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Goto Considered Necessary

February 25, 2019

Edsger Dijkstra has recanted his 1968 paper "Go To Considered Harmful." (Communications of the ACM, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 1968, pp. 147-148). That work was considered seminal at the time and spawned a wave of structured languages like C and Ada.

Recently, though, the National Enquirer quoted Dijkstra as saying "at the time most software was infested with gotos.  Hell, look at Dartmouth Basic. The tiniest bit of code requires dozens of gotos. And FORTRAN! Did you ever see such convoluted mess? Yeah, they eventually tidied that language up, but look what's happened since.

"C, C++, Python, they're all the same. I need a bleedin' 62 inch HDTV monitor to see the code pushed a yard to the right by all those indentations! Remember when 'white space' was used to illustrate structure? Well now all we've got is white space. The code in a deeply-nested construct starts on column 1823! And it reads "while while while while while' like some perseverating autistic kid. You see 'ifs' nested so deep I need a bloody periscope to find the closing braces.

"And they call this stuff structured?

"I dunno what I was smoking when I wrote that paper. It was the 60s, after all. Somehow I figured the love and peace thing would translate into beautiful snippets of structure, bits of poetry crafted by long-haired programmers. Ha! Now we're all part of a machine, adding patch after patch to a rickety structure to get yet another product out the door.

"So now I'm thinking FORTRAN got it right in 1957.

"My new approach is called Outrageously Obfuscated Programming Slang, or OOPS. Structured programming often disguises code which is in fact a convoluted muddle. Looks good at first glance but when you dive into the stuff you realize the developer had tied himself up into a Gordian knot of do-while loops. With OOPS we embrace gotos; our special editor draws lines between each goto and its target. The spaghetti mess fairly screams at you off the page, making it easy to figure out what to refactor."

I visited Professor Dijkstra's lab for more background information on this story, but his assistant told me "goto" someplace as hot as a marketing guy when told there's been yet another schedule slip.

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