On Dennis Ritchie: A Conversation with Brian Kernighan

Andy Oram | O'Reilly Radar | October 30, 2011

The phrase "Kernighan and Ritchie" has entered computing jargon independently of the lexical tokens from which it is constituted. I talked on Friday with Brian Kernighan about Dennis Ritchie, who sadly passed away two weeks ago at the age of 70. Brian had gotten to know me a bit when he contributed a chapter on regular expressions to the O'Reilly book Beautiful Code. He said, "It's just remarkable how much we all still depend on things Dennis created."

Kernighan went on to say that Ritchie was not self-promotional, but just quietly went about doing the work he saw needed to be done.

Plenty of ink has been devoted over the past 40 years to the impacts of the C language and of the Unix operating system, both of which sprang to a great extent from Ritchie's work, and more ink on the key principles they raised that have enabled key advances in computing: portability, encapsulation, many small programs cooperating through pipelining, a preference for representing data in text format, and so on. So I did not concentrate on these hoary, familiar insights, but talked to Kernighan about a few other aspects of Ritchie's work...