In March 2002 the Fortran Specialist Group submitted a bid to the BCS Specialist Group Development Fund for a project “To support a continued UK contribution to the development of the ISO Fortran standard, Fortran 2000, and to allow the project to be completed to schedule”.
The supporting case was:
Development of the Fortran 90 language was a major intellectual achievement. It introduced modern programming concepts into the language, allowing much greater power and expressiveness, whilst retaining compatibility with Fortran 77. It thus allowed ten- and even twenty-year-old programs to run unchanged since there was a surprisingly large user demand for this facility. Allowing for compatibility meant that there was considerable redundancy in the language but new programs, or new self-contained procedures, could be written using only the new, more elegant constructions.
Fortran 95 was a relatively minor extension, plugging a few of the more obvious gaps, and Fortran 2000, development of which is still underway, introduces new facilities gathered from a trawl of user requirements from world-wide.
Although Fortran has lost some market share to newer programming languages, it is still the major language used in science and engineering and indeed it is estimated that more people now use Fortran than at any time in its history. It is also notable that undergraduates take easily to programming concepts considered difficult when Fortran 90 was being developed.
Procedure for Development in ISO
The system of working for the past decade has been that the ISO Fortran Working Group (ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG5) specifies the requirements and delegates detailed development to 'development bodies', which are typically but not necessarily based in one country for practical reasons. The 'primary development body' so far has always been the US NCITS committee J3. Development bodies for other projects, such as for various technical reports and for the subsidiary parts of the standard, have been subsets of WG5 members, generally with project editors from the UK. About seven countries normally send participants to WG5 meetings. A few other countries, notably Russia and China, participate by e-mail.
When Fortran 2000 development started, it was envisaged that the first draft would be available in August 2000. ISO procedures for voting and revising then gave a target date for formal approval target date of November 2002. Later WG5 reluctantly acceded to a request from J3 to extend both target dates by two years.
Immediate Development Needs
Fortran 2000 is now entering a critical stage of development. All the individual proposals are being integrated into a complete document for consideration by WG5 at its meeting in August 2002.&nsbp; If approved, as is expected after possible minor revision, it will be distributed for the first round of comment by the general IT public. Their comments will be reviewed and, it is hoped, resolved in principle at a WG5 meeting in April 2003. In accordance with ISO Procedures the revised document will be again be reviewed, at a WG5 meeting in August 2003, and again issued for public comment. Allowing for possible further revision, the standard is expected to be published formally in December 2004.
The UK has played a major role in the development of Fortran in the past 25 years, its contribution being second only to that of the US. The current and immediate past convenors of WG5 are from the UK and at international meetings the US and UK have by far the largest delegations (typically 5 - 7). At various times during the development of Fortran 90 up to five British people regularly attended the quarterly meetings of the US committee. The differences in cultural emphasis have worked to the benefit of the language: the US has tended to give priority to speed and efficiency, Europeans have stressed the need for correctness and elegance of expression. Much of the detailed development work is done outside meetings and members typically spend many evenings and weekends as well as office time working on the project.
However in the short term the UK contribution is under threat for various reasons. This bid for funds is to enable the UK contribution to continue at this critical stage. One member, who has been a member of the US committee and editor of one of the parts of the standard, has been forced to take early retirement due to ill health and no longer has funding to attend WG5 meetings. Another, the long time BSI Fortran convenor and only ever-present at WG5 meetings, is due to retire this year and will no longer have funding from his employer. A third stalwart member, and also editor of one of the ISO Fortran Technical Reports, is threatened by withdrawal of support by his employer following a change of management. Two others have withdrawn following major changes in career.
We wish to apply for the first three people referenced above to attend each of the two WG5 meetings on 2003 in order that the Fortran 2000 standard may be completed to schedule and with the UK contribution and emphasis included. The meetings are in Las Vegas on 30 March to 4 April 2003 and in Dresden on 28 July to 1 August 2003. Estimating travel and expenses at £1200 and £800 respectively would give a total cost of £6000.
Further, for the UK to participate at all in ISO Fortran activities, it is necessary for the language to be represented on the appropriate committee in BSI, viz IST/5. BSI started charging members directly for participation in IST/5 in January 2000, since when the convenor's employer has paid the fee. As the convenor is retiring a new source of funding is sought. The fee varies from year to year but is of the order of £200, inc VAT.
Somewhat to our surprise, the project was approved and funded in full, with the news coming shortly after the FSG AGM in May 2002. As a result of this, and with some funds available in the budget for the Group HQ allocation, the Group committee decided to fund one person to go to the August 2002 WG5 meeting.
The following Progress Report was submitted to the BCS Specialist Groups Executive Committee in April 2003.
Objectives and Funding
The objective of this project is to support the continued UK contribution to the development of the ISO Fortran standard, Fortran 2000, and to allow the ISO project to be completed to schedule. The funding allows for the attendance of three UK Fortran experts at each of the two ISO Fortran Working Group, SC22/WG5, meetings being held in 2003, plus the membership fee for 2003 for the BSI Programming Languages Committee, IST/5, membership of which is a necessary condition for participation in ISO programming language activities.
Progress of ISO Project
Work on revising Fortran 95 started in 1997. The Committee Draft of Fortran 2000 was issued for ballot amongst ISO members in September 2002, with responses required within three months. The vote amongst members of ISO subcommittee SC22 (Programming Languages) was, as anticipated, overwhelmingly in favour; five countries, including the UK, submitted comments suggesting changes along with their votes.
The responses from member countries were processed at the joint ISO/US Fortran meeting in March 2003, which was the last point at which any major technical change could be made to the language.
The changes agreed at that meeting are being incorporated into a revised document, the Final Committee Draft, which is to be reviewed at the ISO Fortran meeting in July 2003. The Final Committee Draft, possibly with minor revision during the summer of 2003, is then subject to a longer ISO ballot and the results of this ballot are to be processed at a further joint ISO/US Fortran meeting in May 2004.
At this stage only minor non-technical changes can be made to the document if is to proceed according to schedule, although it will be important to be able to respond to any comments, positive or negative, in the country votes. Following this, ISO procedures require another, shorter, ballot to approve the new International Standard. If matters proceed according to plan, the new Standard should be approved in November or December 2004.
There is an ancillary ISO project to develop a Technical Report on enhanced module facilities for Fortran 2000. This was not progressed for lack of time at the March meeting but is likely to be given agenda time at the July and May meetings. Again, the UK is expected to have substantial input.
In the UK the BSI Fortran panel issued e-mail appeals for comments in September 2002, with a deadline of 29 November. Input to the panel included comments made, and in some cases voted upon, at the BCS Fortran Specialist Group Forum in London in October 2002. The panel then met to condense the comments, which varied enormously in detail, into a coherent submission.
The intention of the UK vote was to regularize, simplify or clarify the language in a number of places. As the schedule for the revision had already slipped, there was considerable sensitivity about submitting changes which might further delay production of the standard. It was decided that the formal vote should make only technical points and that corresponding detailed proposed edits to the Fortran 2000 draft should be submitted in papers for the joint ISO/US meeting in March 2003. It was also decided to group the UK comments into proposed technical changes, minor technical changes and simple edits, with respectively 11, 15 and 22 points in the three classes. Some of the latter were simply comments that particular features needed better description.
Between submission of the vote in December and the deadline for papers in March there was much activity to write material to amplify the formal UK vote. This resulted in 24 separate papers being submitted from the UK Fortran panel and UK individuals submitted a further 15 personal papers. This was out of a total of 66 papers considered at the meeting.
There was some scepticism amongst the UK delegation before the March meeting as to whether the international community would accept so many changes, even those offered with the best of intentions, at this stage of development. In the event the UK input succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Ten of the eleven proposed technical changes were accepted, as were thirteen of the fifteen minor technical changes and seventeen of the twenty-two minor edits; in several cases the changes were amended slightly following discussion at the meeting.
This UK success was no doubt due to the high quality of the input and to the advocacy of the UK delegates during the meeting. Of the five British people present, three were funded by the BCS Specialist Groups Development Fund Programme and two (the maximum allowed) by the DTI travel support fund administered by BSI. One could argue that the BCS funds were well invested.
BSI Fortran Convenor and
BCS Fortran Specialist Group Secretary/Treasurer
April 21, 2003
NOTE (October 2003)
Information on how you can comment on the Final Committee Draft of the revised Fortran standard is available here.