Announcing spitbol, a New Project Hosted at Google Code

Robert B. K. Dewar and the other copyright holders have released MACRO SPITBOL under the GPLv3 license.

The project is hosted at Google Code: spitbol.

Here is the email exchange earlier today that resulted in the release of the code:


I found a copy of V37.MIN in my copy of MACRO SPITBOL from Mark Emmer that I acquired about 1991.

I have deleted the SPITBOL-specific parts, save GBCOL, and added the text and the COPYING flle needed to put the code under GPL v3.

Could you please review this edit? I’d like to use it as seed code for a new project, spitbol, to be hosted at Google Code.

I’d also like to release the translators and the runtime code, but it is more urgent to get the Minimal spec out.

If programming is indeed an art, then programming in assembly language is almost a lost art, and I hope that publishing the MINIMAL spec will help to revive interest in programming at the machine level. It might also increase sales of MACRO SPITBOL.

I suggest it would be an interesting challenge to translate MINIMAL into Python bytecode. See

Taken all in all, this is the most beautiful code I have ever seen. I think it is your best work.

It also had a profound influence on SETL, for if we had not developed the “T” series of translators (T10 for the DEC 10, T32 for the Dec VAX, and so forth) then I expect SETL would have died off in the late 1970’s. We did code generators from scratch for the CDC 6600, the IBM 370, and the PDP-11. We didn’t have the resources to do many more. At the least it would have taken a year or more to do each.

I also think that Python would not exist today were it not for the T series of translators. They kept SETL alive long enough so Guido von Rossum could learn about it from Lambert. Guido has publicly stated that Python was inspired by SETL.

Publishing the MINIMAL spec would also provide an example of how to revitalize Computer Science education, as discussed in the article you and Ed wrote:

thanks, dave

Mark Emmer, who has maintained SPITBOL for the last fifteen plus years (Thanks, Mark!), responded:

I have no interest in selling Macro SPITBOL. I really need to take down the antique web page. When someone does run me down, I just send them a copy for free.

I’d be happy to see ALL of SPITBOL GPL’d. It’s been on my to-do list for a long time, but I never seem to get around to it.

Robert B. K. Dewar, the principal author of MACRO SPITBOL, responded:

Absolutely, my only remaining reservations were about protecting your (Mark’s) interests, so if you are cool with GPL’ing everything, let’s do it!

It’s done. A zip file with the source code can be found here.

I expect more files will follow as those of us who did implementation work decades ago look through our musty archives.

To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, colorless green ideas do sometimes sleep furiously.


  1. Itsme
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 16:52 | Permalink | Reply

    I’m very happy that this has been released. I’ve owned a copy or Mark Emmers Spitbol since the late 1980’s and I have to say that is truly my favorite language of all times. It was always fun to play around with, and so capable of doing things that were so difficult in other languages. Today there are many languages that provide for powerful string manipulation, but it’s difficult to imagine anything any better than SPITBOL.

    Now that this has been released maybe a whole new generation of people could come to enjoy this language as much as I have.

    Many thanks to everyone involved.

  2. Burkhard Meißńer
    Posted July 13, 2010 at 02:06 | Permalink | Reply

    Dear Dave,

    how is the progress with SPITBOL in C / SPITBOL for Linux. Any help needed?


  3. David Murphy
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:45 | Permalink | Reply

    Where is it?

  4. Craig Wright
    Posted June 3, 2012 at 13:49 | Permalink | Reply

    What is the status on the implementation of Spitbol on Linux? Would love to see this happen if it has not already. Also this link ( gets a 404. Is there another place to get this?

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:00 | Permalink | Reply

      I took a break from programming, in the form of a ‘software sabbatical, in September 2009.

      I have recently resumed work on Spitbol for Linux. It is working but I need to add license headers and such. Look for the code at ‘
      It should be up within a week or so.


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