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C Strings vs Pascal Strings



From Joel on Software:
Pascal vs C String Comment
"The designers of Pascal were aware of this problem and "fixed" it by storing a byte count in the first byte of the string. These are called Pascal Strings. They can contain zeros and are not null terminated. Because a byte can only store numbers between 0 and 255, Pascal strings are limited to 255 bytes in length, but because they are not null terminated they occupy the same amount of memory as ASCIZ strings. The great thing about Pascal strings is that you never have to have a loop just to figure out the length of your string. Finding the length of a string in Pascal is one assembly instruction instead of a whole loop. It is monumentally faster.

The old Macintosh operating system used Pascal strings everywhere. Many C programmers on other platforms used Pascal strings for speed. Excel uses Pascal strings internally which is why strings in many places in Excel are limited to 255 bytes, and it's also one reason Excel is blazingly fast.

For a long time, if you wanted to put a Pascal string literal in your C code, you had to write:

char* str = "\006Hello!";

Yep, you had to count the bytes by hand, yourself, and hardcode it into the first byte of your string. Lazy programmers would do this, and have slow programs:

char* str = "*Hello!"; str[0] = strlen(str) - 1;

Notice in this case you've got a string that is null terminated (the compiler did that) as well as a Pascal string. I used to call these fucked strings because it's easier than calling them null terminated pascal strings but this is a rated-G channel so you will have use the longer name."


See also: Brian Kernighan Gets Employed

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