|Designed by||Remington Rand, Grace Hopper|
|MATH-MATIC, AIMACO, COBOL|
FLOW-MATIC, originally known as B-0 (Business Language version 0), was the first English-like data processing language. It was developed for the UNIVAC I at Remington Rand under Grace Hopper from 1955 to 1959, and helped shape the development of COBOL.
Hopper had found that business data processing customers were uncomfortable with mathematical notation:
I used to be a mathematics professor. At that time I found there were a certain number of students who could not learn mathematics. I then was charged with ¨the job of making it easy for businessmen to use our computers. I found it was not a question of whether they could learn mathematics or not, but whether they would. […] They said, ‘Throw those symbols out — I do not know what they mean, I have not time to learn symbols.’ I suggest a reply to those who would like data processing people to use mathematical symbols that they make the first attempt to teach those symbols to vice-presidents or a colonel or admiral. I assure you that I tried it.¨
In late 1953, she proposed that data processing problems should be expressed using English keywords, but Rand management considered the idea infeasible. In early 1955, she and her team wrote a specification for such a programming language and implemented a prototype. The FLOW-MATIC compiler became publicly available in early 1958 and was substantially complete in 1959.
Innovations and influence
FLOW-MATIC was the first programming language to express operations using English-like statements. It was also the first system to distinctly separate the description of data from the operations on it. Its data definition language, unlike its executable statements, was not English-like; rather, data structures were defined by filling in pre-printed forms.
- Defining Input & Output Files and printed output in advance, separated into INPUT files, OUTPUT files and (HSP) High Speed Printer outputs.
INPUT <FILE-NAME> <FILE-LETTER>;
OUTPUT <FILE-NAME> <FILE-LETTER>;
- Qualification of data-names (
IF END OF DATA (AT END)clause on file
- Figurative constant
ZZZ...ZZZ, where number of
Z's indicated precision).
- Dividing the program into sections, separating different parts of the program. Flow-Matic sections included
Directory(Data Division), and
(0) INPUT INVENTORY FILE-A PRICE FILE-B ; OUTPUT PRICED-INV FILE-C UNPRICED-INV FILE-D ; HSP D . (1) COMPARE PRODUCT-NO (A) WITH PRODUCT-NO (B) ; IF GREATER GO TO OPERATION 10 ; IF EQUAL GO TO OPERATION 5 ; OTHERWISE GO TO OPERATION 2 . (2) TRANSFER A TO D . (3) WRITE-ITEM D . (4) JUMP TO OPERATION 8 . (5) TRANSFER A TO C . (6) MOVE UNIT-PRICE (B) TO UNIT-PRICE (C) . (7) WRITE-ITEM C . (8) READ-ITEM A ; IF END OF DATA GO TO OPERATION 14 . (9) JUMP TO OPERATION 1 . (10) READ-ITEM B ; IF END OF DATA GO TO OPERATION 12 . (11) JUMP TO OPERATION 1 . (12) SET OPERATION 9 TO GO TO OPERATION 2 . (13) JUMP TO OPERATION 2 . (14) TEST PRODUCT-NO (B) AGAINST ; IF EQUAL GO TO OPERATION 16 ; OTHERWISE GO TO OPERATION 15 . (15) REWIND B . (16) CLOSE-OUT FILES C ; D . (17) STOP . (END)
- Note that this sample includes only the executable statements of the program, the
COMPILERsection. The record fields
UNIT-PRICEwould have been defined in the
DIRECTORYsection, which (as previously noted) did not use English-like syntax.
- Files are referred to by the letter at the end of the FILE-LETTER. Example: FILE-A is referred to later just by A and is for ease of reference in following code.
- Operations are numbered in an unbroken sequence from 0..n and are performed in that order unless a statement to the contrary is reached/made (executed) (JUMP, etc.).
- The highest numbered operation is the one that stops the program.
- A much more detailed overview of FLOW-MATIC is available in the manual entitled, FLOW-MATIC PROGRAMMING SYSTEM
- Hopper (1959) p. 198.
- Hopper (1978) p. 16.
- Sammet (1969) p. 316
- Sammet (1978) p. 204.
- Remington Rand Univac a Division of Sperry Rand Corporation (1957). FLOW-MATIC PROGRAMMING SYSTEM p. 30.
- Sperry Rand (1957) p. 7.
- Sammet (1969) p. 323.
- Hopper (1978) p. 18.
- Remington Rand Univac a Division of Sperry Rand Corporation (1957). FLOW-MATIC PROGRAMMING SYSTEM
- Hopper, Grace (1978). Keynote Address, History of Programming Languages I. ACM. pp. 16–20. ISBN 0-12-745040-8
- Hopper, Grace (1959). “Automatic programming: Present status and future trends”, Mechanisation of Thought Processes, National Physical Laboratory Symposium 10. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. pp 155–200, cited in Knuth, Donald; Trabb Pardo, Luis (August 1976). The Early Development of Programming Languages (Technical report). Computer Science Department, School of Humanities and Sciences, Stanford University. Retrieved 2016-03-19.
- Sammet, Jean (1969). Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals. Prentice-Hall. p. 316–324. ISBN 0-13-729988-5
- Sammet, Jean (1978). "The Early History of COBOL", History of Programming Languages I. ACM. pp. 199–243. ISBN 0-12-745040-8
- Sperry Rand Corporation (1957) Introducing a New Language for Automatic Programming: Univac Flow-Matic
- Remington Rand Univac a Division of Sperry Rand Corporation (1957). FLOW-MATIC PROGRAMMING SYSTEMFLOW-MATIC_Programming_System_1958.pdf
- This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.