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C Standard meeting, April 2016

I was at the ISO C Standard’s meeting in London this week; it has been five years since I last attended a WG14 meeting, when it was last in London (my jet setting standard’s meeting days are long gone). Around 20 people attended, of which slightly more than half I knew from previous meetings. Given how unchanging the membership was for so long, this is a large change and its great to see so many new people being interested in C (including and open source vendor, RedHat). There is also a change of convener since my last meeting; David Keaton is a long standing member and as meeting chair he kept things motoring along.

The format of the each day, after the first morning, was to spend an hour at the start of each morning and afternoon working on Defect Reports, break and then work through documents in the pre-meeting mailing.

The topic of note on Monday afternoon was a proposal to add support for the type short float in C2X. There is a lot of hardware support for 16 bit floating-point operations (e.g., SSE instructions) and C is behind the curve on this. There was consensus to move forward on this proposal.

Tuesday was taken up by discussing proposals under the general heading of clarifying the C memory object model; various papers by a formal methods group at Cambridge University that I have written about before. I had misunderstood the intent behind the papers; the Prof running the project wanted to fix the programming world by changing the C Standard (I thought he just wanted clarification of what the standard said). While fixing the programming world is a commendable goal, messy reality and very strong interests for not changing existing behavior are likely to maintain the status quo. Talking to the post grad working on the project, they seem to be doing all the right things, so we could be seeing some very interesting results (a major threat to success is the sheer volume of material that has to be covered).

Wednesday covered the charter for revising C, various proposals for new features in C2X (mostly lots of thread based stuff), conversion of the document to LaTeX (currently in nroff/groff; there was no sentiment to follow C++ and put the draft on a public Github repo). When C89 became an ANSI standard, before C90 became an ISO standard, Rex Jaeschke handed out a floppy of the C89 nroff sources to those attending one of the meetings (I forget which). Unless you happen to have an AT&T 3b2 and know which options to give nroff, you are very unlikely to be able to generate something that looks like C89.

Thursday covered another C2X proposal, closures using syntax and semantics supported by C on Apple (Borland got there first by supporting the __closure qualifier on pointers). In the afternoon we had a presentation of the latest C binding to the guidance on avoiding vulnerabilities in programming languages work going on in WG23. WG23 wanted WG14 to endorse this document and take ownership of it; lots of push back on this and all they got was a request to WG14 members to send any suggested improvements to WG23.

The next WG14 meeting is during October in Pittsburgh and I have no idea when the next meeting will be held in the UK (unlikely to be within three years).

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