* Highly compatible with Borland’s compilers, with some restrictions
* Application framework and IDEs are still in development
Stranger in a Strange Land: Free Pascal lives, breathes, and provides an alternative programming tool under Linux.
*Intel 386 or better
*8 MB or more
Hard Drive Space
*Approximately 10 MB needed for tools and documentation
The Linux landscape is awash in programming languages. There is Python and Perl, C and C++, Java, Forth, Eiffel, and dozens more, including Pascal. One notable entry is Free Pascal, a native-code compiler available for Linux, Windows, OS/2, and other platforms.
Why Use It?
Linux, much like Windows, is oriented towards the C programmer. Virtually all of the programming documentation about the system assumes you’re using a C compiler. However, legions of programmers prefer the Pascal language, particularly all those who have purchased and used one of Borland/Inprise’s compilers, starting with Turbo Pascal 1.0 in 1984, and continuing on to Delphi 5.0. In short, not everyone thinks C/C++ is the best tool for application development. Since Borland’s Pascal products are the de facto standard, it makes sense that Pascal compilers should attempt to be compatible; luckily Free Pascal succeeds in this regard to a large extent.
Free Pascal is indeed free, in both senses of the word, and you can download the complete source and documentation as well as pre-built binaries in RPM- or deb-format packages. We found installation from the RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) files (we used KDE’s kpackage tool) to be very straightforward.
Free Pascal’s outstanding documentation is a model of clarity and thoroughness compared to that of most open source development tools, and it appears to be modeled on the manuals supplied with Borland’s Pascal with Objects v7.0. The documentation includes four PDF files, which cover the Pascal language, the provided units (similar in concept to C’s library files), command-line options and compiler directives, and the provided utility programs.
Configuring Free Pascal is straightforward. Many of the compiler directives (switches embedded in your program’s source code) are the same as those used by Borland, although Free Pascal adds some of its own unique directives. Free Pascal also adds several command-line switches related to debugging support, compatibility with the various Borland compilers, optimization levels, and assembler format. Additionally, Free Pascal can make use of either local or global configuration files.
We tested Free Pascal’s compatibility with several of the example programs that were provided with Borland Pascal v7.0 and got mixed results. The examples that used inline assembly language refused to compile without modification, while those that were strictly Pascal code generally compiled and ran perfectly.
Any long-time user of Borland’s Pascal and Delphi products will be impressed with Free Pascal. It achieves a considerable level of compatibility with both Turbo Pascal and Delphi, although any units that use BGI (Borland Graphics Interface) may need to be examined closely, and Pascal source that has assembler routines will likely require attention as well. Still, Free Pascal is a solid compiler, and that’s good news for those of us who prefer Pascal to C.
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