Peter Naur (1928)


Naur is an astronomer turned computer scientist who has contributed to the format known as ‘Backus-Naur-Format’. BNF formally describes programming languages and technical specifications (e.g. RFC’s).

He was working on the ALGOL 60 programming language with Edsgar Dijkstra who was a close friend at the time. During the 1960s, their friendship gradually ended.

Naur raises important questions as to what programming is and whether our methodologies are supporting us. In his paper “Programming as Theory Building”[1], Naur suggests that:

“Programming properly should be regarded as an activity by which the programmers form or achieve a certain kind of insight, a theory, of the matters at hand. For a new programmer to come to possess an existing theory of a program it is insufficient that he or she has the opportunity to become familiar with the program text and other documentation.”

This challenges conventional thinking about documentation, design, process methodology.

Fun facts:

  • He does not like being associated with the Backus-Naur form (attributed to him by Donald Knuth) and says he would prefer it to be called the Backus Normal Form.[1]

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