Saturday, 17 October 2020 18:27

something to learn from the Unix philosophy

Written by Michael Keller
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“© 2020. SAP SE or an SAP affiliate company. All rights reserved.” “Used with permission of SAP SE”

Dear community, some time ago I noticed the article about the Unix philosophy on Wikipedia. The first sentence is already interesting, as Ken Thompson is mentioned in connection with the definition of the Unix philosophy: “The Unix philosophy, originated by Ken Thompson, is a set of cultural norms and philosophical approaches to minimalist, modular software development.” The definition sounds like a chance to get some helpful insights, knowledge and tips that a developer can use in everyday life ? So I’ve read the entire article and would like to recommend it.

One part is about “Eric Raymond’s 17 Unix Rules“. Even though the entire article is very interesting, I particularly liked these rules. The following are the rules as listed in Wikipedia:

  1. Build modular programs
  2. Write readable programs
  3. Use composition
  4. Separate mechanisms from policy
  5. Write simple programs
  6. Write small programs
  7. Write transparent programs
  8. Write robust programs
  9. Make data complicated when required, not the program
  10. Build on potential users’ expected knowledge
  11. Avoid unnecessary output
  12. Write programs which fail in a way that is easy to diagnose
  13. Value developer time over machine time
  14. Write abstract programs that generate code instead of writing code by hand
  15. Prototype software before polishing it
  16. Write flexible and open programs
  17. Make the program and protocols extensible.

While reading, I got the idea that the term “program” can mostly be exchanged for “report”, “class” and “interface” – three development objects that we use frequently in ABAP. Number 14 reminds me on SE16 and table maintenance generator ?

Overall, a lot is reminiscent of clean code principles (check “Clean ABAP“). That’s why I find it interesting to read: It has an universal validity.

Rule number 9 allows perhaps a connection to rule number 5 of “Rob Pike’s 5 Rules of Programming” (short version here, more detailed in “Notes on Programming in C“). It says: “Data dominates. If you’ve chosen the right data structures and organized things well, the algorithms will almost always be self-evident. Data structures, not algorithms, are central to programming.“.

In my own experience, this is very often the case. When I design a class and consider what data this class processes, the methods I need often emerge. Many methods, including their signature, result from the flow of data.

Nice anecdote by the way: During my studies I had a lecture called “algorithms and data structures”. At that time I was not aware of how important the topic of “data structures” in particular would become at some point. Now I work every day in SAP ERP systems with a lot of data, mostly structured data. As for the structure: I’m always surprised and grateful for what other developers have thought in advance. It’s a gift if you don’t have to reinvent the structures for purchase orders for every project ?

Ok, that’s all for now. Hope you had some fun and a nice starting point for your own research regarding the Unix philosophy.

Best regards, thanks for reading and please stay healthy


P.S.: Check our new “Virtual Wishing Well for Blogging“.

P.S.S.: Not tired of reading blogs? Read about this blog by Andreas Schaller.

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