Is 78 characters still a good option? Was: [Haskell-cafe] breaking too long lines

Jason Dusek jason.dusek at
Wed Apr 22 04:02:45 EDT 2009

  The question of which column width is "right" is not a
  revealing one -- there is little technical or scientific basis
  to prefer 117 to 80.

  The line length that we prefer is similarly unenlightening.
  The number of people who, when pushing for column widths
  greater than 80, choose 132 instead shows us how just how
  unexploratory and hidebound folks are on this issue. Like you
  didn't pick 132 because it's the other traditional terminal

  Column width is rather like driving on a certain side of the
  road. Is one side better than the other? No. Let's change it!
  Why? The year after you change the ordinance, people will
  still be crashing into one another when they get up in the
  morning and switch by mistake -- and people out in the country
  will drive on the old side for a decade afterward, to Hell
  with the law. All this and *not for any benefit*.

  The effect of liberalizing the line length will be anarchy.
  I'll be resizing my terminal several times a week because some
  goofball likes 91 characters while another likes 354. Whereas
  now, we expect code from most sources to fit in 80 columns
  *and it does*. I've not changed the width of my terminal for
  code, email or reading in, well, uhm -- well ever since I
  changed it to 80.

  80 columns is a wise limit because it's in wide use. It's not
  about whether I like it best -- it's about whether I expect
  most everyone else to be happy with code that I write in it
  (and I do). In matters where there is no clearcut best answer,
  social convention creates a clear expectation.

  Now in the presence of new knowledge, social convention must
  be changed. Unfortunately, there is no new science on line
  lengths. There is no reason to prefer any other column width
  to 80; the number was chosen a long time ago. Let's accept it
  and move on.

Jason Dusek

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