ISO/ IEC JTC1/SC22 N2265

Date: Fri, 6 Sep 1996 13:10:55 -0400 (EDT)
From: "william c. rinehuls" <>
Subject: Document SC22 N2265

(Note:  Charter for the Revision of C Standard)

Programming languages, their environments and system software interfaces
Secretariat:  U.S.A.  (ANSI)


September 1996

TITLE:              Charter for the Revision of the C Standard

SOURCE:             Secretariat, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC22

WORK ITEM:          N/A

STATUS:             N/A

CROSS REFERENCE:    SC22 N1970 (res 95-9), N2225 revised


ACTION:             To SC22 Member Bodies for information.

                    8.7 AT THE SEPTEMBER 1996 JTC 1/SC22 PLENARY.

Address reply to:
ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC22 Secretariat
William C. Rinehuls
8457 Rushing Creek Court
Springfield, VA 22153  USA
Tel:  +1 (703) 912-9680
Fax:  +1 (703) 912-2973


			The C9X Charter


At the WG14/X3J11 meeting in Kona, Hawaii, in December 1993, there was
general agreement the committee should start thinking about the next
version of the C Standard. I accepted an action item to draft a revision
charter, the result of which is this paper. The intention of this paper is
to present a statement of principles and a plan of attack. It does not
identify any technical issues since those are immaterial at this stage.

Although the committee is not yet required to begin work on a revised
standard, there is much happening that can or does influence C directly.
Examples are the evolution of C++ (and object-oriented programming in
general), the numerical extensions being proposed by X3J11,
internationalization and advancements in character set standardization,
and cross-language standards and bindings.

{Original Principles}

Before embarking on a revision of the C Standard, it is useful to reflect
on the charter of the original drafting committee. According to the
original Rationale Document in the section entitled ``Purpose:''

The work of the Committee was in large part a balancing act.  The
Committee has tried to improve portability while retaining the definition
of certain features of C as machine-dependent.  It attempted to
incorporate valuable new ideas without disrupting the basic structure and
fabric of the language.  It tried to develop a clear and consistent
language without invalidating existing programs.  All of the goals were
important and each decision was weighed in the light of sometimes
contradictory requirements in an attempt to reach a workable compromise.

In specifying a standard language, the Committee used several guiding
principles, the most important of which are:

1. Existing code is important, existing implementations are not.  A large
body of C code exists of considerable commercial value.  Every attempt has
been made to ensure that the bulk of this code will be acceptable to any
implementation conforming to the Standard.  The Committee did not want to
force most programmers to modify their C programs just to have them
accepted by a conforming translator.

On the other hand, no one implementation was held up as the exemplar by
which to define C:  It is assumed that all existing implementations must
change somewhat to conform to the Standard.

2. C code can be portable. Although the C language was originally born
with the UNIX operating system on the DEC PDP-11, it has since been
implemented on a wide variety of computers and operating systems.  It has
also seen considerable use in cross-compilation of code for embedded
systems to be executed in a free-standing environment.  The Committee has
attempted to specify the language and the library to be as widely
implementable as possible, while recognizing that a system must meet
certain minimum criteria to be considered a viable host or target for the

3. C code can be non-portable. Although it strove to give programmers the
opportunity to write truly portable programs, the Committee did not want
to force programmers into writing portably, to preclude the use of C as a
``high-level assembler;'' the ability to write machine-specific code is
one of the strengths of C.  It is this principle which largely motivates
drawing the distinction between strictly conforming program and conforming

4. Avoid ``quiet changes.'' Any change to widespread practice altering the
meaning of existing code causes problems.  Changes that cause code to be
so ill-formed as to require diagnostic messages are at least easy to
detect.  As much as seemed possible, consistent with its other goals, the
Committee has avoided changes that quietly alter one valid program to
another with different semantics, that cause a working program to work
differently without notice.  In important places where this principle is
violated, the Rationale points out a QUIET CHANGE.

5. A standard is a treaty between implementor and programmer.  Some
numerical limits have been added to the Standard to give both implementors
and programmers a better understanding of what must be provided by an
implementation, of what can be expected and depended upon to exist.  These
limits are presented as minimum maxima (i.e., lower limits placed on the
values of upper limits specified by an implementation) with the
understanding that any implementor is at liberty to provide higher limits
than the Standard mandates.  Any program that takes advantage of these
more tolerant limits is not strictly conforming, however, since other
implementations are at liberty to enforce the mandated limits.

6. Keep the spirit of C. The Committee kept as a major goal to preserve
the traditional ``spirit of C.''  There are many facets of the spirit of
C, but the essence is a community sentiment of the underlying principles
upon which the C language is based.  Some of the facets of the spirit of C
can be summarized in phrases like

  ** Trust the programmer.
  ** Don't prevent the programmer from doing what needs to be done.
  ** Keep the language small and simple.
  ** Provide only one way to do an operation.
  ** Make it fast, even if it is not guaranteed to be portable.

The last proverb needs a little explanation.  The potential for efficient
code generation is one of the most important strengths of C.  To help
ensure that no code explosion occurs for what appears to be a very simple
operation, many operations are defined to be how the target machine's
hardware does it rather than by a general abstract rule.  An example of
this willingness to live with what the machine does can be seen in the
rules that govern the widening of char objects for use in expressions: 
whether the values of char objects widen to signed or unsigned quantities
typically depends on which byte operation is more efficient on the target

One of the goals of the Committee was to avoid interfering with the
ability of translators to generate compact, efficient code.  In several
cases the Committee has introduced features to improve the possible
efficiency of the generated code; for instance, floating point operations
may be performed in single-precision if both operands are float rather
than double.

{Additional Principles}

At the WG14 meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in July 1994, the original principles
were re-endorsed and the following new ones were added:

7. Support international programming. During the initial standardization
process, support for internationalization was something of an
afterthought. Now that internationalization has proved to be an important
topic it should have equal visibility with other topics. As a result, all
revision proposals submitted shall be reviewed with regard to their impact
on internationalization as well as for other technical merit.

8. Codify existing practice to address evident deficiencies. Only those
concepts that have some prior art should be accepted.  (Prior art may come
from implementations of languages other than C.) Unless some proposed new
feature addresses an evident deficiency that is actually felt by more than
a few C programmers, no new inventions should be entertained.

9. Minimize incompatibilities with C90 (ISO/IEC 9899:1990). It should be
possible for existing C implementations to gradually migrate to future
conformance, rather than requiring a replacement of the environment.  It
should also be possible for the vast majority of existing conforming C
programs to run unchanged.

10. Minimize incompatibilities with C++. The committee recognizes the need
for a clear and defensible plan with regard to how it intends to address
the compatibility issue with C++. The committee endorses the principle of
maintaining the largest common subset clearly and from the outset.  Such a
principle should satisfy the requirement to maximize overlap of the
languages while maintaining a distinction between them and allowing them
to evolve separately.

Regarding our relationship with C++, the committee is content to let C++
be the ``big'' and ambitious language. While some features of C++ may well
be embraced, it is not the committee's intention that C become C++.

11. Maintain conceptual simplicity. The committee prefers an economy of
concepts that do the job.  Members should identify the issues and
prescribe the minimal amount of machinery that will solve them. The
committee recognizes the importance of being able to describe and teach
new concepts in a straightforward and concise manner.

{Important Observations}

During the revision process, it will be important to consider the
following observations:

** Regarding the 11 principles, there is a tradeoff between them---none is
absolute.  However, the more the committee deviates from them, the more
rationale needed to explain the deviation.

** There has been a very positive reception of the standard from both the
user and vendor communities.

** The standard is not considered to be broken. Rather, the revision is
needed to track emerging and/or changing technologies and
internationalization requirements.

** Most users of C view it as a general-purpose high-level language.
While ``higher level'' constructs can be added, they should be done so
only if they don't contradict the basic principles.

** There are a good number of useful suggestions to be found from the
public comments and defect report processing.

{Sources of Influence}

Areas to which the committee shall look when revising C include:

** Incorporate Amendment 1.

** All technical corrigenda and records of response.

** Future directions in current standard.

** Features currently labeled obsolescent.

** Cross-language standards groups work.

** Requirements resulting from JTC1/SC2 (character sets).

** The evolution of C++.

** The evolution of other languages particularly with regard to
interlanguage communication issues.

** Other papers and proposals from member delegations, such as the
numerical extensions Technical Report being proposed by X3J11.

** Other comments from the public at large.

** Other prior art.

{Submission Guidelines}

Without a set of acceptance criteria, judging any technical proposal
becomes a highly subjective, and definitely emotional, exercise. It also
wastes a lot of time and energy. Therefore, submittors are encouraged to
keep all the guiding principles in mind when making submissions.

Guidelines for the submission of proposals will be provided. Each
submission shall contain a cover page containing responses to a number of
questions and further summary information enabling the essence of a
submission to be distilled simply by reading that cover. The information
requested will include such things as:  title, author, author affiliation,
date, document number, abstract, proposal category (e.g., editorial,
correction, new feature), prior art, and target audience. Proposals that
are not directly linked must be submitted separately, each with their own
document number and cover page.

Submissions *must* be sponsored in the same way as defect reports; that
is, either by the convener of WG14, WG14 itself, or by a WG14 national
member body. This provides a filtering process and allows submissions to
be rejected early in the process if they violate the revision principles. 
It also allows substantially incomplete or disjoint proposals to be
returned for further refinement.


A rationale document will be maintained and an editor will be appointed.

An editor for the revised standard will be appointed.  The initial job of
the editor will be to integrate Amendment 1 and technical corrigenda into
a single base document against which the committee can work when
considering and/or preparing technical papers as well as in handling
current and future defect reports.

{Revision Schedule}

The milestones for the revision process are:

** CD Registration -- December 1996
** CD Ballot -- December 1997
** DIS Ballot -- December 1998

This schedule allows for the formal adoption of a revised standard by the
end of 1999.

The purpose of this schedule is twofold:

** To provide the public with a reasonably accurate idea of when a revised
C Standard is likely to appear.

** To keep the revision process focused.

_________________________end of document SC22 N2265 __________________