Author Archives: daveshields

On Porting SPITBOL to the Raspberry Pi

In a recent e-mail Craig Wright asked:

Finally, I am thinking of attempting to port your Spitbol implementation so that it can be run on a Raspberry Pi 3. I assume there would be significant effort required. I would like your thoughts on this?

After resonding to Craig, I realized others might be interested, so here is what I said.


Thanks for the man page! I just checked it into spitbol/x32 and spitbol/x64

Re OSX, the latest is at github/spitbol/x64.

I’ll look at the problem with underline you mentioned.

Re port to PI 3.

Native port would be a lot of work.

Quick workaround would be use to use a DOS emulator to run the Windows version (spitbol/windows-nt) on the PI. A quick search for ‘run dos on PI ‘ turned up, for example

Run DOS on the Raspberry Pi – Use rpix86 to turn your Pi into a 1980s super-computer.

By the way, the Windows version is the same as the Unix version, except its only 32-bit, while we have 32 and 54 bit versions for x86-64. It also has some other features such as graphics support, ability to load assembly language functions, ability to load modules, that have yet to be ported to any other version.
Only problem is that it has upper case as the default, while Unix version uses lower case as the default.

I think the next step would be to port gobol to the PI and complete the port.

Gobol,, is a prototype with a MINIMAL interpreter written in Go.

The next step would be to flesh out the OSINT (OS interface) part of SPITBOL with one written in Go.

The current one is written in C. It was great stuff when it was put together in the 80’s, but I now find it a bit crufty, since it shows the wear and tear of having been adapted so it can be compiled on five or so different architectures (ancient MAC, Solaris, MIPS, Windows, …)

Once we have an OSINT written in GO, we would have a great teaching tool. By the way, the Go OSINT needn’t have all the capabilities of the C version, at least not at the start. Not much is needed to get simple file i/o, time, date, and such up and running.

SPITBOL for teaching is to me the main point. If people want performance they can always use the Windows or UNIX (Linux, OSX) versions.

Given OSINT in Go, then could then attempt translator to direct ARM code, getting rid of the Minimal interpreter written in go.

Note that the version with interpreter and OSINT both in Go could be ported anywhere Go runs, and that seems to be almost everywhere these days.

Thanks again for you interest in, and help on, SPITBOL


SPITBOL Man page now available

Craig Wright kindly submitted a Unix manual page, spitbol.1, that I have just added to the x32 and x64 repositories at

Thanks Craig!

Using VirtualBox to Run SPITBOL on OSX

I just resumed work on maintaining SPITBOL since the release of the OSX version in June 2015.

Turns out that was more than enough time for Apple to change the basic C-compiler/library tool chain so SPITBOL can no longer be built.

Though I will try to fix this as time permits, in the interim I suggest OSX users try VirtualBox, which supports running Linux on OSX. For example, I was able to install Linux Mint, my preferred Linux distort, on OSX in a short time, with no glitches. I was also able to compile the latest version of SPITBOL with fixes for DATE() and the elapsed time function (systm.c)


PS: I also tried Parallels Desktop for Mac. It works, but offers only limited graphics resolution for OSX. VirtualBox does a much better job, and it is free, while Parallels Desktop isn’t.




FRIBBLE wins two games against expert player

I just used the FRIBBLE program to play two games of words with friends against an expert player, my friend Phil.

Fribble won one by a score of 428 to 381, the other by one point, 477 to 476.

That FRIBBLE was able to score more than 400 points in each game is also good news.

Can you tell which moves were made by Fribble, and which were not?

FRIBBLE, a SPITBOL program to play word games such as Word With Friends, now available

The FRIBBLE project is pleased to announce its first release V17.1.30, available at Fribble Project.

FRIBBLE is written in SPITBOL, and uses a brute-force approach, trying all possible moves, to play WWWF.

Fribble can be run in three ways: to play against itself, to play against you, or to help you play a game with a foe, with Fribble finding your moves.

The code speaks for itself. Speaking for my self, I can say that I have never had more fun writing a program than I have had writing FRIBBLE.

FRIBBLE is also my first program inspired by an election.

I was an obsessive follower of the recent presidential election, spending more time than I care to admit on Twitter, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and so on.

After the election, looking for a more productive and entertaining form of amusement, I started playing Words With Friends, an online version of Scrabble. My foe was a fellow IBMer and friend who said he was quite good at WWF.

Indeed he is. We have played many games and I have yet to beat him. Often his score is 50% higher than mine.

Soon after I realized I was unlikely to ever win a game against him, I though of using my programming skills to see if I would write a program that could play WWF.

Fribble, representing just over two months of the most fun I have yet had writing a program, is the realization of that goal.

What has made the writing of Fribble such fun is the realization that it is as close to an ideal demonstration of SPITBOL as I have yet seen. Everyone knows about games such as Scrabble and WWF, and dealing with strings, words, lines of text, dictionaries, and all that such games involve, is the perfect grist for SPITBOL’s mill.

Though the program is largely done, I plan to continue work on it by using it as a way to teach SPITBOL as a first, or at least early, programming language.


SPITBOL Featured in “This 70-Year-Old Programmer Is Preserving an Ancient Coding Language on GitHub”

Jordan Pearson has written an article for Vice’s Motherboard site about my work on SPITBOL:
“This 70-Year-Old Programmer Is Preserving an Ancient Coding Language on GitHub”

It makes reference to an article about SPITBOL that appeared on Hacker News a couple of weeks ago: Hacker News.

SPITBOL 360 Now Available

The original implementation of SPITBOL, for the IBM 360, has been available in source form under the GPL license since 2001, from

The SPITBOL Project has just republished these files in a GIT repository:

With the publication of this version, the source for implementations of SPITBOL produced over a period of over forty years, for the IBM/360 mainframe, MS-DOS for 8088 through Pentium chips, unix for i386, and unix and osx for x64 (amd64), are all now available from

SPITBOL 88 Now Available in Binary and Source Form

Mark Emmer kindly provided the source for SPITBOL 88 soon after we posted SPITBOL 88 in binary form, so both forms are now available:


SPITBOL 88 Binary Distribution, executable binaries, along with documentation,  test and demonstration programs,


SPITBOL 88 Source Distribution, executable binaries, along with documentation,  test and demonstration programs, This version also includes all source files needed to build the system.

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