Recurse Center

Paper of the Week: The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System

David Albert

This is part of our “Paper of the Week” series. For more info, check out our introductory blog post.

This week’s paper is The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System by Dennis Ritchie. It was presented at the 1979 Language Design and Programming Methodology conference in Sydney, Australia.

This paper describes the early history of Unix, which was created in 1969. It’s fun to see what’s been the same since the beginning (IO redirection), what’s changed (there weren’t any path names!), and how things got to be the way they are today. As supplemental reading, you may also enjoy Ritchie’s short writeup of Space Travel, the game for the PDP-7 that preceded Unix. If you’re feeling ambitious this weekend, building a modern version of Space Travel might be a fun exercise (and a great Read Along submission).

The Evolution of the Unix Time-sharing System was recommended by Hacker School resident Michael Lee.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a brief history of the early development of the Unix operating system. It concentrates on the evolution of the file system, the process-control mechanism, and the idea of pipelined commands. Some attention is paid to social conditions during the development of the system.

Read Along

Read Along is a way for you to participate in Paper of the Week. All you have to do is read the paper, make something small in response (code or prose), and email us a link to what you made by noon Eastern Time next Monday.

Hacker School alum Oskar Thorén submitted a tweet that he claims gets close to the essence of Error Detecting and Error Correcting Codes. Thanks Oskar!

Happy reading!