Donald Knuth credits Pierre-Arnoul de Marneffe's idea of "Holon Programming" as the main influence on Literate Programming. See page 13 of "Literate Programming", Knuth's paper introducing the concept. Knuth calls de Marneffe's work "pioneering" and says that it "has not received the attention it deserves".

Knuth cites the following:

P.A. de Marneffe, Holon Programming. Univ. de Liege, Service D'Informatique (December, 1973).

P.A. de Marneffe and D. Ribbens, Holon Programming, in A. Günther et al. (eds.), International Computing Symposium 1973, Amsterdam, North-Holland (1974).

Also cited as:

Proceedings of the International Computing Symposium 1973, Davos, Switzerland, 4–7 September 1973. Edited by Alfred Gunther, Bernard Levrat and H. Lipps

The Wikipedia article Literate Programming refers to the first source, but adds that it was "Report PMAR 73–23".

Unfortunately these sources are nowhere to be found. I don't mean that there's just no free PDF online; I mean that if you type "holon programming" PMAR 73-23 into Google, you get fewer than 100 results, many of which are suppressed because Google identified them as essentially duplicates of other pages. None of the results are helpful. If you search for PMAR 73-23 alone, then you get many more results, but they are all irrelevant. You might be asking "What if Wikipedia's extra information is wrong?" Sadly there's still no luck searching for the titles or for the publications or for both.

Although it would be great to get ahold of these documents, I don't really mind if I can't. What I really want to know is simply this:

What exactly is Holon Programming?

I know it has something to do with the concept of Holon (outside of programming), but that isn't very useful. Was there an actual implementation of de Marneffe's ideas? If so, then is there any information about it?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You could ask the author for a copy of the 2nd source, via researchgate.net/publication/265326309_Holon_programming . The first source is presumably a draft of the 2nd. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 12:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Proceedings of the International Computing Symposium are available on this fileshare, it requires free registration. De Marneffe's paper is on pp. 67-71. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 12:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have now seen the second source in a library. It refers to the first for fuller details, and lists it as "privately circulated". I think you quickest source is by writing to the author. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 21:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @kimchilover Cool. Thank you for the help. $\endgroup$
    – texdr.aft
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 21:37
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ In his Structured Programming With Go To Statements, Knuth cites the first source above, and quotes a passage from it (search for "Shanley"). According to Worldcat there exists (known to it) one library in the world (TIB in Hanover) that contains a copy of this book. BTW the "PMAR" was added to Wikipedia in this edit by User:RossPatterson. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


Here is a typeset version of the 1973 Holon Programming: A Survey, prefaced with a letter to the author from Knuth. As the letter suggests, skip straight to the "Program Example" to see what holon programming is all about -- it's remarkably close to the form literate programming ended up taking.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.