Program Layout

Character Set

FORTRAN 77 requires only a limited character set. For truly portable software, you should use only the following:

Character(s) Description
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 26 upper-case letters
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 digits
+ plus
- minus
* asterisk
/ (forward) slash
( ) left and right parentheses
= equals
. full stop or period
, comma
' apostrophe
: colon
$ currency symbol

The letters A-Z and digits 0-9 are often grouped together and referred to as alpha-numeric characters. Although this character set seems somewhat limited, it should be available on any computer. The blank character is ignored except within character constants and the currency symbol is not actually used. Of course, most computer keyboards provide many other characters, not least of which are the lower-case letters. Any printable characters may be used within comments and character constants.

Symbolic Names

Symbolic names can be used to identify constants, variables, arrays, functions, subroutines and common blocks. Each symbolic name must begin with a letter and may be followed by up to five letters or digits.


Valid symbolic names include

Invalid symbolic names are

Be careful using O (oh) and 0 (zero) in symbolic names as they are easily confused. Another troublesome twosome is I (eye) and 1 (one), not to mention S (ess) and 5 (five). It is not illegal to use these characters in symbolic names but you must take extra care not to mix them up.


A leftover from the bad old days of punch cards is the statement layout in FORTRAN 77. Each line is divided into four fields:

columns 1-5
label field
column 6
continuation field
columns 7-72
statement field
columns 73-80
Danger! Stay out! (card sequence field)

A statement label is a number from 1 to 99999 that precedes a statement. Any executable statement (and some nonexecutable ones) may have a label.

The continuation field is used only when a statement is too long to fit on one line (within columns 7 to 72). A statement may be continued on the next line by placing any symbol (like the currency symbol) in the sixth column preceding the continuation. Up to 19 continuations are permitted for a single statement; hence, a single statement can cover up to 20 lines. Finally, the statement itself is placed within columns 7 to 72. Any characters that stray past the last allowed column will be ignored by the compiler and will almost certainly cause an error in the program.

It is imperative to document your programs. A piece of code that is clear today will be difficult if not impossible to understand six months down the road so you should include comments in your program explaining what it does. To place a comment line in a program, place a C or an asterisk * in the first column. The text of the comment follows. Each comment line must be preceded by a C or an asterisk *. Like statements, comments should not extend past column 72 but this rule is rarely enforced. A comment may appear anywhere in a program except after the END statement. Completely blank lines are also permitted.

Reserved Words

FORTRAN 77 has no reserved words but it is unwise to use the various keywords like DATA or DO or IF or intrinsic function names as symbolic names. It makes for very difficult-to-read code.


Blank spaces in columns 1 through 5 and 7 through 72 are ignored in FORTRAN 77. (The blank in column 6, the continuation field, is significant.)


The following assignments statements are equivalent in FORTRAN 77.

     COUNT = 100
     COUNT = 1 0 0
     COUN T = 10 0
     C 0 U N T = 1 00

This also means the the spaces between keywords are ignored. For example, END IF and ENDIF are treated exactly the same, as is BLOCK DATA and BLOCKDATA, GO TO and GOTO, etc. Which form you choose to use (with a space or without) is down to personal preference.

Case Study

A well-known example of this particular foible of FORTRAN occurred at NASA during the early days of spaceflight. During later testing of an orbit computation program used on the Mercury flights, the answers kept coming back slightly incorrect. Delving into the source code revealed the following statement at the beginning of a DO loop:

      DO 10 I=1.10

The compiler, ignoring blanks, correctly interpreted this statement as

      DO10I = 1.10

which is an assignment statement and clearly not what the programmer intended. The full stop . was changed to a comma , and the statement became

      DO 10 I=1,10

after which the program ran correctly. This is also why FORTRAN 77 allows an optional comma between the label and the loop-control-variable in a DO loop.

Program Units

A complete program consists of one or more program units. There is exactly one main program which begins with a PROGRAM statement:

PROGRAM main-name

This statement appears only at the beginning of the main program and the symbolic name main-name must be unique (not used elsewhere in any of the program units).

There may also be any number of external procedures (functions and subroutines) and BLOCK DATA subprograms. Every program unit must end with an END statement.


The END statement is executable and may have a label. When an END statement is encountered in an external procedure or BLOCK DATA subprogram, control is returned to the calling program unit. When an END statement is encountered in the main program, any open files are closed and execution stops. At this point control is returned to the operating system.

Statement Order

FORTRAN 77 statements must appear in a certain order within a program unit.

type declarations and other specification statements: COMMON, DIMENSION, EQUIVALENCE, EXTERNAL, INTRINSIC, SAVE
DATA statement functions
executable statements