Modernizing an established programming language to become more performant and user-friendly for scientific communities

Key facts

Investment Amount
Investment Year(s)
2022, 2023

The programming language Fortran is widely used, especially in the field of high-performance computing. It was originally created in the 1950s by IBM. Today, it is the standard for climate modeling and other large-scale computational models. Fortran is particularly well-established in scientific communities due to its reliability.

However, the language needs extensive reform to become more performant and user-friendly. An active and thriving community has rallied behind this effort and formulated a reform strategy in 2019. The Fortran Lang community has attracted new contributors and created new momentum for the Fortran language. Since its creation, hundreds of new contributors have joined the effort that is organized on the Fortran Lang Community website and forum.

The Fortran language is now under active development, partly due to funding from the Sovereign Tech Fund in 2022, allowing new developers to focus and contribute to the Fortran Package Manager fpm.

Why is this important?

Fortran continues to be used in scientific environments. There are many different use cases for Fortran, including climate research. Climate models are immensely data-rich simulations of a wide variety of climate-related components, such as the atmosphere and oceans. Understanding how they are related and mapping influencing factors requires extensive and complex calculations with huge outputs. Fortran is ideal for these kinds of intensive computing tasks due to its reliability and usefulness in modeling contexts.

However, the language is complex to use and out-of-date. Fortran needs modernizing, especially when it comes to usability. Climate research – and scientific communities as a whole – would greatly benefit from a version of Fortran that is easier to use and has the tooling that is expected from modern programming environments.

The climate crisis is acute. Open technologies can make a significant and critical contribution by helping us understand and assess what impact changing conditions will have on people and nature.

What are we funding?

As one of the Sovereign Tech Fund’s pilot projects (October 2022 through May 2023), the following work was commissioned: Fortran Package Manager was reworked and improved to create better usability. The Fortran compiler LFortran, which greatly simplifies developing with Fortran, was also overhauled to translate all Fortran features from AST to ASR.

In 2023 and 2024, the Fortran community will continue to improve the Fortran Package Manager, including security related improvements on the registry backend. Additional improvements will be made to the Fortran Standard Library, the Fortran Language Server and the Fortran Compiler, all of which are important infrastructure for the Fortran programming language.

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