What is Programming Language? Definition & Types

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What is Programming Language? Definition & Types

Vinay Khatri
Last updated on August 2, 2022

    We, humans, communicate with each other through various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, and many others. However, it is important that you use the language the other person understands in order to communicate.

    When it comes to computer systems, they do not understand human languages, like English, French, Chinese, or any other; this is where programming languages come into play.

    Let us divide 'programming language' into two terms: programming and language, to have a better understanding.

    The term programming refers to the process of providing a set of instructions to a computer system to perform a certain task, while language is the primary means of communication. So, we can say that programming language is a type of language used to communicate with computer systems.

    If you want to example more about a programming language, this article is for you. In this article, we shall make you familiar with what a programming language is and its various aspects.

    Let's get started!

    What is Programming Language?

    It is a method or a way of communication with computer systems so that a human can give instructions to the computer, and the computer can interpret those instructions and perform the task.

    In technical terms, a programming language is a set of rules and keywords for writing a computer program (a series of instructions) that instructs the computer system to perform a specific task.

    However, computer systems only understand the binary language, i.e., the language of 0s and 1s. In the early stages of computers, everything was programmed using the combination of 0s and 1s. Writing a program in the combination of 0s and 1s is not very easy as it becomes very large in size, complex, and time-consuming. Also, modern-day applications are very versatile, and programming them in the binary system is nearly impossible because they require millions and billions of 0s and 1s in combination.

    So, today's applications and programs are developed using programming languages. More interestingly, many software programs are available that convert the program you write in a programming language into a machine or binary language so that computers can understand what you want them to do.

    How Does a Programming Language Work?

    Now that you know what a programming language is. Let us now understand how it works.

    Every programming language has its own syntax. Syntax refers to a set of rules that describes the structure of a language, i.e., combining the symbols correctly that a computer system can understand. Using the syntax of a programming language, it is possible to organize the set of instructions, which forms a computer program.

    After writing a computer program, you need to compile it, where the instructions written in programming languages get converted into executable or machine code (0s and 1s). Now, the computer system interprets the machine code and performs the required actions. If any information is produced by executing those instructions, the computer system converts it into a form humans understand.

    The Anatomy of a Programming Language

    Any programming language has 5 core components. These are:

    • Syntax

    The syntax of a programming language defines the meaning of the various symbols pertaining to it. It is the set of rules that govern the what and how of any programming language. The syntax determines the way in which a programming language makes sense out of some code.

    Learning the syntax of a programming language is far easier as compared to understanding the internal working of the same. Wrapping one’s head around a programming language’s syntax might take only a few days, while learning how the language works take much more time.

    • Variables

    Programming languages store values at specific memory locations. The medium that fills the gap between the values to be stored and the actual memory locations is variables. A variable is a data item that is used in almost all computer programs. The value of variables is subjected to change multiple times during the execution of a computer program. Variables are of several types, known as data types, such as character, integer, and boolean.

    • Data Structures

    Data structures determine the particular manner in which data is stored and organized efficiently in a programming language. Arrays, graphs, linked lists, and trees are instances of data structures.

    • Looping and Control Structures

    A computer program is a set of instructions. To control the flow of a computer program i.e. in what sequence do the instructions carry out, is determined by using looping and control structures. A control or loop structure starts its operation by analyzing the variables that are fed to it. The course of action is determined by the nature and/or value of the variables.

    • Tools

    Although not an inherent part of programming languages, tools are essential for productively using programming languages in modern times. A programming tool can be anything that improves, appends, quickens, or anything else to improve the computer program or its development.

    Any programming language has a wide range of tool base that is only meant to grow, provided the programming language stays relevant. To understand these tools better, we can categorize them into several types. Notable types of programming tools are:

    • IDEs ( Integrated Development Environment ) - These are software applications that offer a comprehensive range of features for facilitating software development. Examples of IDEs are BlueJ, Eclipse, Komodo IDE, and Visual Studio.
    • Software Frameworks - Also known simply as frameworks , these programming tools serve as convenient platforms for software development. Unlike IDEs, these are a set of libraries and best practices. For instance, Flask is a micro web framework written in Python. Ruby on Rails is a server-side web application framework written in Ruby.
    • Code Editors - These help in quickly editing code. Notepad++, Sublime Text, and Visual Studio Code are examples of popular code editors.
    • Libraries, Packages, and Toolkits - A set of predefined functions/methods for particular use cases. Scikit-learn and DOJO toolkit are two relevant instances. While the former is an ML library for Python, the latter is an open-source toolkit for rapidly developing cross-platform, Ajax-based JS websites.

    Types of Programming Languages

    There are three types of programming languages.

    • Low-Level Programming languages
    • Assembly Language
    • High-Level Programming Languages

    1. Low-Level Programming language

    A low-level programming language directly deals with the computer hardware and is present in the form of a Machine or binary language. We can say a low-level programming language is a native language for machines and computers. This type of language does not require a compiler or interpreter. So, programs written in low-level programming languages execute fast.

    There are two types of low-level programming languages, as follows:

    • Machine Language

    Machine language is in the form of 0s and 1s or in hexadecimal form (base 16). The programs you write in machine language do not require any converter because they are already in the form that the computer understands. Hence, they run fast than programs written in any other type of programming language.

    • Assembly Language

    Assembly language (ASM) is a programming language specially designed to communicate with the computer's hardware. Programs written in an assembly language leverage an assembler to convert instructions into machine code. They consume less space and execute faster.

    2. High-Level Programming Language

    High-Level languages are the most legible programming language, and mostly, all high-level programming languages come with English syntax, making it easy for a developer or programmer to code. Such languages require a compiler or interpreter to convert a program into a machine or executable code.

    Some popular high-level programming languages are Python, Java, PHP, JavaScript, Perl, Ruby, Objective-C, Swift, Pascal, and LISP. The primary advantage of high-level programming languages is they are easy to understand, code, and maintain.

    High-level languages are of three types, as follows:

    • Procedural-Oriented

    Procedural-oriented programming (POP) languages are based on the concept of a procedure call. Each procedure consists of a series of computational tasks that has to be performed. When you create a program in procedural-oriented language, you divide it into small routines or functions, where each function performs a specific task.

    C, PASCAL, Basic, and Fortran are popular POP languages.

    • Object-Oriented

    Object-oriented programming (OOPs) languages work on the concepts of objects, which are the combination of data and functions working on that data. Everything in OOPs is represented as an object. Its primary purpose is to combine data and functions together so that no other part of a program can access that data.

    C++, Python, Java, and C# are popular OOPs languages.

    • Natural

    Natural languages are human languages, such as English, Russian, French, German, etc. Developers primarily use these languages to carry out various tasks, like translation, topic segmentation, automatic summarization, and relationship extraction.

    3. Mid-Level Programming Language

    This type of language lies between low-level and high-level programming languages. We also refer to mid-level language and pseudo-language or intermediate language. It is close to the machine as well as easily understandable by humans. C and C++ are popular examples of mid-level languages.

    Programming Languages

    The following highlights some of the popular programming languages available today:

    C Python C++
    C# R Ruby
    COBOL ADA Java
    Fortran BASIC Altair BASIC
    Turbo Pascal GO ALGOL
    LISP SCALA Swift
    Rust Prolog Reia
    Racket Scheme Shimula
    Perl PHP Java Script
    CoffeeScript VisualFoxPro Babel
    Logo Lua Smalltalk
    Matlab F F#
    Dart Datalog dbase
    Haskell dylan Julia
    ksh metro Mumps
    Nim OCaml pick
    Curry ActionScript Erlang
    Clojure DarkBASCIC Assembly

    Popular Programming Languages

    Currently, we have a plethora of programming languages, where some languages are general-purpose, and some are specialized. New programming languages pop up every now and then. While some succeed in attracting attention, others fall into oblivion. In no way the following list is a complete list of all the popular programming languages, but it will give you some good ideas:

    • Python – The immensely popular programming language for data science, machine learning, AI, and deep learning.
    • The C family; C, C++, C# - Needs no introduction. Probably the starting point for a vast majority of programmers. Easily among the most popular and most widely-used programming languages in the world.
    • Java - The one responsible for giving the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) to the world and popularizing the notion of platform independence.
    • JavaScript – The popular programming language of the web.
    • PHP – The programming language backing a vast majority of the websites.
    • Go (a.k.a. Golang) - The brainchild of Google. Similar to C in terms of performance but adds CSP-style concurrency, garbage collection, memory safety, and structural typing.
    • Perl (and Raku) - The general-purpose programming language that was originally developed for text manipulation but is now used for a range of tasks, varying from GUI development and system administration to network programming and web development.
    • R – The programming language that the world is going gaga over for computational programming and data science.
    • Scala - Based on the functional programming paradigm, it is a JVM-based programming language that specializes in offering tools required for conveniently scaling programs.
    • Julia - A high-level, performant, dynamic programming language. Although a general-purpose programming language, it has gained traction for high-performance computational science and numerical analysis.

    To explore more, you can refer to our article: 22 Top Programming Language .

    Uses of Programming Languages

    The most basic use of programming language is to communicate with a computer and instruct them to carry out a specific job. It is used to create every software program, website, game, and all other digital content and electronic devices. Also, a programming language plays a crucial role in various domains, including cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and machine learning, and aerospace.

    Each programming language has its own applications or uses. The following are some popular programming languages and their uses:

    • Python: Web development, software development, task automation, data visualization, data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, and game development.
    • Java: Desktop-based GUI applications, embedded systems, enterprise software, game development, scientific research, mobile app development, web applications, web servers, and big data technologies.
    • C++: Software development, embedded systems, operating systems, game development, IoT devices, databases, libraries, compilers, web browsers, scientific research, AR/VR applications, advanced graphics and computation, and banking and finance applications.
    • C: Operating systems, embedded systems, development of a new programming language, databases, desktop and system applications, compilers, and IoT applications.
    • JavaScript: Website development, web application development, mobile application development, game development, desktop server application development, and web servers.
    • Go or Golang: Cloud-native development, stand-alone tools, distributed network services, new outlets, media platforms, and replacement of existing infrastructure.
    • PHP: Web application development, web pages, web content management systems, GUI-based applications, eCommerce applications, graphic design and image processing, PDF files, and data representation.


    That's all about a programming language. It is the backbone of this digital world. Everything we see in this digital world, from every electronic device, whether it is a refrigerator or air conditioner, to software programs and websites, is operable because of programming languages.

    So, if you learn and master programming languages, you will find a galore of career opportunities. However, learning and mastering programming languages requires strong determination and a lot of dedication and practice.

    Choose the appropriate programming language and get started with it.

    Good Luck.

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    Programming languages let developers write a computer program or organize a set of instructions to direct a computer system to perform a specific task.

    There are three types of programming languages, namely Low-level, Mid-level, and High-level.

    Programming is the process of writing a set of instructions and providing it to a computer system to perform a specific job.

    Yes, you can definitely become a self-taught programmer. However, it may require a bit longer time, consistent perseverance, self-motivation, and strong determination.

    Some popular high-level languages are Python, Java, JavaScript, Perl, Ruby, PHP, Objective-C, and Swift.

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