|This article does not cite any references or sources. (July 2012)|
|Designed by||Simon Peyton Jones and Norman Ramsey|
C-- (pronounced "see minus minus") is a C-like programming language. Its creators, functional programming researchers Simon Peyton Jones and Norman Ramsey, designed it to be generated mainly by compilers for very high-level languages rather than written by human programmers. Unlike many other intermediate languages, its representation is plain ASCII text, not bytecode or another binary format.
C-- is a "portable assembly language", designed to ease the task of implementing a compiler which produces high quality machine code. This is done by having the compiler generate C-- code, delegating the harder work of low-level code generation and optimisation to a C-- compiler.
Work on C-- began in the late 1990s. Since writing a custom code generator is a challenge in itself, and the compiler back ends available to researchers at that time were complex and poorly documented, several projects had written compilers which generated C code (for instance, the original Modula-3 compiler). However, C is a poor choice for functional languages: it does not support tail recursion, accurate garbage collection or efficient exception handling. C-- is a simpler, tightly-defined alternative to C which does support all of these things. Its most innovative feature is a run-time interface which allows writing of portable garbage collectors, exception handling systems and other run-time features which work with any C-- compiler.
The language's syntax borrows heavily from C. It omits or changes standard C features such as variadic functions, pointer syntax, and aspects of C's type system, because they hamper certain essential features of C-- and the ease with which code-generation tools can produce it.
The name of the language is an in-joke, indicating that C-- is a reduced form of C, in the same way that C++ is basically an expanded form of C. (In C-like languages, "--" and "++" are operators meaning "decrement" and "increment".)
C-- is a target platform for the Glasgow Haskell Compiler, and an adaptation of C-- will eventually become the main code-generation path. Some of C--'s developers, including Simon Peyton Jones, João Dias, and Norman Ramsey, also work or have worked on the Glasgow Haskell Compiler. The GHC codebase and development are based at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, though it is not a Microsoft project.
The C-- type system is deliberately designed to reflect constraints imposed by hardware rather than conventions imposed by higher-level languages. In C-- a value stored in a register or memory may have only one type: bit vector. However, bit vector is a polymorphic type and may come in several widths, e.g., bits8, bits32, or bits64. In addition to the bit-vector type C-- also provides a Boolean type bool, which can be computed by expressions and used for control flow but cannot be stored in a register or in memory. As in an assembly language, any higher type discipline, such as distinctions between signed, unsigned, float, and pointer, is imposed by the C-- operators or other syntactic constructs in the language.