UNIX Alphabet Soup

When reading historical UNIX documentation or source code, one is likely to come across various terms and acronyms that are now more or less completely forgotten, even among current developers of UNIX or UNIX-like systems. These acronyms might be the names of tools, directories, organizations, products, or documents.

Following is a random assortment of terms, with brief explanations where appropriate. Note that most acronyms still in current use are not listed.

  • 3B1—a Motorola 68010-based Unix PC marketed by AT&T running System V Release 2
  • 3B2—a Western Electric WE-32000 based 32-bit AT&T UNIX machine running System V Release 3 or 4
  • adb—Advanced Debugger, an early Berkeley debugger
  • BSD—Berkeley Software Distribution, a UNIX software distribution maintained at UC Berkeley
  • DWARF—a companion to ELF—advanced debugging information format developed in the early 1990s
  • CCS—C Compilation System
  • cfront—Early AT&T C++ to C translator
  • COFF—Common Object File Format, early AT&T System V portable object/executable format
  • CSDS—C Software Development Set
  • CSRG—Computer Systems Research Group, UC Berkeley department responsible for BSD development
  • dbx—an early Berkeley-developed symbolic debugger
  • DWB—Documenter’s WorkBench (AT&T’s text formatting system)
  • ELF—Extensible Linking Format, a successor to COFF developed for SVR4
  • PCC—Portable C Compiler, originally written by S.C. Johnson
  • PRM—Programmer’s Reference Manual, programmer man pages
  • PSD—Programmer’s Supplementary Documents
  • RATFOR—Rational Fortran, an early preprocessor for the Fortran language
  • RFS—Remote File System, AT&T’s networked file system
  • SCDE—Standard C Development Environment
  • sdb—Symbolic Debugger, early AT&T C/Fortran debugger
  • SCCS—Source Code Control System
  • SGS—Software Generation System—assembler, compiler, linker, lex, yacc, and assorted development tools
  • SMM—System Manager’s Manual, documentation for UNIX administrators
  • spl—Set Priority Level, an early interrupt priority management mechanism
  • stabs—Symbol Tables, an early debugging information format
  • SVID—System V Interface Definition, a definition of the System V API
  • SVR4—System V Release 4, the “classic” commercial UNIX of the early 1990s developed by USL and Sun Microsystems
  • SysV—System V, the successor of AT&T’s System III
  • UCB—University of California in Berkeley
  • URM—User’s Reference Manual, user man pages
  • USD—User’s Supplementary Documents
  • USL—UNIX System Laboratories, an AT&T subsidiary responsible for UNIX development (1989)
  • UTS—Unix Timesharing System, a designation of the OS kernel of AT&T UNIX and its derivatives

This list is by no means complete.

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3 Responses to UNIX Alphabet Soup

  1. Dan says:

    Aren’t ELF and BSD still in use today?

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    Yes (and so is DWARF), but ‘BSD’ effectively lost its original meaning and ‘ELF’ slightly changed what it stands for since the old SVR4 days.

  3. Harald Arnesen says:

    At least a dozen of them are still relatively commonly used

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