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The Art of Unix Programming
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Unix Programming - Unix Interface Design Patterns - The Compiler Pattern

The Compiler Pattern

Compiler-like programs use neither standard output nor standard input; they may issue error messages to standard error, however. Instead, a compiler-like program takes file or resource names from the command line, transforms the names of those resources in some way, and emits output under the transformed names. Like cantrips, compiler-like programs do not require user interaction after startup time.

This pattern is so named because its paradigm is the C compiler, cc(1) (or, under Linux and many other modern Unixes, gcc(1)). But it is also widely used for programs that do (for example) graphics file conversions or compression/decompression.

A good example of the former is the gif2png(1) program used to convert GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) to PNG (Portable Network Graphics).[108] Good examples of the latter are the gzip(1) and gunzip(1) GNU compression utilities, almost certainly shipped with your Unix system.

In general, the compiler interface design pattern is a good model when your program often needs to operate on multiple named resources and can be written to have low interactivity (with its control information supplied at startup time). Compiler-like programs are readily scriptable.

The term “compiler-like interface” for this pattern is well-understood in the Unix community.


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The Art of Unix Programming
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