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© April 2010 Anthony Lawrence

The Art of Assembly Language - 2d Edition

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  • The Art of Assembly Language - 2d Edition
  • Randall Hyde
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This is why I never get anything done. I had my whole week carefully laid out in front of me and then No Starch Press sent me a review copy of Randall Hyde's Art of Assembly Language (2d Edition).

I have no reason in the world to write anything in assembler. I haven't written anything in assembler in many, many years and I can't imagine that any circumstance would arise that would require me to dust off those skills. Assembly language is simply not important for anything I do now.

But I love it.

I've mentioned that love and HLA here previously (see HLA - The High Level Assembly Programming Language from 2005). In that post, I noted that it's the level of detail that captivates, along with the mental challenge. Writing in AL can be hard, but there's also a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I love it.

First things first. There is an immediate error in the book where it tells you how to download HLA. The links are wrong; what worked for me was https://web.mac.com/randyhyde/HighLevelAsm/index.html. There you can download binaries for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Free BSD. Under "Extras" you can also download the sample code from the book to save you some typing.

With that done, I dove right in. As I said, it's been a long, long time since I wrote an assembly language program for any real reason. I've forgotten a lot - I'm really not far from someone who never knew anything about this at all.

The beauty of this book and HLA is that the HLA compiler insulates the beginner from the drudgery and trickery of getting started from zero knowledge. Using HLA, you can actually start writing programs in a few minutes. The author explains that his intent is not that you continue using HLA forever - as you learn, you'll start dropping the HLA crutches and using real assembly code. HLA is a leaning tool, not a language you'll learn and use for years.

So you start out with a "Hello, World" program. With HLA assisting, that's very readable code:

program HelloWorld;
#include( "stdlib.hhf" )
begin HelloWorld;
    stdout.put( "Hello, World of Assembly Language", nl );
end HelloWorld;

There's not a single assembly language instruction there, and that's exactly the point: if he did start off with straight assembly, most newbies would be confused and bewildered - it would take many pages to explain what the code meant. The student is freed to experiment with real code but can use HLA constructs to handle to more difficult tasks like input and output.

I confess that's not how I learned. Almost all of my programs were simply hooked into higher level C code - it was the C code that provided the comfort routines like printf and did all the other heavy lifting. I also did some direct .COM programs on early Windows machines, but those didn't need any user interface. I think this HLA approach has a lot going for it.

For an experienced programmer, there is a lot of stuff you can skip right over. In fact, if you just want a refresher, you could probably just d/l the HLA and the examples and skip the book. But it never hurts to review, right?

Tony Lawrence 2009-05-03 Rating: 4.0

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