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Does the UK need the PL/1 Standard?

September 25th, 2011 No comments

Like everything else language standards are born and eventually die. IST/5, the UK programming language committee, is considering whether the British Standard for PL/1 should be withdrawn (there are two standards, ISO 6160:1979 which has been reconfirmed multiple times since 1979, most recently in 2008, and a standardized subset ISO 6522:1992, also last confirmed in 2008).

A language standard is born through the efforts of a group of enthusiastic people. A language standard dies because there is no enthusiast (a group of one is often sufficient) to sing its praises (or at least be willing to be a name on a list that is willing to say, every five years, that the existing document should be reconfirmed).

It is 20 years since IST/5 last had a member responsible for PL/1, but who is to say that nobody in the UK is interested in maintaining the PL/1 standard? Unlike many other programming language ISO Standards there was never an ISO SC22 committee responsible for PL/1. All of the work was done by members of the US committee responsible for programming language PL 22 (up until a few years ago this was ANSI committee X3). A UK person could have paid his dues and been involved in the US based work; I don’t have access to a list of committee meeting attendees and so cannot say for sure that there was no UK involvement.

A member of IST/5, David Muxworthy, has been trying to find somebody in the UK with an interest in maintaining the PL/1 standard. A post to the newsgroup comp.lang.pl1 eventually drew a response from a PL/1 developer who said he would not be affected if the British Standard was withdrawn.

GNU compiler development is often a useful source of information. In this case the PL/1 web page is dated 2007.

In 2008 John Klensin, the ISO PL/1 project editor, wrote: “No activities or requests for additions or clarifications during the last year or, indeed, the last decade. Both ISO 6160 and the underlying US national document, ANS X3.53-1976 (now ANSI/INCITS-53/1976), have been reaffirmed multiple times. The US Standard has been stabilized and the corresponding technical activity was eliminated earlier this year”.

It looks like the British Standard for PL/1 is not going to live past the date of its next formal review in 2013. Thirty four years would then be the time span, from publication of last standard containing new material to formal withdrawal of all standards, to outlive. I wonder if any current member of either of the C or C++ committees will live to see this happen to their work?