How Programming Languages Work

Computers on their own are not the most intelligent of objects, they need to be programmed in order to perform any actions. Writing a code that tells the computer what to do may seem simple, but it isn’t. A computer only understands two distinct types of data – on or off. In fact, a PC is nothing more than a series of transistors which act as switches.

This on/off input is translated into binary code through combinations of 1s and 0s. Binary code is broken into bytes which is a group of eight digits that represent the transistors. Current computers have millions – if not billions – of transistors which means there is an unfathomable number of potential combinations. Because of the sheer volume of switches, writing computer functions through binary is implausible. Programming languages make it possible to control these switches without superhuman powers.

There are thousands of different programming languages making it possible to create everything from apps to websites. Every language is created for a different purpose. However, there is one key distinction – Low-level and high-level languages. Low-level are complex and designed to be closer to binary code, whereas high-level are easier to program in because they have less detail and are user friendly. Nearly all major languages currently used are high-level.

A computer program is simply a text file that is written in a certain coding language. To make a program, simply write the code in a text editor like Notepad and then save it to the computer. Running a program is a whole other issue. Different languages run programs in their own unique way, some use a separate binary file the computer can run, while some use certain software to run. A JavaScript program would run through a web browser for example, while a program written in PHP would run through a web server.

Of course, a computer only understands on and off, which means that the entire code needs to be translated. To do that, it first converts the code into assembly language; this is a low-level language that represents binary patterns. Depending on the language, this is done with either interpreter software working line by line, or a compiler which converts it as a whole. Then the source code is translated into machine language before finally being executed as binary code.

All programming languages use these processes to create software, websites and apps. No matter what you are writing – whether it be an operating system, a web portal or just an entertaining game – your code will go through this process to be run on a computer.

Coding languages exist to simplify this process, are you looking to learn one? Academy Class offers a selection of courses that will take you from zero to hero in a number of programming languages.