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The Practice of Programming (Addison-Wesley Professional Computing Series) 1st Edition
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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." -- Slashdot.org
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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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The Good: it is a sad fact that even though a work like E. H. Gombrich's "Story of Art" attracts favorable reviews from young readers and accomplished artists alike, there are many programmers who feel the need to point out that they already know everything covered in Kernighan & Pike's TPOP. Let there be no doubt about this: "The Practice of Programming" is a masterful work, containing distilled wisdom. TPOP belongs to a very short list of programming books that deserve careful reading of even the minutest detail and amply reward such effort (Jon Bentley's "Programming Pearls" is another text on this list). Kernighan & Pike's text covers every aspect of practical programming, from style, through data structures, design, debugging, testing, performance, portability, up to special-purpose languages. It authoritatively covers a huge variety of topics, bringing to mind another important text, Steve McConnell's "Code Complete", which is easier to read, more detailed, and therefore 3.5 times longer. Even so, it's interesting to note that, unlike TPOP, "Code Complete" does not include exercises and does not discuss topics like tail recursion or endianness. On a different note, any book addressing the totality of programming is bound to disappoint a fraction of its potential readers by not using the language du jour. Kernighan & Pike have tried to preempt such complaints by including some mention of C++, Java, awk, and Perl, but in its core this book is C-oriented. C is still the lingua franca of programming, so this seems appropriate; as the authors put it, C "gives the programmer complete control over implementation, and programs written in it tend to be fast." Despite the conciseness and technical nature of TPOP, the authors manage to keep things flowing without mincing their words, e.g. "a lot of quick and dirty code ends up in widely-used software, where it remains dirty and often not as quick as it should have been anyway". Intriguingly, they are equally direct when discussing C-related issues, e.g. "rather than having memcpy for speed and memmove for safety, it would be better to have one function that was always safe, and fast when it could be." They also sneak in a joke or two, e.g. an enumerator in Plan 9's errors.h is called Egreg, which would have been funny even if it wasn't followed by the inimitable comment "It's all Greg's fault".
The Bad: parts of this book are non-trivial, e.g. the interplay of split() and advquoted() in the second C version of the CSV library. I'm bringing this up in the section on "The Bad" only because it's customary to expect a lot of filler in books on programming. In reality, this is one of the good aspects of TPOP: even when things get intricate it's worth putting in the effort to figure out what's going on. To quote Faulkner's (alleged) admonition in response to the complaint that some of his works are difficult to understand even after two or three readings: "read it a fourth time!" Of course, even though Kernighan & Pike are much more competent than the average programming author, they're still human, so they do sometimes produce phrases like this one: "Well-written programs are better than badly-written ones". At a more detailed level, I did notice a few minor issues. For example, in chapter 1 the authors rewrite a Java class and then say that the new version is better because "it leads to statements like queue.capacity++". However, directly accessing and changing a member variable violates encapsulation. Still at a fine-grained level, I spotted only one issue regarding the C code (other than the need to keep a reference handy at all times). In chapter 3 the authors say that the programs they show are production code and they also state that "the C programmer must do more of the work, allocating and reclaiming memory, creating hash tables and linked lists, and the like". Given both these points, one would expect that best practices imply that malloc'ed memory should be explicitly free'd, out of respect for the maintenance programmers to follow. However, the Markov chain C program does not do this. Finally, some of what this text has to say on C++ is non-idiomatic (though almost always still correct). Kernighan & Pike matter-of-factly mention or use int main(void), strcpy, strstr, and realloc in C++. A C++ aficionado might even go so far as to note that when they do use std::string (instead of C-style strings, as in the rest of the text) they get the number of characters from [the strlen() descendant] length() instead of [the STL mainstay] size().
In a nutshell, this book is a classic and is destined to remain one. This should come as no surprise to those who've read Kernighan & Pike's earlier "The Unix Programming Environment". Highly recommended.
Some of the examples can be somewhat terse and break the authors rules for clarity and following standard language idioms. However, it is highly recommended to take the time to fully understand the examples in order to extract the most benefit. One final note, while working on a large re-engineering project we have proven that the "bear" technique really works, you'll have to read the text for the answer, it deals with auditory versus visual triggers and thinking.
I'd bring it with my laptop to a desert island. Given electricity, of course :)
Kernighan is a giant.
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