Brian Kernighan Remembers the Origins of ‘grep’


This month saw the release of a fascinating oral history, in which 76-year-old  Brian Kernighan remembers the origins of the Unix command grep.

Kernighan is already a legend in the world of Unix — recognized as the man who coined the term Unix back in 1970. His last initial also became the “k” in awk — and the “K” when people cite the iconic 1978 “K&R book” about C programming. The original Unix Programmer’s Manual calls Kernighan an “expositor par excellence,” and since 2000 he’s been a computer science professor at Princeton University — after 30 years at the historic Computing Science Research Center at Bell Laboratories.

In new interviews with the YouTube channel Computerphile, Kernighan has been sharing some memories

Birth of a Utility

The original Unix Programmer’s Manual calls grep one of “the more memorable mini-revolutions” that Unix experienced, saying it irrevocably ingrained the “tools” outlook into Unix. “Already visible in utilities such as wccat, and uniq, the stream-transformation model was deliberately followed in the design of later programs such as trm4sed, and a flurry of language preprocessors.” grep, of course, is used when searching for text patterns — whether that text is coming from input files or from “piped” text (output from another command).

Read more at The New Stack