UNIX Style, or cat -v Considered Harmful

Rob Pike

Bell Laboratories

Murray Hill, NJ

It seems that UNIX has become the victim of cancerous growth at the hands of organizations such as UCB. 4.2BSD is an order of magnitude larger than Version 5, but, Pike claims, not ten times better.

The talk reviews reasons for UNIX's popularity and shows, using UCB cat as a primary example, how UNIX has grown fat. cat isn't for printing files with line numbers, it isn't for compressing multiple blank lines, it's not for looking at non-printing ASCII characters, it's for concatenating files.

We are reminded that ls isn't the place for code to break a single column into multiple ones, and that mailnews shouldn't have its own more processing or joke encryption code.

Rob carried the standard well for the "spirit of UNIX," and you can look forward to a deeper look at the philosophy of UNIX in his forthcoming book.

From USENIX Summer Conference Proceedings, 1983

The companion paper to this talk is Program Design Design in the UNIX Environment. The forthcoming book referred to is The UNIX Programming Environment, co-written with Brian Kernighan.