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The REXX (Restructured Extended Executor) programming language was designed and implemented between 1979 and 1982 by Mike Cowlishaw of IBM. It is a modern, structured, high-level programming language that was designed to be both easy to learn and easy to read. This was achieved by implementing the following characteristics and features:

  • character string orientation

  • dynamic data typing (no declarations)

  • automatic storage management

  • crash protection

  • content-addressable data structures

  • straight-forward access to system commands and facilities

  • a rich selection of built-in functions

  • simple error-handling and built-in debugger

  • few artificial limitations

REXX has just twenty-three, largely self-evident keywords (ie, CALL, PARSE, SELECT) and minimial punctuation requirements. It is essentially a free-form language with only one data-type, the character string; users never have to worry about data conversion.

REXX looks a lot like PL/1[?].

Table of contents


Originally a scripting language developed at IBM. REXX was the successor to the script languages EXEC and EXEC 2. It was also designed to be a macro or scripting language for any system. As such, it is a precursor to TCL[?] and Python.

Over the years IBM developed versions for many of its operating systems: VM/CMS, OS/2, PC-DOS, MVS/TSO, AS/400, and AIX. Non-IBM versions have also been developed for Atari, Unix, DEC, Windows, and MS-DOS. Later versions of the Amiga OS included a version of REXX called AREXX.

Several freeware versions are available. REXX/IMC and Regina are the most widely-used open-source ports to Windows and Linux.

In 1996 ANSI published a standard for REXX: ANSI X3.274-1996 "Information Technology - Programming Language REXX"

In recent years, two newer variants of REXX have appeared:



The DO control structure always begins with a DO and ends with an END.


    do until [condition]


    do while [condition is true]

Stepping through a variable:

    do i = x to y by z

Looping forever until exiting with LEAVE:

    do forever
      if [condition] then leave

Looping a fixed number of times

    do i = x to y by z for a


Testing conditions with IF

    if [condition] then

For single instructions, DO and END can also be omitted:

    if [condition] then

Testing for multiple conditions

SELECT is REXX's CASE structure

      when [condition] then
      [instruction] or NOP

NOP indicates no instruction is to be executed.


The PARSE instruction is particularly powerful; it combines some useful string-handling functions. Its syntax is:

    parse [upper] origin template

where origin specifies the source:

  • arg (command line variable)
  • linein (keyboard)
  • pull (REXX data queue)
  • source (OS/2 info on how program was executed)
  • value (a literal or a function)
    • the keyword with required to indicate where the literal ends
  • var (a variable)
  • version (version/release number)

and template can be:

  • list of variables
  • column number delimiters
  • literal delimiters

upper is optional; it you specify it, data will be converted to upper case.


Using a list of variables as template

    myVar = "John Smith"
    parse var MyVar firstName lastName
    say "First name is:" firstName
    say "Last name is:"  lastName

displays the following

    First name is: John
    Last name is: Smith

Using a delimiter as template:

    myVar = "Smith, John"
    parse var MyVar LastName "," FirstName
    say "First name is:" firstName
    say "Last name is:"  lastName

also displays the following

    First name is: John
    Last name is: Smith

Using column number delimiters:

    myVar = "(202) 123-1234"
    parse var MyVar 2 AreaCode 5  7 SubNumber
    say "Area code is:" AreaCode
    say "Subscriber number is:" SubNumber

displays the following

    Area code is: 202
    Subscriber number is: 123-1234

A template can use a combination of variables, literal delimiters, and column number delimiters.

Under OS/2

REXX is included in the base operating system of OS/2, and is also used as the macro language in many applications. Under OS/2, a REXX program begins with matched comment delineaters, /* */, to indicate to the OS that it is a REXX program:

    /* sample.cmd */
    say "Hello World"

Instructions between quotes are passed to the OS:

    /* sample.cmd */
    'dir /p /w'


Cowlishaw seems to prefer Rexx, whereas IBM sales, ANSI, and the majority of the web uses REXX.

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