Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie
Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie, 1999
Born September 9, 1941(1941-09-09)
Bronxville, New York, U.S.
Died found dead October 12, 2011(2011-10-12) (aged 70)
Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, U.S.
Fields Computer science
Institutions Lucent Technologies
Bell Labs
Alma mater Harvard University
Known for ALTRAN
Notable awards Turing Award
National Medal of Technology

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie (b. September 9, 1941; found dead October 12, 2011),[1][2][3][4] was an American computer scientist who "helped shape the digital era."[1] He created the C programming language and, with long-time colleague Ken Thompson, the UNIX operating system.[1] Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999. Ritchie was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007. He was the 'R' in K&R C and commonly known by his username dmr.



Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

Ritchie was born in Bronxville, New York. His father was Alistair E. Ritchie, a longtime Bell Labs scientist and co-author of The Design of Switching Circuits on switching circuit theory. He moved with his family to Summit, New Jersey, as a child, where he graduated from Summit High School.[5]

Ritchie graduated from Harvard University with degrees in physics and applied mathematics. In 1967, he began working at the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center, and in 1968, he received a PhD from Harvard under the supervision of Patrick C. Fischer, his doctoral dissertation being "Program Structure and Computational Complexity".[6]

Ritchie engaged in conversation in a chalet in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake City at the 1984 Usenix conference

C and Unix

Ritchie was best known as the creator of the C programming language, a key developer of the UNIX operating system, and co-author of The C Programming Language, and was the 'R' in K&R (a common reference to the book's authors Kernighan and Ritchie). Ritchie worked together with Ken Thompson, the scientist credited with writing the original Unix; one of Ritchie's most important contributions to Unix was its porting to different machines and platforms.[7]

The C language is widely used today in application, operating system, and embedded system development, and its influence is seen in most modern programming languages. UNIX has also been influential, establishing concepts and principles that are now precepts of computing.

Ritchie was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988 for "development of the 'C' programming language and for co-development of the UNIX operating system."[8]


Thompson (left) and Ritchie (center) receiving the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999

Turing Award

In 1983, Ritchie and Thompson jointly received the Turing Award for their development of generic operating systems theory and specifically for the implementation of the UNIX operating system. Ritchie's Turing Award lecture was titled "Reflections on Software Research".[9]

IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal

In 1990, both Ritchie and Thompson received the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), "for the origination of the UNIX operating system and the C programming language".[10]

Fellow of the Computer History Museum

In 1997, both Ritchie and Thompson were made Fellows of the Computer History Museum, "for co-creation of the UNIX operating system, and for development of the C programming language."

National Medal of Technology

On April 21, 1999, Thompson and Ritchie jointly received the National Medal of Technology of 1998 from President Bill Clinton for co-inventing the UNIX operating system and the C programming language which, according to the citation for the medal, "led to enormous advances in computer hardware, software, and networking systems and stimulated growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age".[11][12]

Japan Prize

In 2011, Ritchie, along with Thompson, was awarded the Japan Prize for Information and Communications for his work in the development of Unix operating system.[13]

Death and legacy

Ritchie was found dead on October 12, 2011, at the age of 70 at his home in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, where he lived alone.[1] First news of his death came from his former colleague, Rob Pike.[2][3] The cause and exact time of death have not been disclosed.[14] He had been in frail health for several years following treatment for prostate cancer and heart disease.[1][15][2][16] His death came a week after the death of Steve Jobs, although Ritchie's death did not receive as much media coverage.[17][18] Computer historian Paul E. Ceruzzi said after his death: "Ritchie was under the radar. His name was not a household name at all, but . . . if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you'd see his work everywhere inside."[19]

The Fedora 16 Linux distribution, which was released about a month after he died, was dedicated to his memory.[20]

Notable books


  1. ^ a b c d e Lohr, Steve (October 12, 2011), "Dennis Ritchie, Programming Trailblazer, Dies at 70", The New York Times,, retrieved October 13, 2011, "Dennis M. Ritchie, who helped shape the modern digital era by creating software tools that power things as diverse as search engines like Google and smartphones, was found dead on Wednesday at his home in Berkeley Heights, N.J. He was 70. Mr. Ritchie, who lived alone, was in frail health in recent years after treatment for prostate cancer and heart disease, said his brother Bill." 
  2. ^ a b c "Unix creator Dennis Ritchie dies aged 70". BBC News. October 13, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-14. "Pioneering computer scientist Dennis Ritchie has died after a long illness. ... The first news of Dr Ritchie's death came via Rob Pike, a former colleague who worked with him at Bell Labs. Mr Ritchie's passing was then confirmed in a statement from Alcatel Lucent which now owns Bell Labs." 
  3. ^ a b Rob Pike (October 12, 2011), (untitled post to Google+),, retrieved October 14, 2011, "I just heard that, after a long illness, Dennis Ritchie (dmr) died at home this weekend. I have no more information." 
  4. ^ Campbell-Kelly, Martin (October 13, 2011), "Dennis Ritchie obituary", The Guardian,, retrieved October 13, 2011, "Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie, computer scientist, born 9 September 1941; died 12 October 2011" 
  5. ^ Keill, Liz. "Berkeley Heights man wins Japan Prize for inventing UNIX operating system", Independent Press, February 1, 2011. Accessed October 17, 2011. "Ritchie, 69, has lived in Berkeley Heights for 15 years. He was born in Bronxville, NY, grew up in Summit and attended Summit High School before going to Harvard University."
  6. ^ Dennis M. Ritchie at the Mathematics Genealogy Project.
  7. ^ [Pioneer Programmer Shaped the Evolution of Computers, Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2011, p.A7]
  8. ^ National Academy of Engineering : Members Directory – Dr. Dennis M. Ritchie
  9. ^ The ''Reflections on Software Research'' paper. (PDF) Retrieved on 2011-08-21.
  10. ^ "IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal Recipients". IEEE. Retrieved May 29, 2011 (2011-05-29). 
  11. ^ Ritchie and Thompson [to] Get National Medal of Technology Bell Labs pre-announcement
  12. ^ Ritchie and Thompson Receive National Medal of Technology from President Clinton Bell Labs press release
  13. ^ Evangelista, Benny, "Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie win Japan Prize", San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2011
  14. ^ Associated Press (October 13, 2011), "Summary Box: Dennis Ritchie, pioneer in computer programming at Bell Labs, dies at 70", The Washington Post,, retrieved October 14, 2011, "NOT KNOWN: Alcatel-Lucent confirmed his death to The Associated Press but would not disclose the cause of death or when Ritchie died." 
  15. ^ Gallagher, Sean (October 13, 2011). "Dennis Ritchie, Father of C and Co-Developer of Unix, Dies". Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
  16. ^ Binstock, Andrew. "Dennis Ritchie, in Memoriam". Dr. Dobb's Journal. Dr. Dobb's Journal. Retrieved October 14, 2011. 
  17. ^ Humphrey, Michael (10/14/2011). "The Inevitable Steve Jobs vs. Dennis Ritchie Discussion". Forbes. Retrieved October 14, 2011. 
  18. ^ Mearian, Lucas (October 13, 2011). "Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs – quite the juxtaposition". Computer World. Retrieved October 14, 2011. 
  19. ^ Langer, Emily (October 14, 2011). "Dennis Ritchie, founder of Unix and C, dies at 70". Washington Post. Retrieved November 3, 2011. 
  20. ^ Phoronix. "Red Hat Releases Fedora 16 "Verne"". Retrieved 2011-11-08. 

External links

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