Wolfram Rösler is the creator of the original The Hello World collection, born 1968 in Aachen, Germany, started programming at age 13. After studying computer science he worked as a software developer, and later systems designer, for large-scale industrial applications on the Unix and Windows platforms. Today he’s the chief software architect for a big industry data processing/reporting system. His non-computer-related interests range from mathematics and quantum physics to martial arts and juggling. Wolfram is married and has a 10-years-old son. A Hello, world is a computer program that outputs “Hello, World” on a display device. Is often used to verify that a language is operating correctly.
Wolfram Rösler on his bike
- Hello, Wolfram, you have been dealing with computer programming since more than 30 years, can you tell us how it all began? What is at the core of programming according to your vision?
I knew that I wanted to program the first time I saw a home computer as a child. It was a VC20
in a magazine, and later a TI99-4A
in a shop, that made me immediately want to write programs. The fascination is that these machines – the home computers of the 1980s even more than modern devices – will do mostly nothing by themselves but have an enormous potential to do things that are limited only by the programmer’s imagination, and that all you have to do to make them do whatever you image is simply to press the keys in the right order (remember these old computers had a keyboard and a programming language built in). You need a lot of skills, tools, and materials to make, say, a table out of wood – but to get a program running, all you need beside the computer is your imagination. It’s a bit like typing “let there be light”, and there is light, provided you type it in the right way. And that fascination has stayed; still today, even although my daily work has mostly shifted away from actual coding, I feel the excitement the first time I run a new program and see it actually do what has only been on my mind before.
Commodore VC 20
- What’s the history of The Hello World Collection? How did it start and how did it evolve? Is it still an open collection?
In 1994 I found out that I knew quite a few programming languages, at least well enough to write a Hello World program in them, and that some of them were pretty amusing, so I decided put each program into a file and make a little shell script that collected those into a single list, building the first version of the Collection. Back then I was quite active on MausNet
, a German modem-based BBS network, and posted the list there, getting first contributions from other users. The oldest version still in Google’s Usenet archives is from 1996, available here.
In 1999 The Hello World collection
found its present location
on my homepage, and has been growing since through lots of user contributions, exceeding 400 languages in 2008. The last update is from 2010 since, unfortunately, I completely lack the time to validate and add new submissions.
An Hello World program run into an AT&T terminal
- Why did you choose the name Collection instead of Archive?
An archive is something where you store things that have fallen out of use, stuffed away and collecting dust, in case someone might want to look at them, which might as well never happen. A collection is a living thing, neatly arranged for everyone to look at. Also, a collection is never complete.
- Do you think that the possibility of creating a digital collection is changing the traditional idea of collecting, that is usually related to material things?
At least it makes it a lot easier to take your collection with you when you move. I collected pocket calculators when I was a kid, but lost most of them due to space restraints and a damp cellar. The Hello World collection has been copied to various sites and blogs so many times that it’s unlikely ever to go away completely. I like the digital world, living mostly paperless, so a digital collection really suits me well, however traditional collectors probably want to collect real world items which acquire value through scarcity, which doesn’t fit well into the digital concept. If Leonardo had made Mona Lisa with Photoshop and posted the jpg file to his blog, it would attract a lot less attention.
- You declare that your The Hello World collection is the only one that features human languages as well. Why did you make this choice and how does it happen that a new human language is added to the collection? What kind of relations are there between a human language and a programming one?
I don’t remember when it came to my mind that I could put a human section into the Collection, but it was for the same reason as the programming languages; I found that I knew some languages and just started, letting others contribute more languages (and fix my mistakes on the present ones). By the way, the “human” section was originally called “natural” but I had to rename it when a programming language called “Natural” showed up. 🙂 Most programming languages use a human language as their basis, e. g. the C programming language has keywords from English, like „return”, “while” or “double”, but these are just mnemonics which make it easier for the programmer to learn the keywords. Some programming languages completely do away with keywords, consisting entirely of symbols, so that’s about where the relationship ends; although programming languages have their vocabulary and grammar, syntax and semantics, they are very logical, precisely defined, with no tolerance towards variation, interpretation, or connotation. That’s why autistic people love programming languages: they don’t understand body language or other tiny details that can greatly change the meaning of what was meant in a human language, so the perfectly well-defined programming languages are closer to their special way of communicating.
- Can you tell us about the first time you ran into a Hello world program? Have you ever created a new programming language and tested it with a Hello world program??
The first program I typed into my first home Computer, an Atari 400 sometime around 1981, which I think counts as an early Hello World program 🙂 was something like this:
10 PRINT “HELLO”
20 GOTO 10
Many years later I read the original Hello World program in Kernighan and Ritchie’s The C Programming Language
, and I think that’s where I (and the rest of the world) got the idea from. I never really developed a programming language of my own, at least not beyond early prototypes (I remember I once implemented some pseudo-Assembler/-Interpreter with the intention of writing programs that fight against each other in a simulated computer memory arena, but I don’t think it had a text output function). However, the Collection has something like an “easter egg“, a program for an environment I created, intended to run in the context of a big reporting application I wrote at work (I won’t tell which it is though).
- Given its widespread celebrity and use in the field of computer programming, has the “Hello, world” message acquired any mystical or propitiatory value over time?
None that I know of programming has no mystical component for me.
Kernighan and Ritchie’s The C Programming Language in its spanish version (first edition)