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What is Tcl?

Tool Command Language (Tcl) is an open source programming language. Originally designed as an embeddable command language, it has since evolved into a versatile scripting and application development language used by companies around the world.

Sometimes, website owners need support for more than just the standard suite of applications, plug-ins and scripts provided by their host. While many are content to purchase and install third-party applications to meet their needs, those with the know-how and a desire to keep their expenditures low will code their own applications, extensions and scripts in open source languages.

History

Tcl was developed in 1988 by John Ousterhout. His goal was to create a language that addressed what he perceived to be weaknesses in existing command line languages. To address these shortcomings, three primary goals were established:

  • "The language must be extensible: it must be very easy for each application to add its own features to the basic features of the language, and the application-specific features should appear natural, as if they had been designed into the language from the start."
  • "The language must be very simple and generic, so that it can work easily with many different applications and so that it doesn't restrict the features that applications can provide."
  • "Since most of the interesting functionality will come from the application, the primary purpose of the language is to integrate or 'glue together' the extensions. Thus the language must have good facilities for integration."

In time, the ability to use extensions to expand Tcl was added. This also allowed Tcl to gain object-oriented syntax.

Where It Shines

Because of Tcl's simplicity, most individuals with previous programming experience should be able to pick up Tcl and be writing programs within a few hours.

Tk, the graphical user interface (GUI) kit that Tcl uses, makes it possible to create truly cross-platform applications that run unchanged on Mac OS X, Windows, Linux and more.

Tcl is a popular choice for those looking to build extensive applications, develop a custom GUI for their site, or write scripts to handle complex, but oft-repeated, database access and management tasks. In addition, in harmony with its intended goal, the language embeds well within other languages, making it a versatile add-on for scripting specific applications and server management tasks. It can even be used to code an entire Web server environment from scratch; Internet giant America Online depends on Tcl as the backbone of its open source Web server, AOLServer.

The Tcl language is also used by companies as varied as Pixar, Hewlett-Packard and BMW to create scripts, applications and GUIs. It currently runs NBC's control system 24x7. On the one hand, it has been instrumental in programming the Hubble Telescope. On the other hand, it helps control Tivo digital video recorders. It’s even been used on the International Space Station to control both experiments onboard the station and the station itself from mission control.

This small sampling of companies and products that rely on Tcl helps demonstrate its wide array of uses and applications.

Pricing and Availability

Given its extensive OS compatibility, Tcl should be supported by almost any hosting provider, but always check with your host before downloading and installing it onto your Web server.

And because it’s open source and has high compatibility with all major programming languages (including Perl, Ruby on Rails, C and more), it shouldn’t add a penny to your monthly hosting costs, but be aware applications you create may require additional resources (including database access, content management, etc.) that might necessitate a new plan tier or additional fees once installed.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Free, BSD-style license
  • Cross-platform development
  • Widespread use

Cons:

  • None

Points to Remember

If you're looking for a powerful command language that is highly embeddable and truly cross-platform, you'll be hard pressed to find a superior alternative to Tcl.

With its easy learning curve and powerful features, give it a try and see why many have referred to Tcl as the "best-kept secret in the software industry."

TCL Frequently Asked Questions

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