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The Day Ken Installed Pipes

It was Doug McIlroy who convinced Ken Thompson to add pipes to Unix: “Over a period from 1970 til ’72, I’d from time to time, say “How about making something like this?”, and I would put up another proposal, another proposal, another proposal. Then one day I came up with a syntax for the shell that went along with the piping and Ken said, “I’m gonna do it.” He was tired of hearing all this stuff… That was absolutely a fabulous day, the next day. He said, “I’m gonna do it.” He didn’t do exactly what I had proposed for the pipe system call. He invented a slightly better one that finally got changed once more to what we have today. He did use my clumsy syntax… He put this notation into the shell [Here McIlroy points to the board, where he had written f >g> c], all in one night. The next morning we had this… people came in, people came in… Oh, and he also changed a lot of… most of the programs up until that time couldn’t take standard input, because, there wasn’t the real need. They all had file arguments. grep had a file argument, cat had a file argument. Thompson saw that that wasn’t going to fit into this scheme of things, and he went in and changed all those programs in the same night. I don’t know how. And the next morning we had this orgy of “one liners.” Everybody had another one liner. Look at this, look at that.” (Doug McIlroy, Oral History of Unix)

Dick Haight was present the day that pipes were introduced into Unix: “I happened to have been visiting the research crew the day they implemented pipes. It was clear to everyone practically minutes after the system came up with pipes working that it was a wonderful thing. Nobody would ever go back and give that up if they could help it.” (Jay and Ronda Hauben, Netizens: An Anthology, Chapter 9 - On the Early History and Impact of UNIX: Tools to Build the Tools for a New Millennium)

anecdotes/pipes.txt · Last modified: 2015/12/30 13:14 by wkt