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To get a complete overview of the types of programming languages, you must look back to 1883 when Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm for the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage.

Though that “computing machine” and the algorithm never saw fruition, the effort takes its place in history as the beginning of programming.

Fast-forward to the 1940’s and the advent of programmable digital computers. The demand for computing power and productivity has driven the development of more powerful, cheaper, and faster business machines, super-computers for scientific research, and today a variety of portable devices.

Of course with the variety of applications and types of computers, there arose a need for programming languages to get their work done. A complete list of all types of programming languages will be a long list indeed, just as their functionality and purpose will demonstrate.

Today there are an estimated 18.5+ million computer programmers, working in nearly every industry to generate digital assets for businesses, governments, and individuals.

What Are the Types of Programming Languages?

Computers by definition work with digital representation. They cannot understand English or any other written language. Their work is focused on the presence of a “0” or “1” (off or on). Each of these binary “bits” constitutes a segment of data or an instruction for how to process the data.

This handling of data and instructions is managed by machine language programs – one of the primary types of programming languages.

  • Machine language – programming at the machine level to operate the computer
  • Assembly languages – programs written with a human-recognizable syntax for commands and logic for the computer to execute. An assembler or compiler typically processes these programs to create binary content that the computer executes. Assembly languages are closer to machine language than high-level languages and are often referred to as low-level languages.
  • High-level languages (HLL) – there are many HLLs that require varying levels of programming skills, from a hobbyist or student levels to those that demand a high level of technical ability.

Within those basic categories are many distinct languages utilized for their different attributes and purposes. Many HLLs are independent of the computer they’re intended to be used with, making them more attractive to both programmers and business.

Assembly Language

Assembly language has long been the domain of mainframe computers or systems that require precise management of system resources.

Many IBM mainframe computers still utilize assembler routines for at least portions of the underlying operating systems, and for applications where efficient management of memory or hardware devices is critical.

Even high-level languages utilize compilers to transform their English-like syntax into low-level formats that computers can understand. This transformation may be performed either as the program is generated, or it may be interpreted in real-time when the program is run.

Different versions and levels of assembler are utilized across various computer architectures:

  • A86/A386 – utilized in some Windows and DOS computer systems
  • ACK – Linux and other Unix-like environments
  • FASM – still used in Windows, Linux, and DOS environments
  • Yasm – utilized today in some Windows, DOS, Linux, and Unix systems

Other assembly versions are still in various levels of use and development.

High-level Programming Languages

At the top of the complete list of all types of programming languages are HLLs. This is where most development is done today.

Within the category of HLLs, there are many languages and uses. To fairly represent, every type of HLL programming language could fill a small book. Just scan the list provided online to get a good feel for the breadth of languages available.

High-level languages offer programmers the advantage that they are easier to both write and read, and are also easier to maintain in the future.

Ranking and Types of High-Level Programming Languages

Java

Java currently leads the pack in demand and popularity, largely due to its flexibility and portability. Java code is running on millions of devices worldwide, from mainframes to smartphones.

This language runs legacy applications at Fortune 100 enterprises, and may even be found running on chips in “smart” appliances. Java is also heavily leveraged in building corporate websites.

C++

C++ is one of the most commonly used languages for such special purposes as 3D gaming, due to its efficient utilization of memory and consistent, smooth execution properties. Many developers of desktop applications utilize C++ for its ability to interact effectively with the operating system and hardware components. Some operating systems are also written at least in part utilizing C++.

C

C was the foundation of C++ and is a high-performance language often used for operating systems and device drivers that must provide a quick response.

Python

Python has grown considerably in popularity in recent years, especially for creating websites and even mobile apps. Python is relatively easy to become proficient in, making it attractive to new programmers.

HTML/CSS

Though this may not be categorized specifically as a language, HTML is heavily used in creating web pages. Python or other languages used for websites will ultimately communicate with a browser by sending HTML with the web page content. CSS provides the formatting and styling for the web page.

PHP (Personal Home Page)

Most website developers will be familiar with PHP. It is used in concert with HTML to handle data and interact with a database. PHP is one of the more prevalent technologies in use for websites, including such global favorites as Facebook.

JavaScript

JavaScript is not connected to Java. As its name implies, it is a scripted language ideally suited for web pages and functionality within an application, such as field content validation. Today, its popularity and use have expanded to include the development of entire browser-based applications.

SQL

SQL (Structured Query Language) is another scripted language that is specifically purposed for working with databases and their content. SQL can be utilized to easily maintain data, insert and modify records or fields, and generate queries based on database contents and multiple selection criteria.

Most Popular Programming Languages

When you think of a complete list of all types of programming languages, your intention is likely to determine what languages stand out for career (and earnings) potential.

The TIOBE Index regularly updates their list of the most popular programming languages, along with the indication of whether the language is rising or falling in popularity. With that in mind, you should consider the type of programming language that may be in highest demand:

Mobile Device Programming

There’s an app for almost everything you can think of these days. Many of those apps for iOS or Android are developed by individuals with a creative imagination and a knowledge of programming. There are several languages that stand out for mobile application development:

  • HTML/HTML5 – HTML5 builds on the strength of HTML to support multiple browsers, screen sizes, and handling of multiple data types.
  • Swift – Swift is gaining ground and popularity among iOS developers. Integration with Objective-C is only one selling point. It is taking the lead in working with Apple APIs and eliminating the security vulnerabilities potentially found in Objective-C apps. Big plus – businesses are on the lookout for experienced Swift developers.
  • C++ – this language has been around before mobile apps were even thought of. It can be used to develop robust apps for both Android and Windows mobile platforms.
  • C# – if you want to focus on the Windows smartphone app market, C# takes the lead where iOS utilizes Objective-C.
  • Java – Java has been the portability leader for decades, running on mainframes, desktops, and all sorts of mobile devices. Java is an object-oriented language that can be run in a browser window, or even independently without a browser. Granted, Java is not adaptable to the iOS architecture, but Java programs can be run on multiple platforms.

Social Media Programming Languages

Are you focused on becoming the next successful entrepreneur to build a massive presence in social media? There are multiple types of programming languages behind the scenes of websites such as Facebook:

PHP handles much of the front-facing action, with JavaScript playing a major role in working with your browser.

Behind the scenes, there are a variety of functions being managed by multiple languages – C, C++, Java, and Python contribute to the Facebook experience, as well.

iPhone and iOS users are serviced by Objective-C developers.

How Do You Decide What Programming Language to Learn?

Once you have a basis for the types of programming languages in use (and in demand), how do you get started?

What language do you dive into, and how do you learn?

Deciding depends on what your goal is – mobile developers will want to consider which platform to focus on (iOS or Android) and seek out training in the appropriate language.

Businesses are also looking constantly for mobile developers. Portability is a consideration, as well.

Developing in Java offers cross-platform potential to make your programs reusable on multiple platforms, for maximum return on your investment in training and development.

Training is more plentiful than ever before. There are multiple resources for getting started in nearly any programming language you can think of:

  • Books (yes, there are still a wide variety of physical or downloadable books available on programming languages)
  • YouTube videos – the web abounds with tutorials for programming exercises and “how to” videos
  • On-line courses – many colleges and technical training institutes offer a variety of beginner and advanced programming courses
  • Community colleges – may offer courses in multiple programming languages, and some even offer career placement assistance.
  • Forums – every language has helpful forums on the web to help get you over hurdles and share solutions.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, once commented: “Everybody should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” With such guidance from an expert as this, perhaps now is the time for you to learn a programming language – or a new one.

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