What Is a Programming Language?

When you enter a darkened room and want to see what is inside, you turn on a light switch. When you leave the room, you turn the light switch off.

The first computers were not too different than that light switch. These early computers consisted of wires and switches in which the electrical current followed a path dependent on which switches were in the on (one) or off (zero) position. Indeed, I built such a simple computer when I was a kid (which according to my own children was back when dinosaurs still ruled the earth).

Each switchs position could be expressed as a number: 1 for the on position, 0 for the off position. Thus, the instructions given to these first computers, in the form of the switches positions , essentially were a series of ones and zeroes.

Todays computers, of course, are far more powerful and sophisticated than these early computers. However, the language that computers understand, called machine language, remains the same, essentially ones and zeroes.

While computers think in ones and zeroes, the humans who write computer programs usually dont. Additionally, a complex program may consist of thousands or even millions of step-by-step machine language instructions, which would require an inordinately long amount of time to write. This is an important consideration since, due to competitive market forces, the amount of time within which a program has to be written is becoming increasingly less and less.

Fortunately, we do not have to write instructions to computers in machine language. Instead, we can write instructions in a programming language. Programming languages are far more understandable to programmers than machine language because programming languages resemble the structure and syntax of human language, not ones and zeroes. Additionally, code can be written much faster with programming languages than machine language because programming languages automate instructions; one programming language instruction can cover many machine language instructions.

C++ is but one of many programming languages. Other popular programming languages include Java, C#, and Visual Basic. There are many others. Indeed, new languages are being created all the time. However, all programming languages have essentially the same purpose, which is to enable a human programmer to give instructions to a computer.

Why learn C++ instead of another programming language? First, it is very widely used, both in industry and in education. Second, many other programming languages, including Java and C#, are based on C++. Indeed, the Java programming language was written using C++. Therefore, knowing C++ makes learning other programming languages easier.

C++ Demystified(c) A Self-Teaching Guide
C++ Demystified(c) A Self-Teaching Guide
ISBN: 72253703
Year: 2006
Pages: 148

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