First we need to get some idea of the maximum number of characters that written on one line. Microsoft Windows XP or later has a maximum command line length of 8191 characters, while Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 have a 2047 limit. POSIX requires that _POSIX2_LINE_MAX have a value of at least 2048.
In 2048 characters it is possible to assign values to and use at least once 100 different variables (e.g.,
a1=2;a2=2.3;....; print a1+a2*a3...). To get a lower bound lets consider the number of different expressions it is possible to write. How many functionally different expressions containing 100 binary operators are there?
If a language has, say, eight binary operators (e.g.,
^), then it is possible to write visually different expressions containing 100 binary operators. Some of these expressions will be mathematically equivalent (adopting the convention of leaving out the operands), e.g.,
+ * can also be written as
* + (the appropriate operands will also have the be switched around).
If we just consider expressions created using the commutative operators (i.e.,
^), then with these five operators it is possible to write 1170671511684728695563295535920396 mathematically different expressions containing 100 operators (assuming the common case that the five operators have different precedence levels, which means the different expressions have a one to one mapping to a rooted tree of height five); this is a lot smaller than .
Had the approximately computers/smart phones in the world generated expressions at the rate of per second since the start of the Universe, seconds ago, then the created so far would be almost half of the total possible.
Once we start including the non-commutative operators such a minus and divide the number of possible combinations really starts to climb and the calculation of the totals is real complicated. Since the Universe is not yet half way through the commutative operators I will leave working this total out for another day.
Update (later in the day)
To get some idea of the huge jump in number of functionally different expressions that occurs when operator ordering is significant, with just the three operators
% is is possible to create mathematically different expressions. This is a factor of greater than generated by the five operators considered above.
If we consider expressions containing just one instance of the five commutative operators then the number of expressions jumps by another two orders of magnitude to . This count will continue to increase for a while as more commutative operators are added and then start to decline; I have not yet worked things through to find the maxima.
Update (April 2012).
Sequence A140606 in the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences lists the number of inequivalent expressions involving
n operands; whose first few values are: 1, 6, 68, 1170, 27142, 793002, 27914126, 1150212810, 54326011414, 2894532443154, 171800282010062, 11243812043430330, 804596872359480358, 62506696942427106498, 5239819196582605428254, 471480120474696200252970, 45328694990444455796547766, 4637556923393331549190920306