Why you should learn Brainfuck 05 Jul 2011
brainfuck programming opinion

This past weekend I finally had a satisfyingly large chunk of free time that I could devote to hacking on various ideas, it was glorious.

For one reason or another one of those things that I hacked on was a Brainfuck interpreter in Ada.

Writing the interpeter wasn’t terrifically difficult (getting the loop logic correct was a little tricky), but the more I tinkered with Brainfuck, the more fascinated I became.

Disclaimer: Brainfuck is a silly, silly language that I would never try to use in any serious context.

For the uninitiated, Brainfuck is a woefully esoteric programming language with eight commands: < > . , + - [ ]. The core concept of the language is that you have a stack of “cells” (think bytes in memory), and all you can really do in the language is: move around, increment cell values and decrement cell values.

What fascinates me about Brainfuck is that it forces you to maintain an exact replica of the stack in your head, there is no disconnect between my mental model and the computer’s model of the program and its data.

I’m reminded by an essay I read a week or two ago titled “Why Programming Languages?” and the points the article’s author Tom Van Cutsem makes regarding “Language as a thought shaper”

The goal of a thought shaper language is to change the way a programmer thinks about structuring his or her program. The basic building blocks provided by a programming language, as well as the ways in which they can (or cannot) be combined …

To me, this is what makes Brainfuck compelling, it is by no means a “useful” language in its own right but it is a language that affects your thinking about particular problems.

You might enjoy the challenge of solving a sodoku puzzle on the train, I enjoy the challenge of solving a problem with Brainfuck.

Oh, and saying “Brainfuck” out loud in polite company, I enjoy that too.