Re: How to change the length of "\t"?

James Kanze <>
Tue, 15 Jul 2008 14:15:19 -0700 (PDT)
On Jul 15, 9:50 pm, Jerry Coffin <> wrote:

In article <e9f92aeb-08bd-44bc-aeda->,

[ ... ]

Could you explain please. Starting with what use you see for

Well, almost none, quite frankly...

They don't occur in written text, or at least, you can't
distinguish between a tab character and so many spaces.
Historically, they ended up in files as a very primitive means
of reducing file size---and 8 apparently worked well there.

Not really -- 8 was used there, but never worked worth a darn, IMO.

"worked" is relative. When your files are copies of Fortran
programs, on cards, with a serial number starting in column 72,
it could reduce the file size by half.

Of course, it's no where near as effective as gzip.

(Note that the critical position in Fortran is 72. A multiple
of 8.)

...and therefore, also a multiple of 4.

Yes, but when skipping from the end of the actual text to this
position, you only need half as many tab characters if they are

Today, frankly, I don't see much use of them in files at
all, and find the best solution is to ban them. Except that
some old programs (like make) still require them. (And I agree
that for make, 4 would be better. But 8 is still quite usable.)

To be honest, I was thinking primarily in terms of people who
still use them for indenting code. For that purpose, I find
tab stops of 8 (regardless of whether implemented using actual
tab characters or by inserting spaces) to be quite unusable --
a pointless waste of space at best.

Tabs don't work here, regardless of the tab stop. What happens
when you look at the output of diff, or grep?

When I mostly wrote C, I'd have said it didn't matter much --
you should rarely have code nested deeply enough for it to
make much difference. In C++, however, quite a bit of code is
(for example) in a member function in a class in a namespace,
so you frequently end up with two or three levels of
indentation before you start writing code at all. Even a
perfectly reasonable level of indentation the code itself
(e.g. 2 deep) and your code is indented 40 spaces. Given that
I normally prefer to limit lines to no more than 72
characters, that leaves less than half the line available for
real use. More than once I've seen people shortening
identifiers to make things fit at that point, and IMO, that
fully merits being called "completely unusable".

Which raises the question: what should you indent, when. I
don't find myself indenting more in C++ than in C. If anything,
less, because C++ seems to lend itself to better encapsulation,
and smaller, simpler functions. But then, I don't indent for
the namespaces, and I don't define member functions in the

James Kanze (GABI Software)
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