SNOBOL (StriNg Oriented symBOlic Language) is a computer programming language that was developed between 1962 and 1967 at AT&T Bell Laboratories by David J. Farber, Ralph E. Griswold and Ivan P. Polonsky. It was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s as a text manipulation language in the humanities, but in recent years, its popularity has faded as newer and more efficient languages such as Awk and Perl have made string manipulation by means of regular expressions popular; it is now mostly a special interest language used mainly by enthusiasts, and new implementations are rare. The classic implementation was on the PDP-10; it has been used to study compilers, formal grammars, and artificial intelligence, especially machine translation and machine comprehension of natural languages.
The SNOBOL4 (StriNg Oriented symBOlic Language number 4) version is the fourth and final incarnation of such a series of special purpose programming languages for character string manipulation.
The SNOBOL4 variant of the language supports a number of built-in data types, such as integers and limited precision real numbers, strings, patterns, arrays, and tabless, and also allows the programmer to define additional data types and new functionss. It stands apart from the mainstream programming languages of that time by having patterns as a first-class data type (i.e. a data type whose values can be manipulated in all ways permitted to any other data type in the programming language) and by providing operators for pattern concatenation and alternation. Strings generated during execution can be treated as programs and executed.
A SNOBOL pattern can be very simple or extremely complex. A simple pattern is just a text string (e.g. "ABCD"), but a complex pattern may be a large structure describing, for example, the complete grammar of a computer language.
SNOBOL provides the programmer with a rich assortment of features including some rather exotic ones. As a result it is possible to use SNOBOL as if it were an object-oriented language, a logical programming language, a functional language or a standard imperative language by changing the set of features used to write a program. It also concatenates strings that are simply placed next to each other in a statement. It keeps strings in a memory heap, and frees programmers from concerns about memory allocation and management for strings.
It is normally implemented as an interpreter because of the difficulty in implementing some of its very high-level features, but there is a compiler, the SPITBOL compiler, which provides nearly all the facilities that the interpreter provides.
The Icon programming language is a descendant of SNOBOL4.
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3 See also
4 Alternate Definition
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