I just came across the SAIL language for the first time. I went to Wikipedia looking for some example code, only to find what is essentially a stub. Curiously, not one of the citations is a manual, nor could I find one in Google.

The language does seem to have seen a fair amount of use in the PDP-10 era, so I'm a bit surprised Google doesn't turn up more. I did find a manual for MAINSAIL, but I'm not sure how similar that us.

Anyone have a PDF or similar for, say, a TOPS-10 version?

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    A search for sail programming language leads rather quickly to Stanford Libraries - History of Artificial Intelligence which is an August 1976 SAIL manual.
    – HABO
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 18:59
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    Not asked, but it came to my mind: Why did Stanford AI Lab go with an ALGOL based language rather than a LISP variant or library? (Maybe that should be a separate question.) There's a SAIL rationale in one of the Bitsaver's documents (linked in the answers) that doesn't quite hit on it - i.sstatic.net/E9Pi5.png : "SAIL in a sense has something for everyone. For those who think in ALGOL, SAIL has ALGOL. ..." And then some more sentences about how it has facilities to get the most out of your PDP-10. Maybe that was the main issue: access to the underlying OS and PDP-10 ISA.
    – davidbak
    Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 20:40
  • @davidbak That /does/ appear to be an interesting question, since at least one account has it that by the mid-60s McCarthy was at least somewhat hostile to ALGOL and intent on pushing Lisp. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 11:51
  • Hostile to Algol, or hostile to the Algol 'trick-cyclists' that were pushing in the direction of Algol 68, away from the intended simple extensions (Algol X) followed by the ability to modify its own programs a la LISP (Algol Y)?
    – dave
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:04
  • "looking for some example code" - for that era, I think source was filed with US copyright applications. Perhaps Library of Congress may have sample code (from applications for copyright).
    – krkeane
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 12:05

2 Answers 2


I have a paper copy of the August 1976 edition. 173 pages. That's a lot to scan. How badly do you want it?

Oops! Never mind. Looks like bitsavers has that edition too. Not only that, but theirs has an appendix and Errata at the end that mine doesn't have.

Front matter of August 1976 SAIL manual

Cover of August 1976 SAIL manual

  • And that one led me to another at DITC that was the tutorial manual. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 15:17

There's something on bitsavers that looks like what you want.

Sail Manual, Nov 1969.

ABSTRACT: SAIL is a high-level programming system for the PDP-10 computer. It includes an extended ALGOL compiler and a companion set of execution-time routines. A non-standard ALGOL 60 compiler is extended to provide facilities for describing manipulations of an associative data structure. This structure contains information about ITEMS, stbred as unordered collections of items (sets) or as ordered triples of items (associations)~ The algebraic capabilities of the lanquaqe are linked to the associative capabilities by means of the DATUM operator, which can associate with any ITEM an algebraic datum. .

There are other, later memos and manuals in the same place.

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