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The Art of Unix Programming
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Unix Programming - Programming for Portability

Software portability is usually thought of in quasi-spatial terms: can this code be moved sideways to existing hardware and software platforms other than the one it was built for? But Unix experience over decades tells us that durability down through time is just as important, if not more so. If we could predict the future of software in detail it would probably be the present — nevertheless, in programming for portability we should try to think about making choices that will base the software on the features of its environment that are likeliest to persist, and avoid technologies that seem likely to face end-of-life in the foreseeable future.

Under Unix, two decades of attention to the issues of specifying portable APIs has largely solved that problem. Facilities described in the Single Unix Specification are likely to be present on all modern Unix platforms today and rather unlikely to go unsupported in the future.

But not all platform dependencies have to do with the system or library APIs. Your implementation language can matter; file-system layout and configuration differences between the source and target system can be a problem as well. But Unix practice has evolved ways to cope.

The first issue in programming for portability is your choice of implementation language. All the major languages we surveyed in Chapter14 are highly portable in the sense that compatible implementations are available across all modern Unixes; for most, implementations under Windows and MacOS are available as well. Portability problems tend to arise not in the core languages but in support libraries and degree of integration with the local environment (especially IPC and concurrent-process management, including the infrastructure for GUIs).

The core C language is extremely portable. The standard Unix implementation is the GNU C compiler, which is ubiquitous not only in open-source Unixes but modern proprietary Unixes as well. GNU C has been ported to Windows and classic MacOS, but is not widely used in either environment because it lacks portable bindings to the native GUI.

The standard I/O library, mathematics routines, and internationalization support are portable across all C implementations. File I/O, signals, and process control are portable across Unixes provided one takes care to use only the modern APIs described in the Single Unix Specification; older C code often has thickets of preprocessor conditionals for portability, but those handle legacy pre-POSIX interfaces from older proprietary Unixes that are obsolete or close to it in 2003.

C portability starts to be a more serious problem near IPC, threads, and GUI interfaces. We discussed IPC and threads portability issues in Chapter7. The real practical problem is GUI toolkits. A number of open-source GUI toolkits are universally portable across modern Unixes and to Windows and classic MacOS as well — Tk, wxWindows, GTK, and Qt are four well-known ones with source code and documentation readily discoverable by Web search. But none of them is shipped with all platforms, and (for reasons more legal than technical) none of these offers the native-GUI look and feel on all platforms. We gave some guidelines for coping in Chapter15.

Volumes have been written on the subject of how to write portable C code. This book is not going to be one of them. Instead, we recommend a careful reading of Recommended C Style and Coding Standards [Cannon] and the chapter on portability in The Practice of Programming [Kernighan-Pike99].

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The Art of Unix Programming
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