Although thousands of programming languages exist, there are a select number that are favorites among developers and the businesses that hire them. Programming languages are used to write instructions to computers, executing applications, scripts and other commands across different machines, devices and websites.
The instructions or code that programmers write for different applications and scripts break down into two categories: low-level assembly languages and high-level languages. Low-level languages, which provide little or no abstraction, can be quickly converted to code without a compiler (a program that reorganizes source code into instructions for machines) or an interpreter (a program that translates high-level code into machine language).
Compilers “speak” to computers directly by performing a long series of processor operations – i.e. carrying out instructions to machines – one byte at a time. Though considered a high-level language during its infancy, C Language is considered by many of today’s programmers as a low-level programming language (meaning it’s the closest to the original “computer language”).
High-level programming languages can be converted into code for one or several machines and contain a large amount of abstraction. They’re also similar to natural language, such as math and logic, and designed to be simple to use and easier to understand by new developers. Some examples of high-level programming languages include Perl, Python and Ruby.
Created by Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan at Bell Labs in 1972, C Language is one of the oldest and widest used computer languages. It comprises a series of numbers, words and punctuation that serve as the building blocks for subsequent languages, including C++ and Java. The UNIX operating system was also the first major program written in C, which eventually led to the world’s most popular open-source operating system, Linux.
The greatest strength of C Language is that it’s portable and can make computers with varying architectures and operating systems perform at high speeds. On the other hand, C Language can also make it difficult to allocate and manage memory on machines.
When Bjarne Stroustrup updated C Language in 1979, the result was C++. Like Objective-C, C++ was developed to address the shortcomings of C Language. C++ is mainly used to create a wide range of applications, from games and desktop office suites, to entire websites. Some of the world’s most popular desktop applications – Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Winamp Media Player, as well as the entire Adobe Creative Suite – run on C++. Like its predecessor C Language, C++ is commonly used by programmers due to its speed.
Developed by Microsoft in 2000 as a primary component of its .NET framework, C# falls within the younger generation of programming languages. Like the C Language, it’s object-oriented and fuses elements of C Language and C++. If you’re a developer who’s interested in programming Windows applications, C# is crucial for developing programs compatible with Microsoft platforms.
CSS and HTML
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and hypertext markup language (HTML) form the basis of web design. While HTML allows you to structure content on a webpage, CSS formats, enhances and defines the webpage’s layout.
In essence, HTML forms the basic building blocks of websites, allowing web browsers such as Google Chrome to interpret and display HTML tags as text, image and other types of content. CSS programs the appearance and design of this content, focusing on elements such as colors and fonts.
Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) created Java in 1995 as an object-oriented programming language. Since its release, it has become one of the most popular programming languages in the world.
One of the great benefits of Java is that it’s platform-independent, allowing programs made for a Windows operating system to be run on computers using Linux or Mac OS X. Because of Java’s versatility, it’s the programming language of choice for building applications that can be deployed on an enterprise scale.
Brad Cox and Tom Love developed Objective-C at Apple in 1983 to address the pitfalls around C Language’s object-oriented programming model. One distinguishing feature of Objective-C is that it’s used exclusively in Apple OS X and iOS mobile operating systems. If you’re a developer or engineer looking to gain experience building iOS applications, then a strong knowledge of Objective-C is a must-have skill in both startups and large tech companies.
Yukihiro Matsumoto created Ruby in 1995 by combining various components from Eiffel, Lisp and Perl programming languages. Ruby is an object-oriented, dynamic language that is valued for its simplicity and ability to automate computer functions. Ruby drives the Ruby on Rails framework, which powers popular commercial and social media websites, including Groupon, Scribd and Yammer.
Students tend to find Ruby easier to learn than other programming languages. This is primarily due to Ruby’s simple syntax structure, which resembles the English language.
Instagram, Pinterest and Rdio are some of the major websites that have been built using the Python programming language. Heavy investment by Google (in fact, Python founder Guido van Rossum is a former Google employee) has also driven Python’s resurgence as a popular program since its creation in 1991. As a high-level programming language, Python’s readable and simple syntax makes it a favorite for beginner and entry-level programmers.
For beginner developers and non-technical learners, learning a computer programming language may seem scary at first. Whether it’s learning Python or Ruby, mastering a computer language doesn’t require thinking like a computer, but it does entail learning the commands and functions that enable it to run programs on machines.
If you’re stuck on which programming languages to use to build your next application or website, consider factors such as ease of learning, development speed, portability and the number of platform environments the language supports. The easier the programming language is to learn, the more productive you’ll be at coding and launching your web project. If you’re planning to hire developers, it’s a good idea to consider the cost of various types of developers and how those costs align with your budget.