Programming languages are the heart of any software application, playing a key role in the success of the software product built. A plethora of programming languages has emerged — making it a challenge to choose the right one for the right situation.
This article provides an overview of programming languages, including their classifications. We’ll also outline:
- The crucial considerations when selecting a specific programming language
- The best programming languages to learn in the coming years
What is a programming language?
A programming language enables communication with computers by providing instructions or commands to execute a specific set of tasks. A programming language consists of:
- Syntax, or rules for writing code
- Semantics, or the meaning of the code that computers can translate into a machine-readable format
Many, many programming languages used worldwide, such as C, C++, Java, Python, and Rust. These languages vary in terms of their programming paradigms, syntax and semantics.
Currently, programming languages are used for building a wide range of software and programs, including mobile apps, web applications, executable scripts and cron jobs. These languages evolve with new features, enhanced performance, security optimizations and compatibility with other languages and platforms.
Low-level programming languages
Low-level programming languages are closer to the language that machines can understand. Thus, they offer more control over the underlying computer system architecture. Assembly language, Ada, Fortran and machine code are a few examples of low-level programming languages.
However, these languages can be more difficult to learn than high-level languages as they require an understanding of the underlying computer architecture, including hardware resources. Another big difference is that developers need to perform memory management manually, which can be error-prone and time-consuming.
A few applications of low-level programming languages include programs for:
- Operating systems
- Video games
- Scientific computing
- Device drivers
High-level programming languages
Unlike low-level programming languages, high-level programming languages are easy to program due to their abstraction. This abstraction enables programmers to focus on the functional aspects of the program — rather than the underlying computer architecture and implementation details.
Examples of such programming languages include Java, C++, Python, Ruby and C#.
Since high-level languages hide low-level implementation details, developers can write code more efficiently with minimal errors, leading to increased productivity. What’s more, high-level languages often consist of extensive tools and libraries to help developers perform common tasks easily.
The 5 types of programming languages
There are several ways to classify programming languages. For example, they can be categorized as front-end and back-end languages or based on the type of application they are best suited for.
Either way, there are basically five major types of programming languages.
Type 1. Procedural programming languages
Procedural programming languages use a series of functions or procedures in a systematic manner to solve a specific problem. Procedures are code blocks that perform a specific task and can be reused in other parts of the program. Examples of procedural programming languages include C, Pascal, Fortran, Ada, and Basic.
Since procedural languages are low-level programming languages, they provide low-level access to system resources and hardware. It allows programmers to write high-performance, low-level software. However, there are some cons to these languages, such as:
- Limited functionality
- Less reusability
- Less concurrency support
There are a wide range of use cases for procedural programming languages. For example, they are used in various domains such as game development, engineering, scientific computing and education.
Type 2. Functional programming languages
Functional programming languages consist of functions or mathematical expressions that receive inputs and produce desired outputs.
While functions are less popular than other types of programming languages, they are more flexible than procedural ones. Functional programming languages are particularly suitable for developing programs that require complex data transformations or numerical calculations. Furthermore, they can be used in combination with other programming paradigms, such as object-oriented or procedural programming.
Some examples of functional programming languages include Haskell, Clojure, Lisp, Scala and F#. They are mainly used in data science, game development, and web development.
Additionally, they are well-suited for developing distributed systems due to their functions and immutable data structures.
Type 3. Object-oriented programming languages
Object-oriented programming (OOP) languages consider everything as an object. Each object is defined by its properties and methods. Moreover, each object belongs to a particular class. This structure of a program in OOP enables users to write complex, flexible and reusable programs. OOP is based on four principles:
OOP languages are widely used in software development due to their numerous advantages, such as concurrency support, reduced code complexity and high code reusability.
Java, C++, Python, and Ruby are some highly popular OOP languages among the developer community today.
Type 4. Scripting programming languages
Scripting programming languages are often used for scripting purposes like data processing and daily cron jobs for data gathering and transfer. However, they are also used for web development and building small programs.
Scripting languages are interpreted, rather than compiled, making them ideal for rapid application development and automating repetitive tasks.
Scripting languages are easy to learn due to their simplified syntax. They come with features such as:
- Garbage collection
- Dynamic typing
Plus, scripting languages often have a large and active community. That means there is ample documentation, tutorials and other resources to help users quickly grasp their concepts. Some of the most popular scripting languages are Python, Perl, Ruby, and PHP.
Type 5. Logic programming languages
Logic programming languages consist of logical statements and rules based on mathematical logic principles.
Unlike other programming languages, Logic programming languages allow developers to define problems using logical relationships and constraints rather than computer commands. These types of languages are used in developing AI and expert systems.
Prolog (programming in logic) is the most popular logic programming language used for various applications, like natural language processing and expert systems.
Logic programming languages also support concurrency. Hence, they can be used in distributed computing systems. Other logic programming languages include:
- Answer Set Programming (ASP)
- Common Logic
Backend vs. front-end programming languages
Apart from the above classification, programming languages for web development can also be classified as frontend and backend programming languages.
Frontend languages are the ones that are specifically used to design and implement the client-facing interface of a web application.
Backend programming languages
On the other hand, backend programming languages specifically focus on the server-side functionality of a web application. Examples of such languages include Java, PHP, Python and Ruby. Such languages facilitate common functionalities like:
Some languages support backend & frontend
Some languages can be used for both front-end and back-end development, or for building full-stack applications. For instance, Node.js can be used to develop a complete program using templating engines for the front end and server-side frameworks for the back end.
Programming languages for database management
While programming languages are often used for typical coding tasks, there are some specific programming languages for database management.
SQL (Structured Query Language) is the standard query language for managing relational databases. SQL can be used to insert, update, delete and retrieve data from relational databases. Additionally, it offers other database management tasks like creating tables, procedures, indexes, triggers, and views.
(Read our full database management guide.)
What should you consider when choosing a programming language?
Selecting the best programming language can be challenging with the wide variety of options available these days. You may have to consider several factors to narrow your choices and pick the most suitable programming language.
- Your goal. First, ask yourself what your goal is. For example, is it for building a simple program or a high-performing web application that must be scalable and efficient for a large user base? Likewise, consider your project requirements first to narrow down your search.
- Popular or industry languages. Which languages are common in your industry? The more popular the language, the more reliable it is. Plus, popular languages have a wide community around them, so you can easily find resources to learn them and get the necessary support.
- Availability of libraries and tools. Developing everything from scratch is time-consuming. Instead, you can check the availability of libraries and tools, such as IDEs, to facilitate easier and faster development. Additionally, consider the availability of SDKs to support integration with other systems.
- Performance & security. Some programming languages are faster than others. Some may also provide security features like memory safety and sandboxing support.
Best programming languages to learn
The following are the ten best programming languages you should master in the coming years.
(Check out the top DevOps certifications to earn.)
Software runs on programming languages
Programming languages are the foundation of any software application. Many programming languages have been introduced now, each with different syntax, semantics and other rules. Each programming language is suitable for specific types of applications.
There are mainly five types of programming languages, which can be classified as back-end and front-end programming languages and in web development. You must consider several factors when choosing a specific programming language. These factors include your goal, popularity, performance, security, and availability of libraries and tools.
What is Splunk?
This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.