed away yesterday at age 70 after battling a long running illness. Ritchie was better known as a co-creator of Unix, but he also invented the C programming language back in 1971.

Jeong Kim, President of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs confirmed his passing earlier today. "Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed. He was truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the Ritchie family, and to all who have been touched in some way by Dennis."

Ritchie grew up in New Jersey where his father worked as a switching systems engineer for Bell Labs. He went to Harvard University and graduated with a degree in Physics in 1963. It was during this time that Ritchie saw his first computer, which captured his imagination and sparked what became a lifelong passion. He then moved to MIT, before taking up employment with Bell Labs in 1967, where he remained until his retirement in 2007.

At Bell Labs, Ritchie got involved in the Multics project before moving onto design the first versions of Unix with co-inventors. By the early seventies, Unix had spread across Bell Labs and was announced to the entire world.

The mid-seventies was a period of great experimentation in computer hardware design, making life for software programmers very hard with the cumbersome languages of the day. Ritchie responded by creating a new language named C -- the idea being that if the language followed set rules, and the computer could run C, than it could be moved between different hardware with little or no modification.

Along with co-inventors, he also re-wrote Unix from the ground up in his new programming language so it could benefit from the easier to use programming code. To this day, a vast amount of Unix software and programming languages depend on the foundations he and other programmers built with Unix and C in the earlier days of computing.

Tim Bray, a Google programmer said in a blog post that it was "impossible to overstate the debt his profession owes Dennis Ritchie." He further commented, "I've been living in a world he helped invent for over thirty years."

His accomplishments and influence to computing as a whole were officially noticed in 1999 when he was awarded the US Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest honor for technologists.




User Comments: 17

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jobeard jobeard, TS Ambassador, said:

Very sad. His "little white book" (The C Programming Language) was only 8x10 and ~300 pages, but was succinct and sufficient to learn a language that survived up to the advent of OOP - - but even then was a great competitor.

btw: "C" was the third iteration (following A & B; although never distributed) of creating a language with data types.

Nima304 said:

jobeard said:

Very sad. His "little white book" (The C Programming Language) was only 8x10 and ~300 pages, but was succinct and sufficient to learn a language that survived up to the advent of OOP - - but even then was a great competitor.

btw: "C" was the third iteration (following A & B; although never distributed) of creating a language with data types.

I didn't know that. Cool stuff.

Guest said:

Dennis Ritchie contributed more to our electronic lives than Steve Jobs would've if he'd lived another 100 years. It's a shame (and says a lot about how marketing hype is recognised over actual substance) that there hasn't been the same tidal wave of online tributes.

Guest said:

" Dennis Ritchie contributed more to our electronic lives than Steve Jobs would've if he'd lived another 100 years. It's a shame (and says a lot about how marketing hype is recognised over actual substance) that there hasn't been the same tidal wave of online tributes. "

That's right. I completely agree. The C programming language is a pillar of computing.

Thanks a lot to Dennis Ritchie !

Guest said:

Yes, it's a shame Ritchie doesn't get the credit he's due. Now, I'll admit that despite being an IT guy I didn't know... well, anything about Ritchie, really. But given he's the father of both C as well as UNIX, I'd certainly rate his influence over that of Jobs's. Jobs merely was more... visible by comparison. I saw a quote from some expert or another saying Ritchie's achievements make him "comparable" to Jobs, which I'd say is still an understatement.

doradhorror said:

"Your mother is so fat, the recursive function computing her mass causes a stack overflow."

-Dennis Ritchie

negroplasty negroplasty said:

Unlike others who've recently passed, you sir, will be greatly missed. At least you've left us more than a couple overpriced shiny gadgets to be considered a legend - if only more thought that way.

Stupido Stupido said:

Thank you and RIP...

People like Dennis Ritchie are the real technology heroes...

Arris Arris said:

Very sad. His "little white book" (The C Programming Language) was only 8x10 and ~300 pages

[link]

I've still got that somewhere on a shelf. Geez I feel old

caravel said:

[code]#include <stdio.h>

main( ) {

printf("RIP Dennis Ritchie.");

}[/code]

Guest said:

@jobeard: That's not quite correct. C did indeed follow B, but that was just coincidental. There was no "A". B was the successor to BCPL. C was the success to B, and used the next letter in the name of their common ancestor.

tehbanz tehbanz said:

celebrity deaths come in threes, who is next. . . Bill Gates?? Linus Torvalds? oh the humanity!

also im pretty sure he's using windows in the picture above.

isamuelson isamuelson said:

Arris said:

Very sad. His "little white book" (The C Programming Language) was only 8x10 and ~300 pages

[link]

I've still got that somewhere on a shelf. Geez I feel old

I can see mine on my bookshelf at work, right next to the C++ Programming Language.

/* Ritchie's final C program! */

printf("Goodbye, world\n" ;

printf("Hello, after-life!\n" ;

And mine to him:

printf("RIP\n" ;

ravisunny2 ravisunny2, TS Ambassador, said:

I have mine on my bookshelf too.

C was and is a great language.

The extensions were created primarily to protect programmers from their own mistakes.

Thanks Dennis, you were a great.

Guest said:

Ritchie, Thompson and Kernighan(the least known of the three): none of today's so-called tech gurus come any close to what they've achieved for humanity! But alas, only a few million people on Earth can even 'read' a simple 'Hello World' written in C today?

Guest said:

I'm another one who owes his livelihood to this visionary.

I'll share a story I have about Dennis, although I never knew him personally. Years ago I worked in digital switching at the old AT&T - and I remember that Dennis Ritchie would show up from time to time in the Bell System Technical Journals, both as an author and as a topic. In one article he was pictured wearing a company ID - just like we were all required to wear at the time - except he had a picture of a gremlin on his instead of a photograph of himself. Anyway, some brash, high level manager decided to complain about Dennis' behavior in writing, and his complaint dutifully appeared in the following issue of the Journal. The Journal responded by saying that everybody knows who Dennis Ritchie is (implied: except perhaps you) and if you ever invent a C programming language or Unix operating system, you too can walk around with a gremlin on your ID in the halls of Bell Labs.

...or words to that effect.

Jim Smith

Guest said:

it is really sad.....RIP Dennis! -tilaprimera

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