I commented elsewhere that the source code of First Edition Unix had been restored from tapes. The response was amazement and a request for more information.

What have people done? Who did it? When? And how?

1 Answer 1


In 2008–2009 The Unix Heritage Society managed to reconstruct the source for First Edition Unix kernel and parts of the shell from various sources, including magnetic tapes and paper documents. The details were written up and presented at a USENIX conference in 2009.

There have been other papers.

  • Warren Toomey (2010). "First Edition Unix: Its Creation and Restoration". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 32(3). July–September 2010. DOI: 10.1109/MAHC.2009.55. pp. 74–82.

Originally, the source was available on Google Code. Google Code of course proceeded to then turn up its toes and die, and all that is left there is a badly-marked up archive.

However, M. Toomey has also made the source available on his TUHS account on GitHub, as have many many many many many many many many many many other people.

First Edition manuals available in digital form had also been made available.

In more recent work, Diomidis D. Spinellis of the Athens University of Economics and Business has integrated this and others into a reconstructed combined GitHub repository encompassing some 40 years of development, from First Edition here and other Research Unix versions through 386BSD to FreeBSD 11.0.

Further reading

  • 3
    The source code (for First Edition and many other early versions) can also be browsed and searched directly on the TUHS web site. Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 19:10
  • 1
    Oh and you can read about the reconstruction effort in the TUHS mailing list archives. Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:00
  • 1
    ... and in the dedicated mailing list archives too. Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 23:10
  • 3
    "The single point of failure is now ..." when referring to a distributed version control solution. =/ Makes brain hurt.
    – tjd
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 15:02
  • 2
    @DavidTonhofer While folks often use a centralized workflow there is tremendous value inherent in each contributor's clone of the repository.
    – tjd
    Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 19:02

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