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The Practice of Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) 1st Edition

67 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0201615869
ISBN-10: 020161586X
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Editorial Reviews Review

Coauthored by Brian Kernighan, one of the pioneers of the C programming language, The Practice of Programming is a manual of good programming style that will help any C/C++ or Java developer create faster, more maintainable code.

Early sections look at some of the pitfalls of C/C++, with numerous real-world excerpts of confusing or incorrect code. The authors offer many tips and solutions, including a guide for variable names and commenting styles. Next, they cover algorithms, such as binary and quick sorting. Here, the authors show how to take advantage of the built-in functions in standard C/C++. When it comes to data structures, such as arrays, linked lists, and trees, the authors compare the options available to C, C++, Java, and even Perl developers with a random-text-generation program (using a sophisticated Markov chain algorithm) written for each language.

Subsequent sections cover debugging tips (including how to isolate errors with debugging statements) and testing strategies (both white-box and black-box testing) for verifying the correctness of code. Final sections offer tips on creating more portable C/C++ code, with the last chapter suggesting that programmers can take advantage of interpreters (and regular expressions) to gain better control over their code. A handy appendix summarizes the dozens of tips offered throughout the book.

With its commonsense expertise and range of examples drawn from C, C++, and Java, The Practice of Programming is an excellent resource for improving the style and performance of your code base. --Richard Dragan


"The book fills a critical need by providing insight into pragmatic designand coding issues so that programmers become better at their craft...Programmers just out of school should be given this book on their first day of work. It will save employers thousands of dollars due to lost productivity and "mindless" debugging." -- Paul McNamee, Computer Scientist, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

"The examples are just about right. Chapter 3's example (markov) is stellar; it is simple, thought-provoking, elegant, and most importantly, provides an opportunity to analyze good design... It is the most concise book of its kind and offers the most useful, no-nonsense treatment of how to program from authors who know a great deal about the topic." -- Peter Memishian, Member of Technical Staff, Sun Microsystems

"There is a tendency for many books to be in the high hundreds of pages long these days with very little justification. This text is well-written, and is not overly interdependent, thus allowing the reader to "skip around" as interests motivate.... I found [the examples] to be interesting. I like it when I don't have to spend time figuring out an example and I can concentrate on the lesson the example is trying to teach. Too many books have overly-complex examples, and this one doesn't." -- Chris Cleeland, Technical Lead, IONA Technologies, Inc.

"A great candidate to fill this widely perceived lack in the literature... Very solid and very educational, this manual is one I highly recommend to all programmers." -- Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

"An outstanding book... a readable and well-written style combined with their experience and valuable expertise." -- Sys Admin

"This book is full of good common sense. In addition it is written in highly readable English. Pick up a copy, choose any chapter and start reading. I think you will then feel motivated to buy yourself a copy... Whatever language you program in, I think you will benefit from reading this book." -- Association of C & C++ Users

Rating 9/10: "Practical and enjoyable, this book captures its authors' considerable wisdom and experience." --

Read the full review for this book.

To be honest, there are quite a few books around that teach algorithms and the fundamentals of computer programming. The problem is that those books are commonly designed to support academic classes in computer science, and consequently shine on the theoretical side but leave something to be desired on the pragmatic front.

The Practice of Programming is a great candidate to fill this widely perceived lack in the literature that I commonly refer to as "for the industry." Authored by two experienced researchers of the Computing Science Research Center at the well-known Bell Labs (the name Brian Kernighan will ring a bell to the millions of C programmers), this manageable text conveys a fantastic quantity of suggestions and guidelines that will come in useful to all the neophytes of programming, and at the same time provides some sound tips and principles to the more seasoned among us. The first chapter approaches the delicate topic of good coding style; while the opinions on this are always subjective, those expressed by the authors seem generally acceptable and worth following. --Davide Marcato, Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books -- Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley; 1 edition (February 14, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 020161586X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201615869
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By on March 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
I've long recommended Pike's "Notes on Programming in C" on my web page. This book includes most of the content from that essay and much more, but is still thin and concise.
What I like most about this book is that they justify all of their recommendations, show both good and bad examples, and keep the discussion grounded in actual code (rather than abstract principles).
Other things I liked:
- begins with a discussion of programming style and aesthetics
- they critique some of the designs that they have been involved in, such as C's stdio and string handling libraries
- they discuss the unique design issues presented by library design
- they give examples in C, C++ and Java, and give an honest appraisal of the tradeoffs involved in each language.
- FINALLY, excellent single chapter descriptions of systematic approaches to debugging and testing!
- they face up to some of the tough design choices that must be made outside the UNIX Ivory Tower (rare for these authors). For example, they sacrifice UNIX consistency in one application so that the application will behave consistently across UNIX and Windows.
Minor gripes:
- still skirts around tough design issues in error recovery and reporting; they advocate the "print a diagnostic and exit" approach (which is totally inappropriate for library code), and don't discuss the tradeoffs
- a few of the principles they cover will be trivial or obvious for experienced programmers
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Charles Ashbacher HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
In computing, the learning curve is doubly steep. Not only do we have to learn very complex operations, but we have to learn them at a pace unrivaled in any other field. Furthermore, the equipment improves at a rate that simply boggles the mind. In this frantic environment, we rarely have time to read our code twice, much less read a book about code. Therefore, when we do read, we must make every minute count. This is one book where your count of wasted minutes would be a very small one.
Some of the tips in this book are obvious in retrospect, yet ones that you probably would not think of. My favorite is the fact that due to the changes in processors, a double precision floating point arithmetic operation can be faster than the equivalent one for integers. In the "old" days, the gospel was that you must avoid floating point operations unless absolutely necessary, to avoid the degradation of performance.
Other tips, such as methods to assure you comment what is necessary, taking a few minutes to learn simple performance features, debugging and testing guidelines; portability issues and basic algorithm analysis should cause you to pause for a moment. Even in our hectic development environments, stopping and analyzing your code is a necessity.
It is difficult to conceive of someone who will not find a tip in here that will justify the cost of the book. Unless of course, you are one of the authors. I listed it as one of the top books of the year in my On Books column that appeared in the September, 1999 issue of _Journal of Object-Oriented Programming_.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Bryan O'Sullivan on January 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
I am bemused by the disparaging comments of my fellow readers in regard to this book. Kernighan and Pike make clear their intent in the first paragraph of the preface to this book; it is about simplicity, clarity, and generality.
To be sure, there is tinder here for short tempers and delicate egos. If you're under the gun, trying to duct-tape together the fifth release of some huge, unwieldy application, this book does not contain the short-term quick fixes you've been hoping for. If you're righteously convinced of your own sound practices and don't care to look at someone else's methods, this book may irk you.
Kernighan and Pike have written a book about the most basic habits and outlook that a programmer should have. They have not tried to address all facets of programming. Instead, they sacrifice scope to make their points stand out all the more clearly.
Would this be a better book if they had cast their net wider? Hardly. If you start off by applying the carefully thought out, methodical approaches described clearly throughout this book, your code will still hit abstruse bumps and strange circumstances. But most problems will succumb to the same analytical ways of thinking and tools that Kernighan and Pike have laboured to describe with such clarity.
But don't imagine that I think this book is perfect; the authors have been doing many things in the same ways for a long time. Most often, this is because their methods are effective, but sometimes they are far too close to being cop-outs. For example, the idea that it's OK to just print an error message and bomb out if something goes wrong is laughable outside of the Unix command line environment, and is rarely appropriate even there.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 1999
Format: Paperback
The book covers topics such as style, design, interfaces, notation, debugging, testing, performance tuning, and portability. Each of these topics gets its own chapter and is covered pretty throughly.

The writing is generally very interesting though at times it does get a little too much into details. It must have been interesting. I have finished reading it in less than 24 hours after having received it. This is something I've never done with a computer book before!!

The book does live up to its goal. I think any programmer (even with 20 years of experience) who reads this book will gain something from reading it.
Before you think that I think the book is perfect, I will point out some areas where I think it could be improved. First, I think the book is too focused on C. This is not surprising given that Kernighan is one of the authors. Personally, I have always believed that C is a language that encourages bad programming practices. In a few places in the book, I see some of those in the code that is presented. The other area I was disappointed in was that there was not much on object-oriented programming practices. Beyond that, I saw something I do not believe should be in any good OO program. That something was a public instance variable. A few places I disagreed with the authors on style issues. However, all of these problems are fairly minor and will hopefully be corrected in the next edition.

In conclusion, I think this is a book that all programmers should read at least once. I know I will keep my copy on my shelf for those times when I have questions like "how can I optimize this code?". It really is the best general programming book that has been published in years.
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