Writing an ouroboros quine

Smart people write C. Pragmatic people write Go. Only a fool would write C code that outputs Go code that outputs the original C code.

So I made one. Below is the code:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
char*c="#include <stdio.h>%cint main(){%cchar*c=%c%s%c,o[1000],g[1000];%csprintf(g,%cpackage main;import%ccfmt%cc;func main(){fmt.Print(%cc%ccs%cc)}%c,34,34,96,37,96);%csprintf(o,c,10,10,34,c,34,10,34,37,37,37,37,37,34,10,10,10,10,10);%cfprintf(stdout,g,o);%creturn 0;%c}%c",o[1000],g[1000];
sprintf(g,"package main;import%cfmt%c;func main(){fmt.Print(%c%cs%c)}",34,34,96,37,96);
return 0;

If you run it, you should get the result below:

$ cc ouroboros.c -o ouroboros
$ ./ouroboros > ouroboros.go
$ go run ouroboros.go > ouroboros2.c
$ diff ouroboros.c ouroboros2.c && cowsay "wtf?"
< wtf? >
        \   ^__^
         \  (oo)\_______
            (__)\       )\/\
                ||----w |
                ||     ||


One of the simplest quines in C looks like this:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
char*c="#include <stdio.h>%cint main(){%cchar*c=%c%s%c;%cprintf(c,10,10,34,c,34,10,10,10,10);%creturn 0;%c}%c";
return 0;

I'm not going to dive into the details - there's a detailed explanation on the tricks and examples for writing quines available in Rosetta Code's wiki page.

Since I wasn't going to waste my time hand-crafting the string that should contain the original source code, I wrote Python code which generates the C code above:

quine = r'''#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
return 0;

quinestr = r''
args = []
for i, ch in enumerate(quine):
    if ch in '\n"':
        quinestr += '%c'
    elif ch == '?':
        quinestr += '%s'
        quinestr += ch

args = ','.join(map(str, args))

                .replace('?', '%s')\
                .replace('!', args))\
        .replace('!', args),

To go further than just a simple quine, I had to make the quine self-aware, storing the output string in a variable. To do so I updated the template C code to the one below:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
fputs(o, stdout);
return 0;

The variable o now holds the value of the source code. Next, I came up with Go code snippet that should output it:

package main;import"fmt";func main(){fmt.Print(`<your_quine_here>`)})

I used back-quoted string since they can contain any characters, even newlines, which will be present in the o.

And the final tricky part - I needed to add the Go code as a C string:

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
sprintf(g,"package main;import%cfmt%c;func main(){fmt.Print(%c%cs%c)}",34,34,96,37,96);
return 0;

The variable g now contains the template Go code. The trick here is making sure that the variable for Go code contains %s and `, but implicitly. The former needs to be used in the next sprintf call to do the substitution, and the latter can't be explicit because back-quoted strings in Go cannot contain back-quote characters.

The final Python code which outputs the C code which outputs the Go code which outputs the C... you got it, is available here.


Why not?

November 20, 2019 · code · unix