For many people, interacting with computers is an important part of daily life.
Each time you send a text message, play a video game, or search for cat pictures online—even as you read these words—you are interacting with a computer. It is through computer languages, also called programming languages, that people communicate with computers. When programmers want computers to operate in a specific way, they write detailed sets of instructions in a computer language. Like other languages, computer languages include sets of symbols organised through grammar and other rules. Unlike other languages, a computer language is not meant for direct conversation between humans. And no one—yet—has grown up speaking a computer language.
In most computers, information is encoded in bits. Each bit consists of a binary digit: 1 or 0. Computer chips simulate bits with billions of tiny electronic switches called transistors. A transistor can either switch on, for 1, or off, for 0. A string of bits provides an instruction for the computer. Machine language, the most basic computer language, allows direct communication with a computer through patterns of 1’s and 0’s.
Machine language is a low-level computer language. A high-level computer language is closer to human language, and has a higher level of abstraction (separation) from computer hardware. After a programmer writes instructions in a high-level language, a program called a compiler translates them into a low-level language for a particular computer to understand. Programmers can use high-level languages to design a program for a particular job or task, rather than for a particular computer. Most programs today are written in high-level languages.
Today, computer programmers use a wide variety of languages. The language HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is used to format web pages, ensuring that a website’s words and images are displayed properly to visitors. Java is the standard language for developing smartphone apps. Python, named after the British television comedy “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” is a flexible language used for many purposes, including website development and artificial intelligence programming. C Language is used to develop operating systems.
Coding is the process of creating instructions that a computer can carry out. Such instructions are generally written using computer languages or programming languages. Just as there are many human languages that people use to communicate with one another, there are many programming languages that people can use to communicate with computers. Instructions written in a programming language are called code.
NEW! Building Blocks of Computer Science
Coding and computer basics come alive in World Book’s newest instalment of the popular Building Blocks series, Building Blocks of Computer Science. Colourful characters in a graphic-novel style adventure into fundamental concepts in computer science. This series makes complex topics engaging and accessible. Available in print and eBook format.
Logic in Coding
Order in Coding
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