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The Nial Language



The Nial language was developed by Mike Jenkins and Trenchard More in a collaborative research project supported by Queen's University at Kingston and IBM Cambridge Scientific Center from 1979 to 1982. Mike's team at Queen's designed and implemented a portable C-based interpreter, Q'Nial that was initially released in 1983.

The language combines Trenchard More's theory of nested arrays with Mike's ideas on how to build an interactive programming system. The goal was to combine the strengths of APL array-based programming with implementation concepts borrowed from LISP, structured programming ideas from Algol, and functional programming concepts from FP. THe interpreter, originally developed for Unix, was small enough to run on the then newly released IBM PC and portable enough to execute on IBM mainframes computers.

Nial Systems limited licensed the interpreter from Queen's University and marketed it widely. Mike Jenkins continued to refine both the language and its implementation. In 2006 Mike released Version 6.3 as an open source project to encourage continued development of Nial.

In 2014 Mike started working with John Gibbons to develop a 64-bit version and to add capabilities that John needed for his work. The decision was made to target the open source for Unix-based platforms and release it on GitHub.

Version 7 Q'Nial

This version of Q'Nial is intended for people who want to integrate the functionality of Nial into projects that can take advantage of its powerful array computations for numeric, symbolic, or data analysis problems. The major changes are:

  • the capability to build both 32 and 64 bit versions
  • the removal of multi-platform support and a focus on Unix-based multiprocessor systems
  • a reduced role for workspace management
  • the addition of new capabilites to support mutiprocessor use
  • making interactive mode an explicit choice
  • facilitating the addition of new extensions

Currently Supported Platforms

  • Linux
  • Darwin/OSX
  • Raspbian
  • MSWindows

Getting the Source or an Executable Version

You can either use git to clone the repository or you can download a zipped version of the repository as provided on GitHub.

The repository is organised in a simple directory structure

Entry Contents The file you are currently reading
binaries QNial executables for supported versions
BuildCore The directory to build a core version of QNial
BuildNial The directory to build a package with various features How to contribute to the QNial project
docs Documentation for QNial and its implementation
examples Some examples of Nial code that uses the extensions
LICENSE The license for using the open source version of QNial7
NialLogo.jpg The Viking ship logo for QNial
Nialroot Directory holding a library of Nial code, and a tutorial

Setting up QNial7 for use on your computer

If your computer is one of the supported platforms then all you need to do is the following:

  1. Download the QNial7 repository to your $Home directory.

  2. Add the nial executable for your platform to your $PATH variable. For example, for OSX

    $ export PATH=$PATH:$HOME/QNial7/binaries/OSX

  3. Test that the nial executable is working by running it interactively.

    $ nial -i

    A header of the following form appears:

    Q'Nial V7.0 Open Source Edition Intel x86 64bit Mac OSX Jan 22 2017 Copyright (c) NIAL Systems Limited

    clear workspace created

    The cursor will be indented by 5 spaces. Test the executable by typing:

     sum count 100

    The answer


    will appear at the left margin.

    To terminate the Nial session type:


    If you are new to using QNial, you can learn more about it by invoking the tutorial library function teach. Run nial interactively, then at the prompt type:

     library "teach 

    Enter "intro" at the prompt and follow the instructions.

Building Nial

The directories BuildCore and BuildNial are used to build versions of QNial7. If no existing executable is available for the platform you are using then you need to build the nialcore executable using BuildCore. Follow the directions given in the file in BuildCore.

If you are building for a new platform or want to add features to QNial7 that are not in the executable you have then you use directory BuildNial. The in BuildNial describes the process for selecting additional features already available. There is also an explanation of how a new feature can be implemented and added to QNial7.


The NIAL language environment




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