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The Early History of REXX Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129829D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Dec-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 16 page(s) / 59K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

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This article describes the early history of REXX, illustrated by quotations from the electronic mail record and from other contemporary documents.

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This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

The Early History of REXX


REXX is a procedural language with many novel features. Its goal was to make programming easier in the belief that getting the design right for people to use is more important than providing for easy implementation. REXX development depended on the use of electronic mail. As a result, and perhaps uniquely for a programming language, there is an essentially complete historical record of the design process and discussions. This article describes the early history of REXX, illustrated by quotations from the electronic mail record and from other contemporary documents.

REXX is a multipurpose procedural language that was designed with a strong emphasis on human factors. It is especially suitable for (but is not limited to) personal programming and to the tasks of command programming and "scripting" (that is, the writing of macros or scripts that customize and control applications and systems). It has been implemented for most contemporary operating systems and is built into many of them; a recent estimate (personal communication by L.S. Green) suggests that over 10 million people have access to an implementation of REXX. In response to the wide use of REXX, the Technical Committee X3J18 is working on the definition of an ANSI standard for the language.

The language is well documented; I know of more than 60 published books and product manuals. For the philosophical background and a complete description of the language, see The REXX Language.' For a general treatment of the language and its implementations, The REXX Handbooks is recommended; it gives a broad coverage, with contributions by 36 authors.

Development of REXX began in March 1979 as a personal "own time" project; writing languages was something of a hobby for me -- REXX was the fifth I had designed and implemented. It was influenced by these earlier unpublished designs, and also the "classic" languages. Of these, BASIC3 and PL/I45 probably had the most influence. For its command and system interfaces and several of its other features, REXX drew heavily on the semantics of EXEC 2 6

For the first three years of its existence REXX was used informally, and its distribution was limited to the community of IBM employees. Even so, it rapidly attracted hundreds of users and was in use in nine countries within four months of its first release. However, the controlled distribution meant that it was possible to make major changes to the language as it evolved; users were able to suggest changes and then see those changes occur...