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What is a programming language?

From: Foundations of Programming: Fundamentals

Video: What is a programming language?

There have been hundreds of programming languages since the start of computing. But at any given time there are perhaps a dozen or so that are popular and by popular I simply mean that language is used in a lot of current software, it's used by large numbers of people, and there is an active community and a significant job market for that language. Now as the years go by, different languages wax and wane in popularity. New languages do come along. Some are big hit but most of them aren't. So this list changes, but it changes slowly. Now most programmers will learn and use many languages over the course of their career. Once you have got the basics down, additional languages do become easier to pick up. A little later in this course we will dive deeper into the most popular languages, but if you're new to this, you might think why, why are there so many languages? If all we're doing is writing simple instructions for computer, why isn't there just one computer language? Well actually that language does exist, but it isn't any of these. You see the CPU, the chip, the central processing unit that is the brain of any computer, desktop, laptop, server, phone, game console, well it doesn't understand any of these languages. We might informally say when we are programming that we're writing code the computer understands, but we are not. Not really. You see the only thing that chip understands his called machine code or machine language. Now these are the real instructions that run directly on your computer hardware. So the question is why don't we just write machine code? Well because it's almost impossible to do. It's numerical operations, tiny instructions that work on the smallest pieces of memory inside your computer and even if you could write it, it's basically unreadable by anybody else. This is for the machine. It's not for a human being. And because machine code works of the level of the CPU, it would be different machine code for different models of CPU. Writing a full program in machine code would be like digging a tunnel through a mountain with only teaspoons. It's theoretically possible, but it would take you so long and so tedious that you wouldn't even try. So all of these languages, the popular ones and the others, are in fact a compromise. They are invented languages. They are just trying to bridge the gap between us as human beings and the computer hardware. Now, some of the languages are actually quite close to machine code. The closest is something known as assembly language. In general the closer a language is to machine code the more difficult it is to write and the more you have to know about the actual hardware. And this what's called a low-level language. Now as you move away from the CPU into what are called higher-level languages you worry less about the hardware. Now this code is often easier to write and to share even across different platforms, but it can be slower when running because these languages aren't necessarily optimized directly down to the CPU level. Having said that, these days speed differences are minimal and we will be focusing on the high-level languages in this course. But whatever we write has to be converted down to machine code before it can run. So while this machine code piece seems like the most important piece, we are not really interested in machine code. Sure we do need to know that that's what runs, but programming for us is all about the source code. That's what we call the statements we write, Java, C++, Ruby, Python whenever. We write the source code that will at some point be translated then into machine code, so it can run on the computer. When I say I'm writing code, it's source code, and when I say programming or I am coding, I mean the same thing. So to start writing any of these programming languages, writing these statements, writing our source code, we need to understand three things: 1) how to write it, literally where do we actually start typing this, 2) to understand how that source code will be converted to machine code, and 3) how do we actually run it, how do we execute our program? And some of this does depend on the language that we pick, but let's begin with how to actually start writing these statements.

What is a programming language?

There have been hundreds of programming languages since the start of computing. But at any given time there are perhaps a dozen or so that are popular and by popular I simply mean that language is used in a lot of current software, it's used by large numbers of people, and there is an active community and a significant job market for that language. Now as the years go by, different languages wax and wane in popularity. New languages do come along. Some are big hit but most of them aren't. So this list changes, but it changes slowly. Now most programmers will learn and use many languages over the course of their career. Once you have got the basics down, additional languages do become easier to pick up. A little later in this course we will dive deeper into the most popular languages, but if you're new to this, you might think why, why are there so many languages? If all we're doing is writing simple instructions for computer, why isn't there just one computer language? Well actually that language does exist, but it isn't any of these. You see the CPU, the chip, the central processing unit that is the brain of any computer, desktop, laptop, server, phone, game console, well it doesn't understand any of these languages. We might informally say when we are programming that we're writing code the computer understands, but we are not. Not really. You see the only thing that chip understands his called machine code or machine language. Now these are the real instructions that run directly on your computer hardware. So the question is why don't we just write machine code? Well because it's almost impossible to do. It's numerical operations, tiny instructions that work on the smallest pieces of memory inside your computer and even if you could write it, it's basically unreadable by anybody else. This is for the machine. It's not for a human being. And because machine code works of the level of the CPU, it would be different machine code for different models of CPU. Writing a full program in machine code would be like digging a tunnel through a mountain with only teaspoons. It's theoretically possible, but it would take you so long and so tedious that you wouldn't even try. So all of these languages, the popular ones and the others, are in fact a compromise. They are invented languages. They are just trying to bridge the gap between us as human beings and the computer hardware. Now, some of the languages are actually quite close to machine code. The closest is something known as assembly language. In general the closer a language is to machine code the more difficult it is to write and the more you have to know about the actual hardware. And this what's called a low-level language. Now as you move away from the CPU into what are called higher-level languages you worry less about the hardware. Now this code is often easier to write and to share even across different platforms, but it can be slower when running because these languages aren't necessarily optimized directly down to the CPU level. Having said that, these days speed differences are minimal and we will be focusing on the high-level languages in this course. But whatever we write has to be converted down to machine code before it can run. So while this machine code piece seems like the most important piece, we are not really interested in machine code. Sure we do need to know that that's what runs, but programming for us is all about the source code. That's what we call the statements we write, Java, C++, Ruby, Python whenever. We write the source code that will at some point be translated then into machine code, so it can run on the computer. When I say I'm writing code, it's source code, and when I say programming or I am coding, I mean the same thing. So to start writing any of these programming languages, writing these statements, writing our source code, we need to understand three things: 1) how to write it, literally where do we actually start typing this, 2) to understand how that source code will be converted to machine code, and 3) how do we actually run it, how do we execute our program? And some of this does depend on the language that we pick, but let's begin with how to actually start writing these statements.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Programming: Fundamentals
Foundations of Programming: Fundamentals

61 video lessons · 96383 viewers

Simon Allardice
Author

 
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  1. 4m 15s
    1. Welcome
      1m 17s
    2. Making the most of this course
      2m 8s
    3. Using the exercise files
      50s
  2. 22m 11s
    1. What is programming?
      5m 45s
    2. What is a programming language?
      4m 48s
    3. Writing source code
      5m 34s
    4. Compiled and interpreted languages
      6m 4s
  3. 16m 29s
    1. Why JavaScript?
      4m 45s
    2. Creating your first program in JavaScript
      6m 54s
    3. Requesting input
      4m 50s
  4. 31m 38s
    1. Introduction to variables and data types
      5m 16s
    2. Understanding strong, weak, and duck-typed languages
      3m 51s
    3. Working with numbers
      5m 4s
    4. Using characters and strings
      4m 5s
    5. Working with operators
      4m 47s
    6. Properly using white space
      6m 46s
    7. Adding comments to code for human understanding
      1m 49s
  5. 24m 48s
    1. Building with the if statement
      7m 35s
    2. Working with complex conditions
      4m 9s
    3. Setting comparison operators
      6m 59s
    4. Using the switch statement
      6m 5s
  6. 17m 54s
    1. Breaking your code apart
      4m 1s
    2. Creating and calling functions
      2m 56s
    3. Setting parameters and arguments
      6m 7s
    4. Understanding variable scope
      2m 23s
    5. Splitting code into different files
      2m 27s
  7. 13m 31s
    1. Introduction to iteration
      4m 28s
    2. Writing a while statement
      5m 24s
    3. Creating a for loop
      3m 39s
  8. 19m 28s
    1. Cleaning up with string concatenation
      4m 30s
    2. Finding patterns in strings
      8m 3s
    3. Introduction to regular expressions
      6m 55s
  9. 19m 58s
    1. Working with arrays
      5m 46s
    2. Array behavior
      5m 29s
    3. Iterating through collections
      5m 18s
    4. Collections in other languages
      3m 25s
  10. 10m 50s
    1. Programming style
      5m 55s
    2. Writing pseudocode
      4m 55s
  11. 25m 55s
    1. Input/output and persistence
      3m 6s
    2. Reading and writing from the DOM
      8m 11s
    3. Event driven programming
      7m 47s
    4. Introduction to file I/O
      6m 51s
  12. 24m 25s
    1. Introduction to debugging
      5m 57s
    2. Tracing through a section of code
      7m 5s
    3. Understanding error messages
      3m 21s
    4. Using debuggers
      8m 2s
  13. 14m 16s
    1. Introduction to object-oriented languages
      5m 18s
    2. Using classes and objects
      6m 28s
    3. Reviewing object-oriented languages
      2m 30s
  14. 11m 14s
    1. Memory management across languages
      5m 11s
    2. Introduction to algorithms
      4m 2s
    3. Introduction to multithreading
      2m 1s
  15. 29m 20s
    1. Introduction to languages
      1m 42s
    2. C-based languages
      4m 40s
    3. The Java world
      3m 13s
    4. .NET languages: C# and Visual Basic .NET
      6m 17s
    5. Ruby
      3m 4s
    6. Python
      2m 56s
    7. Objective-C
      4m 3s
    8. Libraries and frameworks
      3m 25s
  16. 1m 2s
    1. Where to go from here
      1m 2s

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