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Deluxe Paint: 30 year old C showing its age in places

July 23rd, 2015 No comments

Electronic Arts have just released the source code of a version of Deluxe Paint from 1986.

The C source does not look anything like my memories of code from that era, probably because it was written on and for the Amiga. The Amiga used a Motorola 68000 cpu, which meant a flat address space, i.e., no peppering the code with near/far/huge data/function declaration modifiers (i.e., which cpu register will Sir be using to call his functions and access his data).

Function definitions use what is known as K&R style, because the C++ way of doing things (i.e., function prototypes) was just being accepted into C by the ANSI committee (the following is from BLEND.C):

void DoBlend(ob, canv, clip)
BMOB *ob;
BoxBM *canv;
Box *clip;
{...}

The difference between the two ways of doing things (apart from the syntax of putting the type information outside/inside the brackets) is that the compiler does not do any type checking between definition/call for the K&R style. So it is possible to call DoBlend with any number of arguments having any defined type and the compiler will generate code for the call assuming that the receiving end is expecting what is being passed. Having an exception raised in the first few lines of a function used to be a sure sign of an argument mismatch, while having things mysteriously fail well into the body of the code regularly ruined a developer’s day. Companies sold static analysis tools that did little more than check calls against function definitions.

The void on the return type is unusual for 1986, as is the use of enum types. I would have been willing to believe that this code was from 1996. The clue that this code is from 1986 and not 1996 is that int is 16 bits, a characteristic that is implicit in the code (the switch to 32 bits started in the early 1990s when large amounts of memory started to become cheaply available in end-user systems).

So the source code for a major App, in its day, is smaller than the jpegs on many’ish web pages (jpegs use a compressed format and the zip file of the source is 164K). The reason that modern Apps contain orders of magnitude more code is that our expectation of the features they should contain has grown in magnitude (plus marketing likes bells and whistles and developers enjoy writing lots of new code).

When the source of one of today’s major Apps is released in 30 years time, will people be able to recognise patterns in the code that localise it to being from around 2015?

Ah yes, that’s how people wrote code for computers that worked by moving electrons around, not really a good fit for photonic computers…