Programming Languages for Distributed Computing Systems

H.E. Bal, J.G. Steiner, A.S. Tanenbaum

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


When distributed systems first appeared, they were programmed in traditional sequential languages, usually with the addition of a few library procedures for sending and receiving messages. As distributed applications became more commonplace and more sophisticated, this ad hoc approach became less satisfactory. Researchers all over the world began designing new programming languages specifically for implementing distributed applications. These languages and their history, their underlying principles, their design, and their use are the subject of this paper. We begin by giving our view of what a distributed system is, illustrating with examples to avoid confusion on this important and controversial point. We then describe the three main characteristics that distinguish distributed programming languages from traditional sequential languages, namely, how they deal with parallelism, communication, and partial failures. Finally, we discuss 15 representative distributed languages to give the flavor of each. These examples include languages based on message passing, rendezvous, remote procedure call, objects, and atomic transactions, as well as functional languages, logic languages, and distributed data structure languages. The paper concludes with a comprehensive bibliography listing over 200 papers on nearly 100 distributed programming languages. © 1989, ACM. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-322
Number of pages62
JournalACM Computing Surveys
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1989


  • Distributed data structures
  • distributed languages
  • distributed programming
  • functional programming
  • languages for distributed programming
  • languages for parallel programming
  • logic programming
  • object-oriented programming
  • parallel programming


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