FOO: what to know about this popular metasyntactic variable

Found in the language of computer programmers, Foo has a particular utility. What should we know about this metasyntactic variable?

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FOO: what is it?

Pronounced “crazy”, Foo is a term used by programmers. This word conveys the idea of a parameter that can be changed by a value. And this value can change depending on some information that programmers insert. It is also sometimes used to express other commands.

It is mainly used in code creation, to give programmers the opportunity to form unique names for each variable every time. Foo, being a substitutable parameter, helps programmers to work out their code without worrying about the name to be assigned.

Foo can therefore be understood as a metasyntactic variable. It allows to name variables or code elements.

FOO: origins and use in various fields

Foo can be found in computer programming but also in pseudocode and in the world of hackers. Its meaning can then vary according to its domains.

Until now, the exact origin of Foo has not been found. Some research suspects that its origin is probably German. The term is said to come from “FUBAR”, a German military colloquial term that meant ” something that doesn’t work “.

In the hacker world, it seems to have been introduced by the Tech Model Railroad Club MIT. Probably, during the illicit distribution of fraudulent switches that were later discarded.

Eric Raymond, the originator of the New Hacker Dictionarydetected the presence of the three letters F-O-O on several supports inside a comic strip entitled ” Smokey Stover “. A 1930s-1950s book by Bill Holman. F-O-O were either on the corner of boards, on the back of ads, on some license plates, etc.

Although popular, this metasyntactic variable varies across the globe. Among others, we can mention barney and fred used in England.

In programming

Programmers use Foo when they want to give a name, but don’t have time to dwell on it. They can then continue their programming work and rename the variable when a better name comes to mind.

It is therefore usually used when creating code. The syntax of the command can take the form of a mathematical equation. When a programmer defines a model to develop a new user command, he writes : command foo (arg1, arg2). Foo is the name assigned to the command, and arg1 and arg2 contain the information communicated with the command.

What about Bar?

Bar is also a metasyntactic variable widely used in programming. It is used as reserved space value. The only difference between Foo and Bar is the origin of the word. Bar is in fact an English term, which explains why some English programmers prefer to use Foo. The latter makes the work easier because it reduces confusion.

Foo and Bar among other metasyntactic variables

Although there are different metasyntactic variables, the most used are Foo and Bar. There may be at least two reasons for this.

First, Foo and Bar are popular. In general, programmers are more inclined towards Foo and Bar. Foo is very easy to get used to, even for programming beginners. In this regard, those who want to get started can learn about the essentials for getting started in programming. And to keep consistency and fluidity within professional environments, using Foo is convenient. Less popular metasyntactic variables could confuse programmers if they suddenly appeared in the codes.

Second, Foo and Bar are also easy to detect within codes. This allows for quick identification, and quick manual replacement by skimming and scanning of codes.

So these programming placeholders are not only familiar to most programmers but are also easy to spot. With the proliferation of programming languages, a top 10 most wanted by recruiters in this year 2022 has been released.

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