Dennis Ritchie

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Computing People

Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie (born September 9, 1941) is a computer scientist notable for his influence on ALTRAN, B, BCPL, C, Multics, and Unix. He received the Turing Award in 1983 and the National Medal of Technology in 1998. Ritchie is currently the head of Lucent Technologies' System Software Research Department.


Born in Bronxville, New York, Ritchie graduated from Harvard with degrees in physics and applied mathematics. In 1967, he began working at the Bell Labs' Computing Sciences Research Centre.

C and Unix

Ritchie is best known as the creator of the C programming language and a key developer of the Unix operating system, and as co-author of the definitive book on C, The C Programming Language (book), commonly referred to as K&R (in reference to the authors Kernighan and Ritchie).

Ken Thompson (left) with Dennis Ritchie (right)
Ken Thompson (left) with Dennis Ritchie (right)

Ritchie's invention of C and his role in the development of Unix alongside Ken Thompson, has placed him as an important pioneer of modern computing. The C language is still widely used today in application and operating system development and its influence is seen in modern programming languages such as C++ and C#. Unix has also been influential, establishing concepts and principles that are now well-established precepts of computing. The popular GNU/Linux operating system and its tools are descendants of Ritchie's work, and the Windows operating systems include Unix compatibility tools and C compilers for developers.

Ritchie has said that creating the C language "looked like a good thing to do", and that anyone else in the same place at the same time would have done the same thing, though Bell Labs colleague Bjarne Stroustrup, developer of C++ said that "If Dennis had decided to spend that decade on esoteric math, Unix would have been stillborn."

Following the success of Unix, Ritchie continued research into operating systems and programming languages, with contributions to the Plan 9 and Inferno operating systems, and the Limbo programming language.


Thompson, Ritchie and Clinton
Thompson, Ritchie and Clinton

Turing Award

In 1983, Ritchie and Ken Thompson jointly received the Turing Award for their development of generic operating systems theory and specifically for the implementation of the UNIX operating system. Ritchie's Turing Award lecture was titled, "Reflections on Software Research."

National Medal of Technology

On April 27, 1999, Thompson and Ritchie jointly received the 1998 National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton for co-inventing the UNIX operating system and the C programming language which together have led to enormous advances in computer hardware, software, and networking systems and stimulated growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age


Dennis Ritchie is often referred to as "dmr" (his Bell Labs email address) in various Usenet newsgroups (such as comp.lang.c).

Writings by Ritchie

  • The C Programming Language ( 1978 with Brian Kernighan see K&R)
  • Unix Programmer's Manual ( 1971)


  • "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party."
  • "Usenet is a strange place."
  • "UNIX is basically a simple operating system, but you have to be a genius to understand the simplicity."
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