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Why would you learn Fortran?

Do you immediately ask yourself the question: what is Fortran? Then read on. In this article we introduce the programming language Fortran and why this language is certainly not dead and needs some attention.

What is Fortran?

Fortran was developed in the 1950s by International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). It was made for an IBM 704 computer. Due to Fortran’s control structures and input / output components it quickly became popular. Within a short time, other manufactures felt compelled to make Fortran compilers for their own computers. This resulted in dozens of compilers by the early 1960s.

Where can you use Fortran for?

Fortran is one of the first high level programming languages. It was also the first language standardized by the ANSI. This made the language ideally suited for major investments in the development of large-scale computing software, whereby the maximum performance could be achieved from the hardware.

The language was intended for use in scientific and technical applications. Even today, it is the most widely used numerical programming language that exists.

Is Fortran dead?

In the niche of scientific programming, the Fortran language is still very much alive! Here are two reasons why:

Legacy of valuable Fortran code
Many software packages that we use today for weather forecasting, storm surge forecasting, traffic monitoring etc. were originally developed in the 1980s. If the code is sufficiently structured and neatly written, reprogramming it would be a waste of money. This is an important argument for continuing to build on these strong foundations. Do you want to read more about legacy Fortran code? Read the article from VORtech “The Joy of working with legacy code”.

Fortran keeps on developing
The Fortran programming language itself is still evolving: the Fortran standard is still being updated. Fortran encompasses a long line of versions, each of which extended the language while usually retaining compatibility with prior versions. Successive versions have added support for structured programming and processing of character-based data (FORTRAN 77), array programming, modular programming and generic programming (Fortran 90), high performance Fortran (Fortran 95), object-oriented programming (Fortran 2003), concurrent programming (Fortran 2008), and native parallel computing capabilities (Coarray Fortran 2008/2018).

The future of Fortran programming…

New software is often written in other programming languages. Partly, this is because software nowadays focuses more on user experience than on computer power. But other performance-oriented languages such as C and C++ are now standardized as well and therefore acceptable for large-scale investments. This has led to a sharp decrease in the number of Fortran developers. When existing Fortran developers retire, change positions or temporarily need additional capacity for a software extension, it is often hard to replace them.

Conclusion

To summarize: the answer to the question ‘Why would you learn Fortran?’ is that, as a Developer / Software Engineer with Fortran knowledge you will be needed to work on the massive amount of Fortran applications that are so important for our everyday lives.

Also, if you are working in IT, at a knowledge institute or at engineering firms, or have a degree in physics, mathematics, geology / soil science, meteorology, chemistry or mechanical engineering, Fortran is very interesting for you to learn because it is one of the best languages for this kind of applications.


Do you want to learn Fortran? Take a look at our Fortran course: The Fortran Programming Language.

This course is a joint development from AT Computing and VORtech. The Scientific Software Engineers at VORTech are working on Fortran Software such as sound modeling, climate modeling, traffic engineering and geophysics.

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