What is Pascal?

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  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2018
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Developed in 1970, by Niklaus Wirth, Pascal is a computer programming language. It is an imperative language that is considered a viable option for structured programming. The language’s original purpose was to help in teaching structured programming concepts to college students, and teachers have used it as an introductory programming language for many years. Though it was created decades ago, versions are still in use today in educational and software development sectors.

The language was given its name to honor Blaise Pascal, a French-born mathematician and physicist who helped to pioneer computer development. He is credited with designing the first arithmetical machine in 1641, often considered the first ancestor of modern computers. Pascal was also a religious philosopher.

In developing the computer language, Wirth based it on ALGOL, a computer programming language that was developed in 1960. Wirth designed Pascal with two primary goals in mind. First, it was created to provide a language that was helpful for teaching programming systematically with clear, fundamental concepts. Second, he created it to provide for reliable and efficient implementation, seeking to fill gaps left by other computer programming languages available at the time.


Pascal surpassed Wirth’s original goals. It gained commercial recognition that actually exceeded the interest of those involved in education. The computer programming language experienced a great deal of popularity in the 1970s, as it met many system and application software needs. It was implemented on over 80 computer systems by the time the decade came to a close.

The original language is procedural and features traditional ALGOL-based structures. It also has many data structures and abstractions that differ from ALGOL, however, such as enumerations, records, and sets. Its type definitions and pointers vary from the original as well. Despite such differences, it is still considered much more like the ALGOL programming language than those belonging to the C family of languages.

In comparing it to the C language family, one thing that stands out is its use of English keywords — where C uses symbols, Pascal uses real words. C is more similar to ALGOL in terms of simple declarations, however. It uses type-name, variable-name syntax while Pascal avoids such syntax in favor of providing educational settings with clearer syntax. Other differences exist between the languages as well.

The original Pascal compiler became operational in 1970, and it was created for the CDC 600 series mainframe computer and was written in the Fortran programming language. Compilers created after 1975 have typically been written in Pascal, and usually, these compilers can recompile themselves to include new language features. A compiler can also recompile itself when ported to a different environment.


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Post 2

Remember back in the 1980s when Pascal was supposed to be one of the languages that "real" programmers needed to know? What happened to it? I haven't heard about Pascal in some time, other than a few vague descriptions suggesting it had been pretty much tossed aside in favor of "C."

Are a lot of people still using Pascal?

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