Tutorial :Why BASIC had numbered lines? [duplicate]


Possible Duplicate:
Why did we bother with line numbers at all?

I'm curious about why early versions of the BASIC programming language had line numbering like in:

42 PRINT "Hello world!"  

The text editors back then had no line numbering?

EDIT: Yes, I know they are used for GOTOs, but why? I mean having labels was too computationally expensive?


Many microcomputers had a BASIC interpreter in ROM that would start upon bootup. The problem was that there was no text editor or file system to speak of. You had an interactive prompt to do everything through. If you wanted to insert a line of code, you just typed it, starting with the line number. It would insert it into the correct spot in you code. e.g:

  >10 print "hello"  >30 goto 10  >20 print "world"  >list  10 PRINT "hello"  20 PRINT "world"  30 GOTO 10  >  

(In that example > is the BASIC prompt)

If you wanted to erase a line, you would type something like ERASE 20. Some really fancy systems gave you a line editor (i.e. EDIT 10) And if you didn't plan your line numbers and ran out (how do I insert a line between 10 and 11?) some systems gave you a RENUM command which would renumber your code (and adjust GOTOs and GOSUBs appropriately).

Fun Times!


The original BASIC line numbering was actually an integral part of the language, and used for control flow.

The GOTO and GOSUB commands would take the line, and use it for control flow. This was common then (even though it's discouraged now).


They were used as labels for GOTO and GOSUB

Like this:


There were no named labels in some early BASIC versions

They were also required if you wanted to insert a line between 2 existing lines of code, because in the early days, you had no full text editors. Everything had to be typed in the "interactive" interpreter.

So if you typed:


The program would become:


When you ran out of line numbers, you could run a "renumbering" tool to renumber all lines in your program, but in the very early days of the Commodore 64 and other home computers, we didn't even have that, so you'd have to renumber manually. That's why you had to leave gaps of 10 or more in the line numbers, so you could easily add lines in between.

If you want to try out the Commodore 64 interpreter, check out this C64 emulator written in Flash: http://codeazur.com.br/stuff/fc64_final/ (no install required)


In BASIC, the line numbers indicated sequence.

Also, many older editors weren't for files, but simply lines ("line editors", e.g. ed, the standard editor). By numbering them this way, you knew which line you were working on.


Back in the day all languages had sequence numbers, everything was on punched cards. There was one line per card. Decks of cards made up your program.

When you dropped the cards, you'd put them in a card sorter that used those sequence numbers.

And of course, they were referenced by control flow constructs.


A simple google reveals what wikipedia has to say about it:

Line numbers were a required element of syntax in some older programming languages such as GW-BASIC.[2] The primary reason for this is that most operating systems at the time lacked interactive text editors; since the programmer's interface was usually limited to a line editor, line numbers provided a mechanism by which specific lines in the source code could be referenced for editing, and by which the programmer could insert a new line at a specific point. Line numbers also provided a convenient means of distinguishing between code to be entered into the program and commands to be executed immediately when entered by the user (which do not have line numbers).


On the C64, there wasn't even a real editor (built-in at least). To edit a part of the program, you'd do something like LIST 100-200, and then you'd only be able to edit those lines that were currently displayed on the screen (no scrolling upwards!)


They were labels for statements, so that you could GOTO the line number. The number of the statements did not necessarily have to match the physical line numbers in the file.


The line numbers were used in control flow. There were no named subroutines. You had to use GOSUB 60, for instance, to call the subroutine starting at line 60.

On your update, not all languages had labels, but all languages had line numbers at one time. At one time, everything was punch cards. BASIC was one of the very first interactive languages, where you could actually type something and have a response immediately. Line numbers were still the current technology.

Labels are an extra expense. You have to keep track of the correlation between the symbolic label and the code or data to which it refers. But if every line has a line number (and if all transfer of control flow statements always refer to the beginning of a line), then you don't need a separate symbol table.

Also keep in mind that original BASIC interpreters didn't need a symbol table for variables: There were 26 variables named A-Z. Some were sophisticated and had An-Zn. Some got very fancy and added a distinction between string, integer and floating point by adding "$" or "%" after the variable. But no symbol table was required.


IIRC, line numbers were mostly used as labels for GOTO and GOSUB statements, since in some (most?) flavors of BASIC there was no way to label a section of code.


They were also used by the editor - ie you said:

edit 100  

to edit line 100.


As others have pointed out, these line numbers were used as part of subroutines.

Of course, there's a reason that this isn't done anymore. Imagine if you say GOTO 20 on line 10, and then later realize you need to write 10 more lines of code after line 10. All of a sudden, you're smashing up against 20 so you either need to shift your subroutine farther away (higher numbers) and change your GOTO value, or you need to write another subroutine that jumps farther in the code.

In other words, it became a nightmare of true spaghetti code and is not fun to maintain.


It was entered in on the command-line in many instances (or was, on my old Commodore 64) so there might not always have been a text editor, or if there was, it was quite basic.

In addition, you would need to do GOTOs and the like, as well as inserting lines in between others.


10 PRINT "HELLO"  20 GOTO 10  15 PRINT " WORLD"  

where it would go in the logical 10 15 20


Some editors only had an "overwrite" mode and no "insert" mode. This made editing of existing code extremely painful. By adding that line-number feature, you could however patch existing code from anywhere within the file:

100 PRINT "Broken Code"  200 PRINT "Foobar"  ...  101 patch the broken code  102 patch more broken code  

Because line numbers didn't have to be ordered within the file.


Line numbers were a PART of the language, in some VERY early ones, even the OS was just these simple lines. ALL you had was one line at a time to manipulate. Try writing an accounting system using 1-4k program files and segmenting it by size to get stuff done. To edit you used the line numbers to tell what you were editing. So, if you entered like:

10 PRINT "howdy"  20 GOTO 10  10 PRINT "WOOPS"  15 PRINT "MORE WOOPS"  20  RUN  



The blank 20 would effectivly delete that line.

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