... wherein I bloviate discursively

Brian Clapper,

R.I.P., Dennis Ritchie

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While the world was loudly eulogizing Steve Jobs’ death, we lost another computer science luminary over the weekend. On October 8th, 2011, Dennis Ritchie died at his home. He was 70.

Ritchie’s celebrity and status within computer circles was well-established. But, unlike Jobs, Ritchie was largely unknown outside our industry. More’s the pity, since his impact on this industry cannot possibly be overstated.

Dennis Ritchie’s list of accomplishments is impressive. Just to skim the surface, he was co-creator of Unix; co-inventor of the C programming language; co-author of the classic–and still relevant and influential–book, The C Programming Language (a.k.a., K&R); and winner of numerous awards, including the prestigious Turing Award, the National Medal of Technology, and IEEE’s Richard W. Hamming Medal.

The title page of my copy of K&R, Second Edition, signed by Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie was, by all accounts, a quiet and brilliant man.

His impact on our industry cannot possibly be overstated. Linux, Mac OS X, and Android all derive from the work Ritchie and his colleagues did at Bell Labs. The POSIX standards, an outgrowth of Unix, have made their way, in part or in full, into nearly all of the popular operating systems; you’ll even see POSIX APIs in Windows. According to, C is still the most popular programming language, and languages directly descended from it (C++, C#, and Java, for example) also rank in the top 10.

I was fortunate to meet Dennis Ritchie, briefly, at a Usenix conference, many years ago; his colleague (and my long-time friend), Bill Cheswick, insisted on introducing me. In person, Ritchie seemed to be quiet and somewhat self-effacing; however, as a Unix aficianado, I was more than a little awed by the man. I couldn’t think of much to say that wouldn’t sound stupid, so I just bought a signed copy of K&R from him.

We have lost both a brilliant innovator and an amazing programmer.

Rest in peace, Dr. Ritchie.

UPDATE: Tim O’Reilly declares October 30th to be Dennis Ritchie Day.