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Reverse Polish Notation

Reverse Polish Notation (RPN, or postfix notation) is an arithmetic formula notation, derived from one introduced in 1920 by the Polish mathematician Jan Łukasiewicz. RPN was invented by the Australian philosopher and computer scientist Charles Hamblin in the mid-1950s, to enable zero-address memory stores. It was popularized by the HP-35 calculator in the 1970s. In this notation, the operands precede the operator, thus dispensing with the need for parentheses. For example, the expression 3 * ( 4 + 7) would be written as 3 4 7 + *.

Implementations that use RPN are stack-based; that is, operands are popped from a stack, and calculation results are pushed back onto it. Although this concept may seem obscure at first, RPN has the advantage of being extremely easy for a computer to analyze due to it being a regular grammar. RPN has been used in Hewlett-Packard calculators as well as in some programming languages such as Forth and PostScript. Most Unix systems also come with a calculator program, dc, that uses RPN.

Table of contents
1 Practical implications
2 Example

Practical implications


The calculation: ((1 + 2) * 4) + 3 can be written down like this in RPN:
1 2 + 4 * 3 +
The expression is evaluated in the following way (the Stack is displayed after Operation has taken place):
Input Stack Operation
1 1 Push operand
2 1, 2 Push operand
+ 3 Addition
4 3, 4 Push operand
* 12 Multiplication
3 12, 3 Push operand
+ 15 Addition
The final result, 15, lies on the top of the stack in the end of the calculation.

Examples of RPN Use

Compare to Polish notation.

See also Subject Object Verb, Subject Verb Object.