There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about the Fortran programming language on the internet, and a general ignorance about it among programmers. Most younger programmers who use languages invented five minutes ago probably have never seen it, and may only be dimly aware of it as some obsolete language that nobody uses anymore.
You may be surprised to learn that Fortran is a modern, object-oriented, general-purpose programming language. Fortran is not a programming language created by computer scientists to write operating systems, nor does it include every single programming concept anyone’s ever heard of. It is a language designed for computational efficiency and efficient array manipulation, and has a clear uncluttered syntax that can be read and understood by non-experts with only a little effort and training. It is particularly suited for numerical and scientific programming by non-expert programmers such as engineers and scientists. Learning all of Fortran is considerably easier than learning all of C++ (as an example). Sure, you can’t do template metaprogramming, but few engineer/scientist types would ever want to do that anyway (besides, it’s bad for you and could make you go blind).
By “Fortran”, I mean modern Fortran (i.e., Fortran 2003 and 2008, which is the latest standard). Yes, the roots of Fortran go way back to the 1950s. Sure, early Fortran programs were written on punched cards. So what? Latin was once scratched into wax tablets, but that isn’t really relevant to modern Italian and French speakers. In fact, the Fortran language has evolved considerably since it was first standardized in 1966. It generally has followed a cycle where a major update is followed by a minor update (1977=minor, 1990=major, 1995=minor, 2003=major, 2008=minor). It has been said that the 2003 update was as big an update to Fortran 95 as C++ was to C! Ten years later, the GNU Fortran compiler is still not fully F2003 compliment (the Intel compiler only recently became so).
People who attempt to enter the world of Fortran programming are easily corrupted and discouraged by misinformation. Even a lot of old-school Fortran users are unaware of the later standards. This is too bad, because modern Fortran is actually quite a respectable programming language for a lot of technical applications. This article is a pretty good overview of Fortran for C/C++ programmers. However, it is outdated, since it is confined to Fortran 95. Most of the limitations it mentions (no procedure pointers, clunky character strings, lack of an intent attribute for pointer dummy arguments, the nonstandardness of the
; character) have been rectified in subsequent standards.
The fact is the internet is not really the best source of information for modern Fortran. One day, maybe, there will be vibrant community of Fortran users on the internet, extensive online documentation, open source projects, and all your questions will simply be a web search away (cf., Python). But for now, you’ll probably have to buy some books. If a book has the numbers 77, 90, or 95 in the title, don’t open it, it will only confuse you. This is not to say that there aren’t friendly Fortran folk on the internet who will also help you out. Two of the best places to go with questions are the Intel Fortran forum and the comp.lang.fortran newsgroup (yes, apparently, Usenet still exists).
- N. Maclaren, Why (and Why Not) to Use Fortran: Instead of C++, Matlab, Python etc., University of Cambridge Computing Service, June 2012.
- L. Phillips, Scientific computing’s future: Can any coding language top a 1950s behemoth?, May 7, 2014 [arstechnica.com]
- Fortran Wiki — an open venue for discussing all aspects of the Fortran programming language and scientific computing.
- A. Koenig, C Traps and Pitfalls, AT&T Bell Laboratories.
- Why C and C++ are Awful Programming Languages