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Everyone knows how important documentation is -- for a project to grow past a certain point, it's a must-have. However, almost every software project of any size nowadays comes with at least a README file.

When did including a README file (specifically with that name) first become commonplace? It appears the first BSD kernel had a "READ_ME" file, so it must be pre-1977. But at least in the software packages listed here, it's not universal.

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    @Anonymous The Wikipedia article you link to answers the question with "It is unclear when the convention began, ...", so actually not at all. – tofro Mar 23 '18 at 9:32
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    @tofro that's why it is not an answer, but comment :) in general this question will not have right answer unless someone will stand up and say "I was the first". "Read me" type documents existed from the ancient ages, and must have appeared as soon as file system files were invented. – Anonymous Mar 23 '18 at 9:52
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    @Anonymous I was a bit confused as you didn't bother to mention what Wikipedia actually says. "... it is a bit questionable how reliable that information ["we don't know"] is" - I'd say, that's very reliable. – tofro Mar 23 '18 at 9:58
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    @Anonymous Well, "We don't know" is 100% reliable in my opinion ;) – tofro Mar 23 '18 at 10:56
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    This has been discussed here: softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/96966/… – Thomas Mar 25 '18 at 17:51
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Regarding "specifically with that name" part: as "README" is an obvious play on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland "Eat me" and "Drink me", this kind of frivolity could unlikely originate from a commercially distributed product.

The point being that a BSD distribution is a probable origin, soon after followed by commercial vendors, as an "established practice".

  • I am not convinced. Firstly, I don't believe that commercial distributions would somehow not engage in frivolity. Secondly, AFAIK the first BSD was in 1978, which is a pretty late date. – another-dave Feb 8 at 3:33
  • The other answer gives an earlier date, 1974, but also from a non-commercial distribution, DEC Users Group. Also to note is the explanation ([README.TXT is the DOC file for SPICE/SINC/SLIC]) at the beginning of the file. That likely indicates that the word README" was a novelty then. – Leo B. Feb 8 at 5:43
  • The premise here, however, is that commercial software was not prone to frivolous naming. That does not ring true to me (as a long-time user and programmer of such software). – another-dave Feb 8 at 13:40
  • @another-dave Rather, not prone to originating frivolous naming, at least not in the 70s. Computer companies were still all suit-and-tie back then, weren't they? – Leo B. Feb 8 at 17:30
  • Not in the corner of DEC I inhabited in the later half of the 1970s. Prior to that I used a DEC-10 system whose OS included command PLEASE (message to operator), GRIPE (lodge complaint, presumably about something not working), and FUDGE (never did work that one out). Those sound at least as frivolous as 'README' to me. And of course there's the response to 'MAKE LOVE', but that was likely an import. – another-dave Feb 9 at 0:48
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This file for some PDP-10 software is from 1974 and called "README.TXT":

http://pdp-10.trailing-edge.com/decus_20tap3_198111/01/decus/20-0079/readme.txt.html

  • I like how they had to explain what a README file is. – Leo B. Feb 8 at 17:32

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