What is a Programming Language?

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Updated: 06/30/2019 by Computer Hope

A programming language is a computer language programmers use to develop software programs, scripts, or other sets of instructions for computers to execute.

Although many languages share similarities, each has its own syntax. Once a programmer learns the languages rules, syntax, and structure, they write the source code in a text editor or IDE. Then, the programmer often compiles the code into machine language that can be understood by the computer. Scripting languages, which do not require a compiler, use an interpreter to execute the script.

Types of programming languages

Each of the different programming languages mentioned in the next section can be broken into one or more of the following types (paradigms) of languages.

Note

There are dozens of other paradigms that can be used to classify a programming language. We’ve tried to list only the most common as a starting point.

List of computer programming languages

Today, there are hundreds of different programming languages. The following section contains an index of the different programming and scripting languages currently listed on our site. Clicking on any of the following languages displays an explanation and examples of that language.

Note

Languages marked with an asterisk (*) in the list above are not technically a programming language; they are markup, style sheet, and database management languages that are included in the list for those who may consider them as a programming language.

Those new to computer programming may find the list above overwhelming. Figuring out where to start depends on the type of computer programming you want to do. The next section is a listing of some of the different fields of programming, as well as the languages to consider for each.

Note

There are several programming languages listed above that may not be in the following categories. The reason for this is that we have elected to list only the most popular choices to avoid confusion.

Applications and program development

Application and program development involves programs you work with on a daily basis. For example, the Internet browser you are using to view this web page is considered a program. If you are interested in developing a program, you should consider the following languages:

Artificial intelligence development

Artificial intelligence or related fields involve creating the character interactions in computer games, portions of programs that make
decisions, chatbots, and more. If you’re interested in developing an AI, you should consider the following languages:

Database development

Database developers create and maintain databases. If you’re interested in creating or maintaining a database, you should consider any of the following languages:

Game development

Game development involves creating computer games or other entertainment software. If you’re interested in developing a game, you should consider the following languages:

Computer drivers or other hardware development

Computer drivers and programming hardware interface support are a necessity for hardware functionality. If you’re interested in developing drivers or software interfaces for hardware devices, you should consider the following languages:

Internet and web page development

Internet and web page development are the essence of the Internet. Without developers, the Internet would not exist. If you’re interested in creating web pages, Internet applications, or other Internet-related tasks, you should consider the following languages:

Script development

Although it is not likely to become a career, knowing how to create and develop scripts can increase productivity for you or your company, saving you countless hours. If you’re interested in developing scripts, consider the following languages:

How many programming languages are there?

As computers have evolved, many different computer programming languages created for various types of development. Although we do have several dozen languages listed on our site, there are hundreds that we don’t have listed. To get an idea of the different programming languages, you can visit The Hello World Collection, which gives a demo of how to write “Hello World” in over 591 different programming languages.

What are the top programming languages?

There are many different ways this question could be answered. However, we feel that the best method is to rely on the data from GitHub, a service that hosts over 96 million different software projects. In the below chart, GitHub shows the top 10 programming languages from 2014 to 2018.

Top programming languages on GitHub

In the chart above, you can see the top 10 languages are: JavaScript, Java, Python, PHP, C++, C#, TypeScript, Shell, C, and Ruby. The complete overview of growing languages list is on the GitHub Octoverse page.

Tip

If you’re learning to program, we recommend learning the language that will suit your needs or that others in your industry rather than the most popular language.

Hello World, OOPL, Programming, Programming terms

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