What is the Forth programming language?

Forth, the computer language, was created for programming embedded and real-time applications. Today, it is available for developing applications on Windows, DOS, and variants of Unix that include macOS. Additionally, commercial-grade Forth cross compilers generate highly optimized code that runs on a variety of microprocessors and micro controllers, and prove themselves very capable in custom-hardware environments.

The Forth programming language delivers…

  • Interactive development
  • Compact, efficient code
  • Modular software design
  • Incremental compilation
  • Great performance

Forth is a high-level programming language, although most versions include an assembler. Forth-system providers often include software tools to help application code make good use of system resources.

Forth is interactive. It is conducive to developing modular, well-tested code in shorter development times. It can also result in very concise code. Some programmers are not accustomed to languages with such brevity, directness, and (apparent) simplicity.

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Experienced Forth programmers have reported that the language frees them to think in terms of the solution instead of the tool. They say it encourages original, elegant solutions without penalty and without undue constraint. Some have said knowing Forth makes them better programmers in other languages.

So, What is Forth?

Forth has a reputation for rapid development, lean code, and superb performance. Professionals use standard systems like SwiftForth to create commercial applications for modern operating systems. And Forth is ideal as an embedded systems development environment like SwiftX.

Authoritative Forth books: For programmers*, the Forth Programmer’s Handbook is the de facto reference manual, and Forth Application Techniques provides structured, app-building examples.

The Forth programming language has evolved from its grass-roots beginnings. Looking for the full story? See our reprint from ACM SIGPLAN’s History of Programming Languages:

 The Evolution of Forth

*Not a programmer, but interested in learning Forth programming? Start with the free book-length tutorial, Starting Forth. Use one of our free-for-evaluation SwiftForth systems to do the programming exercises.