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3. What is GNU Fortran?

GNU Fortran, or g77, is designed initially as a free replacement for, or alternative to, the UNIX f77 command. (Similarly, gcc is designed as a replacement for the UNIX cc command.)

g77 also is designed to fit in well with the other fine GNU compilers and tools.

Sometimes these design goals conflict--in such cases, resolution often is made in favor of fitting in well with Project GNU. These cases are usually identified in the appropriate sections of this manual.

As compilers, g77, gcc, and f77 share the following characteristics:

How these actions are performed is generally under the control of the user. Using command-line options, the user can specify how persnickety the compiler is to be regarding the program (whether to diagnose questionable usage of the language), how much time to spend making the generated machine code run faster, and so on.

g77 consists of several components:

gcc is often thought of as "the C compiler" only, but it does more than that. Based on command-line options and the names given for files on the command line, gcc determines which actions to perform, including preprocessing, compiling (in a variety of possible languages), assembling, and linking.

For example, the command `gcc foo.c' drives the file `foo.c' through the preprocessor cpp, then the C compiler (internally named cc1), then the assembler (usually as), then the linker (ld), producing an executable program named `a.out' (on UNIX systems).

As another example, the command `gcc foo.cc' would do much the same as `gcc foo.c', but instead of using the C compiler named cc1, gcc would use the C++ compiler (named cc1plus).

In a GNU Fortran installation, gcc recognizes Fortran source files by name just like it does C and C++ source files. It knows to use the Fortran compiler named f771, instead of cc1 or cc1plus, to compile Fortran files.

Non-Fortran-related operation of gcc is generally unaffected by installing the GNU Fortran version of gcc. However, without the installed version of gcc being the GNU Fortran version, gcc will not be able to compile and link Fortran programs--and since g77 uses gcc to do most of the actual work, neither will g77!

The g77 command is essentially just a front-end for the gcc command. Fortran users will normally use g77 instead of gcc, because g77 knows how to specify the libraries needed to link with Fortran programs (libg2c and lm). g77 can still compile and link programs and source files written in other languages, just like gcc.

The command `g77 -v' is a quick way to display lots of version information for the various programs used to compile a typical preprocessed Fortran source file--this produces much more output than `gcc -v' currently does. (If it produces an error message near the end of the output--diagnostics from the linker, usually ld---you might have an out-of-date libf2c that improperly handles complex arithmetic.) In the output of this command, the line beginning `GNU Fortran Front End' identifies the version number of GNU Fortran; immediately preceding that line is a line identifying the version of gcc with which that version of g77 was built.

The libf2c library is distributed with GNU Fortran for the convenience of its users, but is not part of GNU Fortran. It contains the procedures needed by Fortran programs while they are running.

For example, while code generated by g77 is likely to do additions, subtractions, and multiplications in line---in the actual compiled code--it is not likely to do trigonometric functions this way.

Instead, operations like trigonometric functions are compiled by the f771 compiler (invoked by g77 when compiling Fortran code) into machine code that, when run, calls on functions in libg2c, so libg2c must be linked with almost every useful program having any component compiled by GNU Fortran. (As mentioned above, the g77 command takes care of all this for you.)

The f771 program represents most of what is unique to GNU Fortran. While much of the libg2c component comes from the libf2c component of f2c, a free Fortran-to-C converter distributed by Bellcore (AT&T), plus libU77, provided by Dave Love, and the g77 command is just a small front-end to gcc, f771 is a combination of two rather large chunks of code.

One chunk is the so-called GNU Back End, or GBE, which knows how to generate fast code for a wide variety of processors. The same GBE is used by the C, C++, and Fortran compiler programs cc1, cc1plus, and f771, plus others. Often the GBE is referred to as the "gcc back end" or even just "gcc"---in this manual, the term GBE is used whenever the distinction is important.

The other chunk of f771 is the majority of what is unique about GNU Fortran--the code that knows how to interpret Fortran programs to determine what they are intending to do, and then communicate that knowledge to the GBE for actual compilation of those programs. This chunk is called the Fortran Front End (FFE). The cc1 and cc1plus programs have their own front ends, for the C and C++ languages, respectively. These fronts ends are responsible for diagnosing incorrect usage of their respective languages by the programs the process, and are responsible for most of the warnings about questionable constructs as well. (The GBE handles producing some warnings, like those concerning possible references to undefined variables.)

Because so much is shared among the compilers for various languages, much of the behavior and many of the user-selectable options for these compilers are similar. For example, diagnostics (error messages and warnings) are similar in appearance; command-line options like `-Wall' have generally similar effects; and the quality of generated code (in terms of speed and size) is roughly similar (since that work is done by the shared GBE).


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