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A Guide to Common Programming Language Types

Paul Larkin - December 29, 2020

The primary computer programming concept is simple enough: enter lines of particular words and characters into a document, and have a computer program read and execute the commands enclosed within the document. Sounds easy enough, right? There’s a lot more to programming languages than just the general “tell a computer to do something” aspect. Programming languages vary wildly by type, and which language type you select depends mainly on what you’re aiming to have the program accomplish. Knowing which programming language types to use can make or break your software and either cause or save you untold hours of drudgery, so it’s essential to understand how to tell one programming language type from another.

In this guide, we go over some of the common programming language types and identify the most commonly used languages for each type. We show you which languages to use when you want to engage in low-level machine-language communication with your equipment, which languages work best for expressing complex mathematical calculations, and which languages are designed for and do well in business environments. Our guide takes you on a journey through the most used and beloved languages, and will help you find the perfect code for your needs. Away we go!


Low-Level and Algorithmic Languages

In the early days of programming, programmers didn’t have fancy coding languages that used full words or human-readable expressions. Early developers had to get down on the machine’s level, or close to it anyway, to hold a conversation. This “machine language” varies from machine to machine and consists of binary strings (series of ones and zeros), and can be combined in almost infinite variations. Machine language can’t be easily translated into human-readable text. Assembly languages are low-level languages that exist one rung above machine language; an assembly language allows coders to create shorthand names for memory blocks, thus speeding up the development process.

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After a while, programmers began to use high-level languages to write their code. High-level languages have the advantage of being more easily grasped by our flabby human brains than low-level binary codes are. The first high-level languages to emerge were algorithmic languages like ALGOL, LISP, FORTRAN, and C, and were designed to handle complex equations. Because programs written in a high-level language work across multiple systems, algorithmic and other high-level languages quickly caught on and became popular.

Business-Oriented and Education-Oriented Languages

Considering the way that computers exploded onto the business scene last century and soon became irreplaceable components of many industries, it should be no surprise that businesses have their own programming languages. Some of the oldest high-level languages, including COBOL (which was developed in 1959! Buddy Holly, Elvis, and COBOL!), were designed for businesses and still get some use, and newer business-oriented languages, such as SQL, are essential links in the global business chain and are responsible for much of the modern world’s data storage and retrieval process.

Education-oriented languages stand In contrast to business-oriented languages. These languages originated in institutions and were designed to teach, and were also used in software development. Many popular languages got their starts as education-oriented languages, like BASIC, Logo, Hypertalk, and Pascal. These are excellent first languages for the budding developer and will teach you to think like a programmer as well as write like one.

They’re a great way to get your classroom code on.

There are lots of programming language types out there, so it’s a good idea to know which types are best for what goals. With a bit of knowledge and help from our guide, you’ll know which language will make your website sparkle and which will make your equations shine. A good programmer has an arsenal of language types at their disposal for use on any occasion, so what are you waiting for? Get to programming, pal!

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Paul Larkin

About the author: Paul Larkin has years of experience in the tech industry and writes about cybersecurity and future of work.

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