Brian Kernighan

"Kernighan" redirects here. For the Canadian journalist, see Robert Kirkland Kernighan. For the American politician, see Patricia Kernighan.
"bwk" redirects here. For the Köppen climate type, see Cold desert climate.
Brian Wilson Kernighan

Brian Kernighan at Bell Labs
(Photograph by Ben Lowe)
Born (1942-01-01) January 1, 1942[1]
Toronto, Ontario
Citizenship Canada
Nationality Canadian
Fields Computer science
Institutions Princeton University
Alma mater University of Toronto
Princeton University
Known for Unix, AWK, AMPL
The C Programming Language (book)

Brian Wilson Kernighan (/ˈkɜːrnhæn/; born January 1, 1942)[1] is a Canadian computer scientist who worked at Bell Labs alongside Unix creators Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie and contributed to the development of Unix. He is also coauthor of the AWK and AMPL programming languages. The "K" of K&R C and the "K" in AWK both stand for "Kernighan". Since 2000 Brian Kernighan has been a Professor at the Computer Science Department of Princeton University, where he is also the Undergraduate Department Representative.

Kernighan's name became widely known through co-authorship of the first book on the C programming language with Dennis Ritchie. Kernighan affirmed that he had no part in the design of the C language ("it's entirely Dennis Ritchie's work").[2] He authored many Unix programs, including ditroff.

In collaboration with Shen Lin he devised well-known heuristics for two NP-complete optimization problems: graph partitioning and the travelling salesman problem. (In a display of authorial equity, the former is usually called the Kernighan–Lin algorithm, while the latter is styled Lin–Kernighan.)

Kernighan was the software editor for Prentice Hall International. His "Software Tools" series spread the essence of "C/Unix thinking" with makeovers for BASIC, FORTRAN, and Pascal, and most notably his "Ratfor" (rational FORTRAN) was put in the public domain.

He has said that if stranded on an island with only one programming language it would have to be C.[3]

Kernighan coined the term Unix and helped popularize Thompson's Unix philosophy.[4] Kernighan is also known as a coiner of the expression "What You See Is All You Get" (WYSIAYG), which is a sarcastic variant of the original "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG). Kernighan's term is used to indicate that WYSIWYG systems might throw away information in a document that could be useful in other contexts.

Kernighan's original 1978 implementation of Hello, World! was sold at The Algorithm Auction, the world’s first auction of computer algorithms.[5]

Early life and education

Brian Kernighan speaks at a tribute to Dennis Ritchie in 2012 at Bell Labs.

Born in Toronto, Kernighan attended the University of Toronto between 1960 and 1964, earning his Bachelor's degree in engineering physics.[2] He received his PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton University, where he has held a professorship in the department of computer science since 2000. Each fall he teaches a course called "Computers in Our World", which introduces the fundamentals of computing to non-majors.

Summary of achievements



  1. 1 2 Lohr, Steve (31 October 2002). "To the Liberal Arts, He Adds Computer Science". The New York Times. Mr. Kernighan, 60, is a computer scientist
  2. 1 2 Dolya, Aleksey (29 July 2003). "Interview with Brian Kernighan". Linux Journal.
  3. Budiu, Mihai (July 2000). "An Interview with Brian Kernighan".
  4. 1 2 3 4 McIlroy, M. D. (1987). A Research Unix reader: annotated excerpts from the Programmer's Manual, 1971–1986 (PDF) (Technical report). CSTR. Bell Labs. 139.
  5. "Brian Kernighan – Hello World". Artsy. Artsy. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
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