Let’s alpha appropriate off with a arguable claim: Forth is the hacker’s programming language. Coding in Forth is a little bit like autograph accumulation language, interactively, for a aberrant CPU architectonics that doesn’t exist. Forth is a basic machine, an interpreted command-line, and a compiler all in one. And all of this is simple abundant that it’s calmly able of active in a few kilobytes of memory. Back your Forth cipher is right, it reads aloof like a natural-language book but accepting there involves a bit of addle solving.
Forth is what you’d get if Python slept with Accumulation Language: interactive, expressive, and afterwards syntactical baggage, but still actual abutting to the metal. Is it a high-level accent or a low-level language? Yes! Or rather, it’s the beeline aisle from one to the other. You can, and must, blink and blow anon into anamnesis in Forth, but you can additionally anatomy up a anatomy of higher-level cipher fast abundant that you won’t mind. In my opinion, this aggregate of alive coding and adjacency to the accouterments makes Forth abundant for exploring new microcontrollers or alive them into your projects. It’s a fun accent to address a accouterments absorption band in.
But Forth is additionally like a high-wire act; if C gives you abundant braiding to adhere yourself, Forth is a flamethrower ample with cobras. There is no blazon checking, no scope, and no break of abstracts and code. You can do abhorrent things like redefine 2 as a action that will acknowledgment seven, and consistently afterwards your algebraic won’t work. (But why would you?) You can calmly jump off into bad sections of anamnesis and blast the system. You will advance a acceptable brainy archetypal of what abstracts is on the assemblage at any accustomed time, or you will suffer. If you appetite a compiler to anguish about cipher assurance for you, go see Rust, Ada, or Java. You will not acquisition it here. Forth is about artlessness and flexibility.
Being simple and adjustable additionally agency actuality extensible. Almost annihilation is included with best Forth systems by default. If you like acquisitive appearance programming, for instance, Gforth comes with no beneath than three altered article frameworks, and you get to accept whichever apparel your botheration or your appearance best. You can adapt the Forth compiler or analyst itself, so if you appetite blazon checking, you can add it. Some Forth implementations are accounting with aloof twenty or thirty functions in built-in accumulation or C, and the blow is bootstrapped in Forth. Faster Forths are implemented absolutely in accumulation language, with some compile-time optimizations that accomplish it run about as fast as annihilation else, alike admitting it’s aggregate as you type, on the ambition microcontroller itself.
Forth is apparently not the accent you appetite to apprentice if you are designing an action cyberbanking backend. On the added hand, a cord of acerb LEDs active a physics simulation isn’t an “enterprise” anything. Forth is a hacker’s language, in both the acclamatory and the debasing senses. I’m not abiding that it’s activity to advice you get “real work” done at all, and you architect types ability appetite to airing abroad now. But if you appetite to abuse at the accent itself, or use it to advance your accouterments around, or aloof play, Forth is fantastic. The hacker in me thinks that’s a lot of fun, and it’s a abundant bout for abate microcontroller projects.
Forth is the simplest accent afterwards accumulation language. Forth is procedural in the acute — a Forth affairs is absolutely aloof a alternation of subroutines, alleged “words” in the Forth jargon. There’s no syntax, and all words are afar by a amplitude and are parsed larboard to right. With a few exceptions for compiling, all words run appropriate now so the Forth analyst doesn’t accept to attending advanced to the abutting word. run this code! is accurate Forth if you’ve already authentic the words run, this, and code! and it calls anniversary of the three words in the adjustment that you’d expect.
The aftereffect of this simple bureaucracy is that Forth uses the alleged Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). If the Forth analyst is activity to assassinate the chat appropriate now, it has to accept the two numbers that are activity to get added already on the stack. Otherwise, it would accept to delay for the abutting cardinal to appear forth afore it could accomplishment the addition. Apprehend that again, and let it bore in. It’s altered from what you’re acclimated to, and it’s important.
Any added acclimation or syntax is unnecessarily complicated. The way that you anticipate of as “natural” to address bottomward algebraic is crazy, in the faculty that the look-ahead attributes of the abettor requires either parentheses or an “order of operations” to be unambiguous. Attending at 2 3 * 4. There is annihilation accustomed about accepting 14 actuality at all — it’s the aftereffect of a bizarre syntax with complete rules. You accept to apprehend the accomplished “sentence” first, acquisition the *, bethink that it has antecedence over , appraise it first, and afresh go aback to the accession to accomplishment up, alike admitting is the additional chat in the sentence. A computer doesn’t appetite to apperceive about “order of operations”, it aloof wants to add two numbers, finer ones that are already sitting in ALU registers. Don’t accept me? Apprehend the apparatus code.
Forth, and RPN, address this as 2 3 4 * or 3 4 * 2 . Either way, the abettor works on whatever numbers are already available. If you don’t anticipate of this as actuality “reverse” or “polish” or alike a “notation”, you’ll be on the appropriate track. You’re artlessly autograph things bottomward in the adjustment in which they should be executed. (How crazy is that!?!)
I like to anticipate of RPN as the accretion agnate of mis en place; afore you alpha cooking, you get all your capacity lined up. This is the way Forth cipher works: get.broccoli chop.broccoli get.beef slice.beef get.oyster-sauce stir.fry Some elements are artlessly changeable — you could get and allotment the beef afore the broccoli — but the all-embracing adjustment is important to the procedure, and you absolutely don’t appetite to be activity aback to allotment the broccoli while the beef is in the wok. But this is absolutely what you’re accomplishing back you assert on autograph 3 4 instead of 3 4 .
New words are authentic and aggregate with a : to admission accumulation approach and a ; to exit. Compilation, such as it is, takes abode immediately. Beneath the hood, the Forth analyst is attractive up anniversary chat that you use in the analogue and artlessly stringing them together. One barring to this aphorism is the action name itself, as you’ll see now.
Compile your aboriginal Forth word: : seven 3 4 ;. It’s not actual useful, but it creates a chat alleged seven that will put a 3 and a 4 on the assemblage and afresh run the accession word. The “result” is that whatever you had on the assemblage before, you’ll accept a 7 on top of it now. An optimizing Forth compiler will aloof advance a 7 assimilate the stack.
All programming is about breaking complicated tasks bottomward into reasonable-sized chunks. What constitutes “reasonable” depends a bit on the language, a bit on the programmer’s own style, and a bit on the cultural zeitgeist. Executing a chat in Forth requires a lot beneath aerial than a action alarm in C, and afterward continued cipher logics can get bizarre alike for accomplished Forthers, so the analogue of Forth words tend to be acutely short, about one-liners including comments. You’ll be accumulation absolutely often.
The affection and body of Forth is the abstracts stack, afterward “the stack”. Forth is a stack-based language, and until you’ve coded in Forth for a while, you can’t acknowledge what this absolutely agency and how thoughts about the assemblage appear to boss your coding life. Forth words don’t booty arguments or acknowledgment values, instead they accomplish on whatever abstracts is on the assemblage back they’re called.
The assemblage is the best and affliction allotment of Forth. Back your assemblage capacity band up appropriate with the words that accomplish on them, the aftereffect is cipher of a adorableness and ability that can’t be beat. Back they misalign, you acquisition yourself apprehensive if the acquisitive association aren’t right, and that coupling abstracts with methods ability be a acceptable absorption afterwards all.
The gimmick in Forth programming is addition out what’s bare on the assemblage by one word, and authoritative abiding that the chat acclimated aloof advanced leaves that on the stack. In this sense, the Forth programmer defines words, but needs to anticipate in phrases, area the capacity of the assemblage alpha out abandoned and end that way again. This is like the way that C uses the assemblage aural a action scope, befitting the bounded variables alone until it’s done with the function, and afresh overwriting them.
As a accurate archetype of this chaining, brainstorm a word, gpio-set that sets a GPIO pin high. It will apparently charge both a anchorage and a pin cardinal to get the job done. A decidedly Forthy way to apparatus this is to ascertain a chat for anniversary pin on the allotment that you’re activity to use: : PA3 PORTA 3 ; Afresh you can ablaze the LED on pin A3 with PA3 gpio-set. In C, you’d aboriginal ascertain a anatomy that includes a anchorage and a pin number, afresh ascertain gpio-set to booty a anatomy of that type. In Forth, this is implicit: you accomplish abiding that the pin words advance a anchorage and pin cardinal assimilate the stack, and afresh that pin-handling words apprehend them. It’s not safe, but it’s simple.
The absolutely affliction allotment of Forth is assemblage manipulations. People usually alpha acquirements Forth by acquirements about the assemblage manipulations, and absolutely they are important, but they’re trivial. Words like swap, drop, and dup let you move items about on the stack, but too abounding “stack juggling” manipulations in a accustomed chat is apparently a assurance of bad Forth code, rather than good. You’ll use these words for sure, but that’s not area the bodies are buried.
Rather, the assemblage is area the complete basal bulk of abstracts wants to sit amid processing steps. The cardinal of items needs to be baby abundant to abstain active out of bound assemblage space, of course. But a additional acumen is that it’s artlessly adamantine to accumulate too abounding assemblage items beeline in your mind. As you get acclimated to Forth, the bulk of assemblage that you can internalize ability go up from three items to bristles or seven, but you’re activity to get abashed if you let the assemblage abound unpruned for long.
So Forth is a disaster. It’s a accent area you accept to administer the assemblage yourself, and the alone achievement of not accepting bent in a circuitous web of amaranthine assemblage bamboozlement is to accumulate things as simple as possible. Forth proponents would affirmation that this is additionally its greatest advantage — there’s consistently burden to accumulate things simple and aboveboard because accomplishing annihilation abroad will bury un-figure-outable bugs so abysmal into your cipher that you’ll go mad. I don’t apperceive if it’s Stockholm syndrome, whether I’m a minimalist at heart, or whether I like the challenge, but this is absolutely one of the affidavit that Forth is so neat.
Other programming languages acquiesce you to alter tens of variables because the compiler keeps clue of altered scopes for you, befitting clue of how abysmal anniversary (local) capricious is on the stack. Forth doesn’t. And that agency that you charge to anticipate about the adjustment in which things run. Forth armament you to internalize a bit of admission that an ideal compiler would do for you. This can end up in actual bound code, or in headaches. It depends on the programmer and the problem.
In my experience, simple syntax, computer-friendly ordering, and the consistent accent on accuracy and artlessness accomplish it absolutely decidedly accessible to get being appropriate in Forth.
But abundant abstract applesauce about Forth. If you appetite that, you can apprehend it abroad in copious quantities. (See the comment below.) There are three affidavit that Forth added absorbing to the accouterments hacker appropriate now than anytime before. The aboriginal acumen is that Forth was developed for the computers of the backward 1970s and aboriginal 1980s, and this akin of ability and composure is aloof about what you acquisition in every $3 microcontroller on the bazaar appropriate now. The added two affidavit are intertwined, but circumduct about one accurate Forth implementation.
There are a actor Forths, and anniversary one is a appropriate snowflake. We’ve covered Forth for the AVRs, Forth on ARMs, and best afresh Forth on an ESP8266. The antic goes that if you’ve apparent one Forth implementation, you’ve apparent one Forth implementation. But I anticipate that’s too contemptuous — Forth is as abundant a way of cerebration about the computer programming botheration as it is a accurate implementation. Once you apprentice one, you’ll be on acceptable basement to apprentice any other.
Anyway, a few years ago, a physics alum apprentice [Matthias Koch] wrote a Forth for the MSP430 because he bare a microcontroller to aggregate analog abstracts for an experiment. That’s “Mecrisp”. Later on, he bare added acceleration and re-wrote it for the ARM Cortex M ancestors of chips, and we got “Mecrisp-Stellaris“.
And that’s area things got awesome. [Jean-Claude Wippler], the “J” in JeeLabs, absitively that he was activity to apparatus his new arrangement of broadcast electrical and ecology sensors in Forth, at atomic beneath the hood. To do this, he bare a accouterments absorption layer. The aggregate of Mecrisp-Stellaris with the JeeLabs libraries is a amazing Forth ecosystem for a accomplished agglomeration of ARM microcontrollers, and it has all been developed aural the aftermost two years by a baby amount of anxious hackers. Combining the two provides a actual affable Forth microcontroller hacking experience, like a awe-inspiring alternate Arduino.
So if you appetite to chase forth bottomward a actual aberrant aerial hole, apprentice a bit about the absolute hacker’s programming language, or aloof fool around, break tuned. In a brace of weeks, I’ll broadcast a hands-on adviser to accepting started with Mecrisp-Stellaris on the STM32 ancestors ARM chips.
A acceptable minimum Mecrisp-Stellaris development ambiance is activity to abide of a bargain STM32F103 development board, a ST-Link v2 (or better) programmer for it, and a USB-TTL consecutive adapter. Chances are acceptable that you’ve got at atomic the closing blame about already. If so, you could be set up with the blow for about $10, €10, or £10 depending on area you live. “STM32F103” and “ST-link” should get you set up on eBay.
So adjustment some genitalia appropriate now. While you’re cat-and-mouse for delivery, assignment through this actual acceptable online tutorial. Run through that, and you’ll be set for abutting time.
If you appetite to go further, you can download a Forth for your desktop computer and alpha alive through some added introductions. Brodie’s “Starting FORTH” is the canonical Forth introduction, but it’s a bit dated (and feel chargeless to skip Chapter 3 on deejay access). If you adopt brevity over humor, analysis out J.V. Noble’s Beginner’s Adviser or the Gforth tutorial.
All images from Starting FORTH used by permission from FORTH, Inc. The originals are atramentous and white, rather than Hackaday aphotic charcoal and yellow, naturally.
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