MAD (programming language)

MAD (programming language)
Paradigm(s) Imperative
Appeared in 1959
Developer Galler, Arden, and Graham
Major implementations IBM 704, IBM 7090, UNIVAC 1108, Philco 210-211, IBM S/360, and IBM S/370
Dialects MAD, MAD/I, GOM
Influenced by IAL, ALGOL 58
OS UMES, MTS, CTSS, others

MAD (Michigan Algorithm Decoder) is a programming language and compiler for the IBM 704 and later the IBM 709, IBM 7090, UNIVAC 1107, UNIVAC 1108, Philco 210-211, and eventually the IBM S/370 mainframe computers. Developed in 1959 at the University of Michigan by Bernard Galler, Bruce Arden and Robert M. Graham, MAD is a variant of the International Algebraic Language (IAL). It was widely used to teach programming at colleges and universities during the 1960s and played a minor role in the development of CTSS, Multics, and the Michigan Terminal System computer operating systems.[1]

The archives at the Bentley Historical Library of the University of Michigan contain reference materials on the development of MAD and MAD/I, including three linear feet of printouts with hand-written notations and original printed manuals.[2][3][4][5]



There are three MAD compilers:

  1. Original MAD, the compiler developed in 1959 at the University of Michigan for the IBM 704 and later the IBM 709 and IBM 7090 mainframe computers running the University of Michigan Executive System (UMES) and the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) operating systems.[6][7] In the mid-1960s MAD was ported at the University of Maryland to the UNIVAC 1108.[8] Versions of MAD were also available for the Philco 210-211 and UNIVAC 1107.[8]
  2. MAD/I, an "extended" version of MAD for the IBM S/360 series of computers running under the Michigan Terminal System (MTS). Work on the new compiler started in 1965 as part of the ARPA sponsored CONCOMP project at the University of Michigan. As work progressed it gradually became clear that MAD/I was a new language independent of the original 7090 version of MAD.[9]
  3. GOM (Good Old MAD), a reimplementation of the original 7090 MAD for the IBM S/370 series of mainframe computers running the Michigan Terminal System (MTS). GOM was created in the early 1980s by Don Boettner at the University of Michigan Computing Center.[10][11]


MAD is a variant of the International Algebraic Language (IAL). IAL is the original name for what eventually became ALGOL 58. While MAD was motivated by ALGOL 58, it does not resemble ALGOL 58 in any significant way.[12][13]

Programs written in MAD included MAIL,[14] RUNOFF, one of the first text processing systems, and several other utilities all under Compatible Time-Sharing System(CTSS).[15] Work was done on a design for a MAD compiler for Multics, but it was never implemented.[16]

The following is an interesting quote from An Interview with Brian Kernighan[17] when he was asked "What hooked you on programming?":

I think that the most fun I had programming was a summer job at Project MAC at MIT in the summer of 1966, where I worked on a program that created a job tape for the brand new GE 645 in the earliest days of Multics. I was writing in MAD, which was much easier and more pleasant than the FORTRAN and COBOL that I had written earlier, and I was using CTSS, the first time-sharing system, which was infinitely easier and more pleasant than punch cards.

MAD was quite fast compared to some of the other compilers of its day. Because a number of people were interested in using the FORTRAN language and yet wanted to obtain the speed of the MAD compiler, a system called MADTRAN (written in MAD) was developed. MADTRAN was simply a translator from FORTRAN to MAD, which then produced machine code. MADTRAN was distributed through SHARE.[12]

MAD/I has a syntactic structure similar to ALGOL 60 together with important features from the original MAD and from PL/I.[9] MAD/I was designed as an extensible language. It was available for use under MTS and provided many new ideas which made their way into other languages, but MAD/I compilations were slow and MAD/I never extended itself into widespread use when compared to the original 7090 MAD.[11]

GOM is essentially the 7090 MAD language modified and extended for the 360/370 architecture with some judicious tailoring to better fit current programming practices and problems.[11] The MTS Message System was written in GOM.

MAD, MAD Magazine, and Alfred E. Neuman

Line printer output following a MAD compiler error on an IBM 704 computer at the University of Michigan, c. 1960

In a pre-release version of the original MAD, as a reference to MAD's namesake, MAD magazine, when a program contained too many compile time errors the compiler would print a full-page picture of Alfred E. Neuman using ASCII art. The caption read, "See this man about your program--He might want to publish it. He never worries--but from the looks of your program, you should."[8] This feature was not included in the final official version.[18]

And Bernie Galler remembers:

By the time we designed the language that we thought would be worth doing and for which we could do a compiler, we couldn't call it Algol any more; it really was different. That's when we adopted the name MAD, for the Michigan Algorithm Decoder. We had some funny interaction with the Mad Magazine people, when we asked for permission to use the name MAD. In a very funny letter, they told us that they would take us to court and everything else, but ended the threat with a P.S. at the bottom - "Sure, go ahead." Unfortunately, that letter is lost.[15]

"Hello, world" example

The "hello, world" example program prints the string "Hello, world" to a terminal or screen display.

VECTOR VALUES HELLOW=$13h0Hello, world*$

The first character of the line is treated as logical carriage control, in this example the character zero which causes a double spaced line to be printed.

Or, if entering all of the keywords at your keypunch is too much work, you can use contractions and the compiler will expand them in the listing:

V'S HELLOW=$13h0Hello, world*$

Language elements

MAD and GOM, but not MAD/I, are composed of the following elements:[7][11][12]

Input format

MAD programs are a series of statements written on punched cards, generally one statement per card, although a statement can be continued to multiple cards. Columns 1-10 contains an optional statement label, comments or remarks are flagged using the letter "R" in column 11, and columns 73-80 are unused and could contain a sequence identifier. Spaces are not significant anywhere other than within character constants. For GOM input is free form with no sequence field and lines may be up to 255 characters long; lines that start with an asterisk (*) are comments; and lines that start with a plus-sign (+) are continuation lines.


Variable names, function names, and statement labels have the same form, a letter followed by zero to five letters or digits. Function names end with a period. All names can be subscripted (the name followed by parentheses, with multiple subscripts separated by commas). For GOM names may be up to 24 characters long and may include the underscore (_) character.

Few keywords in the language are reserved words since since most are longer than six letters or are surrounded by periods. There is a standard set of abbreviations which can be used to replace the longer words. These consist of the first and last letters of the keywords with an apostrophe between them, such as W'R for WHENEVER and D'N for DIMENSION.

Data types

MAD uses the term "mode" for its data types. Five basic modes are supported:

  • Integer written with or without a scale factor (1, +1, -1, 1K10, 1K) or as octal constants (to 7777777777777K);
  • Floating Point written with or without an exponent (0., 1.5, -0.05, +100.4, -4., .05E-2, -.05E2, 5E02, 5.E2);
  • Boolean (1B for true and 0B for false);
  • Statement Label, and
  • Function Name written as a name followed by a period (SQRT.).

The mode of a constant can be redefined by adding the character M followed by a single digit at the end of the constant, where 0 indicates floating point, 1 integer, 2 boolean, 3 function name, and 4 statement label.


Alphabetic or character constants are stored as integers and written using the dollar sign as a delimiter ($ABCDEF$) with double dollar-signs used to enter a true dollar sign ($$$.56$ is 56 cents). Strings longer than six characters are represented using arrays.

Arrays and matrices

  • There is no limit on the number of dimensions.
  • Negative and zero as well as floating-point subscripts are allowed.
  • Matrices are storied in consecutive memory locations in the order determined by varying the rightmost subscript first.
  • Matrices may be referenced using a subscript for each dimension, NAME(s1,s2,s3), or using a single subscript, NAME(s1).
  • Input-output lists, VECTOR VALUES statements, and some subroutines allow the use of block notation, which has the form A,...,B or A...B, which is a reference to the entire region from A to B. inclusive. In terms of a vector, A(1)...A(N) would be A(1), A(2), A(3), ..., A(N).
  • There are facilities that allow changing dimensions at run-time; permitting the programmer to vary the location of the initial element in an array within the overall block which has been set aside for the array; and allowing an arbitrary storage mapping to be specified.

Operator definition and redefinition

One of the most interesting features in MAD is the ability to extend the language by redefining existing operators, defining new operators, or defining new data types (modes). The definitions are made using MAD declaration statements and assembly language mnemonics included following the declaration up to the END pseudo-instruction that implement the operation.

  • DEFINE BINARY OPERATOR defined-op, PRECEDENCE rank existing-op MODE STRUCTURE mode-options
  • DEFINE UNARY OPERATOR defined-op, PRECEDENCE rank existing-op MODE STRUCTURE mode-options
  • MODE STRUCTURE mode-no = mode-no existing-op mode-no
  • MODE STRUCTURE mode-no = mode-no existing-op mode-no SAME SEQUENCE AS mode-no existing-op mode-no


  • rank is one of SAME AS, LOWER THAN, or HIGHER THAN; and
  • mode-options are the options that appear on the MODE STRUCTURE statement.

Three pre-defined packages of definitions (MATRIX, DOUBLE PRECISION, and COMPLEX) are available for inclusion in MAD source programs using the INCLUDE statement.

  • INCLUDE package

See also


  1. ^ Alt, Franz (1967). Advances in Computers. Academic Press. pp. 143. ISBN 0120121042. 
  2. ^ Technical Memos, University of Michigan Computing Center publications, 1965-1999
  3. ^ Technical Reports, University of Michigan Computing Center publications, 1965-1999
  4. ^ Topical File 1960-1986, University of Michigan Computing Center records, 1952-1996
  5. ^ MAD (Michigan Algorithm Decoder) 1960-1979, University of Michigan Computing Center records, 1952-1996
  6. ^ A User's Reference Manual For The Michigan Algorithm Decoder (MAD) For the IBM 7090, Digital Computer Laboratory, Graduate College, University of Illinois, 1962, 221 pages
  7. ^ a b The Michigan Algorithm Decoder (The MAD Manual), Bruce W. Arden, Revised Edition 1966
  8. ^ a b c UNIVAC and ALGOL by George Gray in Unisys History Newsletter, Volume 6, Number 2 (June 2002), Georgia Tech
  9. ^ a b The MAD/I Manual, Bolas, Springer, and Srodawa, CONCOMP Technical Report 32, 1970, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 194 pages
  10. ^ MTS Volume 2: Public File Descriptions, University of Michigan Computing Center, 1990, p. 14
  11. ^ a b c d GOM Manual, Don Boettner, University of Michigan Computing Center, Ann Arbor, June 1989
  12. ^ a b c Computer Languages - Principles and History, Sammet, Jean E., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall 1969, p. 205
  13. ^ In August 2010 when asked about Jean's Sammet's statement that "MAD does not resemble ALGOL 58 in any significant way", Bruce Arden wrote: "Regarding Jean Sammet, she may have conflated the two versions of IAL (58 and 60). Unlike the later version, the 58 version said nothing about what words (or language) should be used to identify conditional and transfer statements, which led for parsing reasons to words like WHENEVER. Also there were some additional features in MAD that went beyond the 58 specs."
  14. ^ Documentation and Source for Early Electronic Mail and Messaging, Tom Van Vleck
  15. ^ a b "A Career Interview with Bernie Galler", Galler and Galler, pp 22-33, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 23(1) January 2001
  16. ^ Glossary of Multics acronyms and terms by Tom Van Vleck
  17. ^ An Interview with Brian Kernighan: Breeding Little Languages, by Allen Noren, 2009
  18. ^ Shneiderman, Ben; Plaisant, Catherine (2004-05-07). Designing the user interface (4th edition ed.). Addison Wesley. ISBN 978-0321197863. 


  • An Abbreviated description of the MAD compiler language, Fernando J. Corbató, Jerome H. Saltzer, Neil Barta, and Thomas N. Hastings, M.I.T. Computation Center Memorandum CC-213, June, 1963.
  • CLSYS, a program to facilitate the use of the MAD translator for large (class-size) batches, Jerome H. Saltzer, M.I.T. Computation Center Memorandum CC-204. February, 1963.
  • A Computer Primer for the Mad Language, Elliott Irving Organick, 1961.
  • Internal organization of the MAD translator, Arden, B. W., Galler, B. A. and Graham, R. M., pp. 28–31, CACM Volume 4 No. 1 (Jan 1961)
  • An Introduction To Algorithmic Methods Using The MAD Language, Alan B. Marcovitz and Earl J. Schweppe, Macmillan, 1966.
  • An Introduction to Digital Computers and the MAD Language, Brice Carnahan, University of Michigan.
  • The Language of Computers, Bernard A. Galler, University of Michigan, McGraw-Hill, 1962.
  • MAD at Michigan: its function & features, Arden, B. W., Galler, B. A., and Graham, R. M., pp27–28, Datamation, Volume 7 No. 12 (Dec 1961)

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