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The result of the effort to satisfy all of these objectives is a Standard arranged so that the required word set remains small. Thus ANS Forth can be provided for resource-constrained embedded systems. Words beyond those in the required word set are organized into a number of optional word sets and their extensions, enabling implementation of tailored systems that are Standard.
When judging relative merits, the members of the X3J14 Technical Committee were guided by the following goals (listed in alphabetic order):
The approach we have taken is to define a Core word set establishing a greatest lower bound for required system functionality and to provide a portfolio of optional word sets for special purposes. This simple approach parallels the fundamental nature of Forth as an extensible language, and thereby achieves a kind of meta-extensibility.
With this key, high-level compromise, regardless of the actual makeup of the individual word sets, a firm and workable framework is established for the long term. One may or may not agree that there should be a Locals word set, or that the word COMPILE, belongs in the Core Extensions word set. But at least there is a mechanism whereby such things can be included in a logical and orderly manner.
Several implications of this scheme of optional word sets are significant.
First, ANS Forth systems can continue to be implemented on a greater range of hardware than could be claimed by almost any other single language. Since only the Core word set is required, very limited hardware will be able to accommodate an ANS Forth implementation.
Second, a greater degree of portability of applications, and of programmers, is anticipated. The optional word sets standardize various functions (e.g., floating point) that were widely implemented before, but not with uniform definition names and methodologies, nor the same levels of completeness. With such words now standardized in the optional word sets, communications between programmers - verbally, via magazine or journal articles, etc. - will leap to a new level of facility, and the shareability of code and applications should rise dramatically.
Third, ANS Forth systems may be designed to offer the user the power to selectively, even dynamically, include or exclude one or more of the optional word sets or portions thereof. Also, lower-priced products may be offered for the user who needs the Core word set and not much more. Thus, virtually unlimited flexibility will be available to the user.
But these advantages have a price. The burden is on the user to decide what capabilities are desired, and to select product offerings accordingly, especially when portability of applications is important. We do not expect most implementors to attempt to provide all word sets, but rather to select those most valuable to their intended markets.
The basic requirement is that if the implementor claims to have a particular optional word set the entire required portion of that word set must be available. If the implementor wishes to offer only part of an optional word set, it is acceptable to say, for example, This system offers portions of the [named] word set, particularly if the selected or excluded words are itemized clearly.
Each optional word set will probably appeal to a particular constituency. For example, scientists performing complex mathematical analysis may place a higher value on the Floating-Point word set than programmers developing simple embedded controllers. As in the case of the core extensions, we expect implementors to offer those word sets they expect will be valued by their users.
Optional word sets may be offered in source form or otherwise factored so that the user may selectively load them.
The extensions to the optional word sets include words which are deemed less essential to performing the primary activity supported by the word set, though clearly relevant to it. As in the case of the Core Extensions, implementors may selectively add itemized subsets of a word set extension providing the labeling doesn't mislead the user into thinking incorrectly that all words are present.