Prog8 documentation - 3.1-SNAPSHOT

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What is Prog8?

This is an experimental compiled programming language targeting the 8-bit 6502 / 6510 microprocessor. This CPU is from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and was used in many home computers from that era, such as the Commodore-64. The language aims to provide many conveniences over raw assembly code (even when using a macro assembler), while still being low level enough to create high performance programs.

Prog8 is copyright © Irmen de Jong ( | The project is on github:

This software is licensed under the GNU GPL 3.0, see

3d rotating sprites Simple wizzine sprite effect Fully playable tetris clone

Code examples

This code calculates prime numbers using the Sieve of Eratosthenes algorithm:

%import c64utils
%zeropage basicsafe

main {

    ubyte[256] sieve
    ubyte candidate_prime = 2

    sub start() {
        memset(sieve, 256, false)

        c64scr.print("prime numbers up to 255:\n\n")
        ubyte amount=0
        repeat {
            ubyte prime = find_next_prime()
            if prime==0
            c64scr.print(", ")
        c64scr.print("number of primes (expected 54): ")

    sub find_next_prime() -> ubyte {

        while sieve[candidate_prime] {
            if candidate_prime==0
                return 0

        sieve[candidate_prime] = true
        uword multiple = candidate_prime
        while multiple < len(sieve) {
            sieve[lsb(multiple)] = true
            multiple += candidate_prime
        return candidate_prime

when compiled an ran on a C-64 you get this:

result when run on C-64

The following programs shows a use of the high level struct type:

%import c64utils
%zeropage basicsafe

main {

    struct Color {
        ubyte red
        ubyte green
        ubyte blue

    sub start() {

        Color purple = {255, 0, 255}
        Color other
        other = purple /= 2 = 10 + / 2 = 99


when compiled and ran, it prints 127,10,99 on the screen.

Design principles and features

  • It is a cross-compiler running on modern machines (Linux, MacOS, Windows, …) The generated output is a machine code program runnable on actual 8-bit 6502 hardware.
  • Based on simple and familiar imperative structured programming (it looks like a mix of C and Python)
  • ‘One statement per line’ code, resulting in clear readable programs.
  • Modular programming and scoping via modules, code blocks, and subroutines.
  • Provide high level programming constructs but at the same time stay close to the metal; still able to directly use memory addresses and ROM subroutines, and inline assembly to have full control when every register, cycle or byte matters
  • Arbitrary number of subroutine parameters
  • Complex nested expressions are possible
  • Nested subroutines can access variables from outer scopes to avoids the overhead to pass everything via parameters
  • Values are typed. Available data types include signed and unsigned bytes and words, arrays, strings and floats.
  • No dynamic memory allocation or sizing! All variables stay fixed size as determined at compile time.
  • Provide various quality of life language features and library subroutines specifically for the target platform.
  • Provide a very convenient edit/compile/run cycle by being able to directly launch the compiled program in an emulator and provide debugging information to this emulator.
  • Arbitrary control flow jumps and branches are possible, and will usually translate directly into the appropriate single 6502 jump/branch instruction.
  • There are no complicated built-in error handling or overflow checks, you’ll have to take care of this yourself if required. This keeps the language and code simple and efficient.
  • The compiler tries to optimize the program and generated code a bit, but hand-tuning of the performance or space-critical parts will likely still be required. This is supported by the ability to easily write embedded assembly code directly in the program source code.
  • There are many built-in functions, such as sin, cos, rnd, abs, min, max, sqrt, msb, rol, ror, swap, memset, memcopy, substr, sort and reverse (and others)
  • Assembling the generated code into a program wil be done by an external cross-assembler tool.

Required tools

64tass - cross assembler. Install this on your shell path. It’s very easy to compile yourself. A recent precompiled .exe for Windows can be obtained from my clone of this project.

A Java runtime (jre or jdk), version 8 or newer is required to run the prog8 compiler itself. If you’re scared of Oracle’s licensing terms, most Linux distributions ship OpenJDK instead. Fnd for Windows it’s possible to get that as well. Check out AdoptOpenJDK .

Finally: a C-64 emulator (or a real C-64 ofcourse) can be nice to test and run your programs on. The compiler assumes the presence of the Vice emulator.


Building the compiler itself: (Only needed if you have not downloaded a pre-built ‘fat-jar’)

(Re)building the compiler itself requires a recent Kotlin SDK. The compiler is developed using IntelliJ IDEA , but only a Kotlin SDK installation should work as well, because the gradle tool is used to compile everything from the commandline.

Instructions on how to obtain a prebuilt compiler are in First, getting a working compiler.