Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Most Expensive One-Byte Mistake

Poul-Henning Kamp looks back at some of the bad decisions made in language design, specifically the C/Unix/Posix use of NUL-terminated text strings. 'The choice was really simple: Should the C language represent strings as an address + length tuple or just as the address with a magic character (NUL) marking the end? ... Using an address + length format would cost one more byte of overhead than an address + magic_marker format, and their PDP computer had limited core memory. In other words, this could have been a perfectly typical and rational IT or CS decision, like the many similar decisions we all make every day; but this one had quite atypical economic consequences.

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