table of contents


2016-11-05, post № 146

brainfuck, programming, Python, #esoteric, #interpreter, #minimalism

Usually, programming languages are designed to be efficient, understandable and usable. Their concepts are well thought-out, giving the programmer powerful tools to create their application.
Esoteric programming languages have a slightly different aim. Instead of focusing on the product, they focus on the programmer’s journey and try new approaches to building a program.
One well-known esoteric programming language is Urban Müller’s brainfuck. It is a Turing-complete programming language — meaning that it could with infinite memory do what a Turing machine can do —, which practices extreme minimalism. The language knows of only eight characters (<>+-[].,).
The language’s usage is very similar to a Turing machine. Starting the program, the pointer is at cell zero and can be moved left (<) or right (>) by one cell.
The cells’ values are all starting at 𝟢, but can be either increased (+) or decreased (-) by one. Because the cells can only store one unsigned byte, adding one to 𝟤𝟧𝟧 yields in 𝟢 and subtracting one from 𝟢 yields in 𝟤𝟧𝟧.
Also, a loop is possible by using square brackets. An open square bracket ([) starts a loop and a closed square bracket (]) ends a loop. When the end of a loop is reached, the interpreter will jump back to its start if and only if the currently selected cell’s value is 𝟢. [1]
The only way to communicate with the user is to print the currently selected cell’s ASCII character to the screen (.) and get a user input which will be stored in the currently selected cell as its ASCII value (,).

Because of its minimalistic design, writing an interpreter is not particularly hard. Listed below is the Python code of my interpreter, which I used to execute my own brainfuck “Hello World.” program (𝟣𝟣𝟪 characters).
Online interpreters include for example bf.doleczek.pl and sange.fi.

Useful Wikipedia articles include Esoteric Programming Language, Brainfuck and Turing Machine.

$ python brainfuck.py
Hello World.
Source code: brainfuck.py


  1. [2020-07-21] One may note that a loop is also skipped if the current cell’s value is 𝟢. This feature was initially overlooked by me but eventually added.