The FORTRAN Programming Language

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History | Significant Language Features | Areas of Application | Sample Programs
Related Links | Printed References | Acknowledgments


One of the oldest programming languages, the FORTRAN was developed by a team of programmers at IBM led by John Backus, and was first published in 1957. The name FORTRAN is an acronym for FORmula TRANslation, because it was designed to allow easy translation of math formulas into code.

Often referred to as a scientific language, FORTRAN was the first high-level language, using the first compiler ever developed. Prior to the development of FORTRAN computer programmers were required to program in machine/assembly code, which was an extremely difficult and time consuming task, not to mention the dreadful chore of debugging the code. The objective during it's design was to create a programming language that would be: simple to learn, suitable for a wide variety of applications, machine independent, and would allow complex mathematical expressions to be stated similarly to regular algebraic notation. While still being almost as efficient in execution as assembly language. Since FORTRAN was so much easier to code, programmers were able to write programs 500% faster than before, while execution efficiency was only reduced by 20%, this allowed them to focus more on the problem solving aspects of a problem, and less on coding.

FORTRAN was so innovative not only because it was the first high-level language, but also because of it's compiler, which is credited as giving rise to the branch of computer science now known as compiler theory. Several years after it's release FORTRAN had developed many different dialects, (due to special tweaking by programmers trying to make it better suit their personal needs) making it very difficult to transfer programs from one machine to another.

These problems lead the American Standards Association (now known as the American National Standards Association) to release it's first Standard for a Programming Languagein 1966. This first standardized version has come to be known as FORTRAN '66 (aka.. FORTRAN IV).

Despite this standardization, a few years later, various new dialects began to surface again, requiring the Standards Association review the language again. This version is known as FORTRAN '77. This version was released in 1978 (it was called '77 because the Association began it's review in 1977), with several new features. Some of the more notable properties were; new error handling methods, and mechanisms for managing large-scale programs. The latest version; Fortran '90 (released in 1990, using the new capitalization scheme) added even more new features, such as support for: recursion, pointers, and for programmer-defined data types. {Fortran 90's future - Current research in complier theory involves equipping compilers to generate object code, that is able to exploit the capabilities of massively parallel computers. Thr Fortran 90 compilers are key targets of such research}

Significant Language Features

Some of the more significant features of the language are as listed below:

Areas of Application

FORTRAN is useful for a wide variety of applications, some of the more outstanding ones are as follows:

Basically FORTRAN is most useful for applications that are "computational-bound" rather than "I/O bound".

Sample Programs

Related Links

Printed References

  1. Ford, Donald H. and Joseph Rue (1982). Standard FORTRAN Programming, 4th edition. Homewood, IL: Richard D Irwin Incorporated.
  2. Griffiths, D. V. and I. M. Smith (1991). Numerical Methods for Engineers. Oxford, England, UK: Blackwell Scientific Publications.
    (This book contains many FORTRAN examples.)
  3. Metcalf, Michael (1985). Effective FORTRAN 77. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press.
  4. Nyhoff, Larry R., and Sanford C. Leestma (1997). Fortran 90 for Engineers. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc.


We would like to thank the CIS 400 Class Project Officers, for not only suppling a great deal of information (including the "Sample Page"), but also for providing many very helpful clues and suggestions that lead us to many of the sites from which we gath ered information.

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Last modified: 2:00 AM on 11/14/99

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