Tcl stands for Tool Command Language. Tcl is really two things: a scripting language, and an interpreter for that language that is designed to be easy to embed into your application. Tcl and its associated graphical user-interface toolkit, Tk, were designed and crafted by Professor John Ousterhout of the University of California, Berkeley. You can find these packages on the Internet and use them freely in your application, even if it is commercial. The Tcl interpreter has been ported from UNIX to DOS, PalmOS, VMS, Windows, OS/2, NT, and Macintosh environments. The Tk toolkit has been ported from the X window system to Windows and Macintosh.
I first heard about Tcl in 1988 while I was Ousterhout's Ph.D. student at Berkeley. We were designing a network operating system, Sprite. While the students hacked on a new kernel, John wrote a new editor and terminal emulator. He used Tcl as the command language for both tools so that users could define menus and otherwise customize those programs. This was in the days of X10, and he had plans for an X toolkit based on Tcl that would help programs cooperate with each other by communicating with Tcl commands. To me, this cooperation among tools was the essence of Tcl.
This early vision imagined that applications would be large bodies of compiled code and a small amount of Tcl used for configuration and high-level commands. John's editor, mx, and the terminal emulator, tx, followed this model. While this model remains valid, it has also turned out to be possible to write entire applications in Tcl. This is because the Tcl/Tk shell, wish, provides access to other programs, the file system, network sockets, plus the ability to create a graphical user interface. For better or worse, it is now common to find applications that contain thousands of lines of Tcl script.
This book was written because, while I found it enjoyable and productive to use Tcl and Tk, there were times when I was frustrated. In addition, working at Xerox PARC, with many experts in languages and systems, I was compelled to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of Tcl and Tk. Although many of my colleagues adopted Tcl and Tk for their projects, they were also just as quick to point out its flaws. In response, I have built up a set of programming techniques that exploit the power of Tcl and Tk while avoiding troublesome areas. This book is meant as a practical guide to help you get the most out of Tcl and Tk and avoid some of the frustrations I experienced.
It has been about 14 years since I was introduced to Tcl, and about eight years since the first edition of this book. During several of those years I worked under John Ousterhout, first at Sun Microsystems and then at Scriptics Corporation. There I remained mostly a Tcl programmer while others in our group have delved into the C implementation of Tcl itself. I've built applications like HTML editors, email user interfaces, Web servers, and the customer database we ran our business on. This experience is reflected in this book. The bulk of the book is about Tcl scripting, and the aspects of C programming to create Tcl extensions is given a lighter treatment. I have been lucky to remain involved in the core Tcl development, and I hope I can pass along the insights I have gained by working with Tcl.