The iAPX 432 and block languages (was Re: RTX-2000 processor PC/AT add-in card (any takers?))

Sean Conner spc at
Mon Apr 10 20:43:29 CDT 2017

It was thus said that the Great Jecel Assumpcao Jr. via cctalk once stated:
> Sean Conner via cctalk wrote on Mon, 10 Apr 2017 17:39:57 -0400
> >   What about C made it difficult for the 432 to run?  
> > 
> >   -spc (Curious here, as some aspects of the 432 made their way to the 286
> > 	and we all know what happened to that architecture ... )
> C expects memory addresses to look like integers and for it to be easy
> to convert between the two. If your architecture uses a pair of numbers
> or an even more complicated scheme then you won't be able to have a
> proper C but only one or more less than satisfactory approximations.

  Just because a ton of C code was written with that assumption doesn't make
it actually true.  A lot of C code assumes a byte-addressable, two's
compliment architecture but C (technically Standard C) doesn't require
either and goes out of its way to warn programmers *not* to make such

  The C Standard is very careful to note what is and isn't allowed with
respect to memory and much of what is done is technically illegal and
anything can happen.  

> The iAPX432 and 286 used logical segments. So there is no sequence of
> increment or decrement operations that will get you from a byte in one
> segment to a byte in another segment. For the 8086 that is sometimes
> true but can be false if the "segments" (they should really be called
> relocation registers instead) overlap.


	p1 = malloc(10);
	p2 = malloc(65536);

  There is no legal way to increment *or* decrement one to get to the other. 
It's not even guarenteed that p2 > p1.

> Another feature of C is that it doesn't take types too seriously when
> dealing with pointers. This means that a pointer to an integer array and
> a pointer to a function can be mixed up in some ways. 

  This is an issue, but mostly with K&R C (which had even less type checking
than ANSI C).  These days a compiler will warn if you try to pass a function
even with *no* cranking of the warning levels.

  Yes, C has issues, but please try not to make ones up for modern C.

  But if the point was, back in the day (1982) that this *was* an issue,
then yes, I would agree (to a point).  But I would bet that had the 432 been
successful, a C compiler would have been produced for it.

> If an application
> has been written like that then the best way to run it on an
> architectures like these Intel ones is to set all segments to the same
> memory region and never change them during execution. This is sometimes
> called the "tiny memory model".
> Most applications keep function pointers separate from other kinds of
> pointers and in this case you can set the code segment to a different
> area than the data and stack for a total of 128KB of memory (compared to
> just 64KB for the tiny memory model).
> The table in the page I indicated shows options that can use even more
> memory, but that requires non standard C stuff like "far pointers" and I
> don't consider the result to be actually C since you can't move
> programer to and from machines like the VAX or 68000 without rewriting
> them.

  "Far" pointers exist for MS-DOS to support mixed memory-model programming,
where library A wants object larger than 64K while library B doesn't care
either way.  Yes it's a mess but that's pragmatism for you.

  But there's still code out there with such remnents, like zlib.  For

ZEXTERN int ZEXPORT inflateBackInit OF((z_stream FAR *strm, int windowBits,
                                        unsigned char FAR *window));

ZEXTERN, XEXPORT, OF and FAR exist to support different C compilers over the
ages.  And of those, XEXTERN and XEXPORT are for Windows, FAR for MS-DOS (see a
pattern here?) and OF for pre-ANSI C compilers.


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