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Tour de Babel

Steve Yegge wrote a “whirlwind languages tour” he calls Tour de Babel. Steve works at Amazon and covers languages used there (C, C++, Lisp, Java, Perl) as well as Ruby and Python. It’s an entertaining read. Steve has a couple of scary comments about usage of C++ at Amazon:

50 million lines of C++ code. No, it’s more than that now. I don’t know what it is anymore. It was 50 million last Christmas, nine months ago, and was expanding at 8 million lines a quarter. The expansion rate was increasing as well.

Note that Steve wrote this in 2004 which, based on Steve’s estimate of expansion rate, means that Amazon may have over 100 million lines of C++ code by now.

As a point of comparison, Notes/Domino R6.5 (a complex beast) was documented as containing just under 20 million lines of C/C++ code. Compare that to some other estimates of size such as Windows XP’s 40 million lines of code.

What exactly is in Amazon’s 100 million lines of C++? Another comment from Steve:

Stuff takes forever to do around here. An Amazon engineer once described our code base as “a huge mountain of poop, the biggest mountain you’ve ever seen, and your job is to crawl into the very center of it, every time you need to fix something.”

That was four years ago, folks. That engineer has moved on to greener pastures. Too bad; he was really good.

One difference between Amazon and a typical software development organization is that Amazon doesn’t ship any of its C++ code. There’s exactly one place where the code has to run. But even so. 100 million lines of C++? The horror, the horror. (Via Jeff Atwood)

Note: the Tower of Babel image on the right was a diagram from the cover of CACM January 1961. Click on the image to see the full diagram. Lots of dead languages but some still survive.

There were even some prescient languages: Notice the block labeled SOAP near the very top? Web Services in 1961. And another labeled UNICODE. Why did we have to suffer through all of those miserable code pages and multibyte encodings if they had UNICODE 45 years ago?

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