Computer Languages: Types, Generations, Facts, Major Terms & Examples

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The term computer language is sometimes used interchangeably with computer programming languages. Like humans, a computer also needs a language to communicate with the user or the developer. These special-purpose languages are known as programming languages or Computer languages.

▪ There are different types of programming languages to perform specific tasks, those languages are divided into 5 generations based on function.

▪ In this article, we will explore different types, generations, benefits, and drawbacks of programming languages, providing examples to illustrate each point.

What is Computer Language?

▪ A computer language, in layman’s terms is a medium of communication between a user and a computer.

▪ The medium here is a set of rules for writing instructions that can be interpreted and executed by a computer.

▪ Commonly these instructions are known as codes. Each coding language is written in a syntax that a computer can understand and use to accomplish a task or solve a problem.

▪ With this language a user can give a command to a computer to perform a specific task and understand the computer’s output.

Types of computer languages

▪ Basically, there are two main categories of computer languages, namely low-level languages and high-level languages, each designed for a specific purpose. Let us briefly discuss these two types of computer languages.

Low-level languages

▪ These languages are closer to the hardware of a computer and are used to perform tasks that are more efficient or require more control over the hardware.

Low-level languages are closer to the machine code that a computer can execute directly, and as a result, they are generally more difficult for humans to read and write.

▪ The most common examples of low-level languages are assembly language and machine language

Types of a low-level language

▪ The two most common low-level language types are assembly and machine. Let us briefly discuss these two types of computer languages.

Assembly language
▪ Assembly language is a low-level second-generation programming language.

▪ It is a machine language used to write instructions for a computer’s central processing unit (CPU).

▪ It is an advanced version of machine language that uses words, mnemonic codes, names, and symbols instead of using only numbers like machine language.

▪ These mnemonic codes are short abbreviations for machine language instructions. These mnemonic codes are easy for humans to read and write.

▪ Assembly language is typically used for tasks that require a high degree of control over the hardware, such as operating systems, device drivers, and other system-level software.

Machine Language

▪ Machine language is a low-level first-generation programming language.

▪ This is one of the most basic programming languages for first-generation computers.

▪ It is written in binary or machine code, meaning it understands only two numbers – 1 and 0. Therefore, each instruction written in this language is a sequence of binary numbers.

▪ These are directly executable by a computer’s central processing unit (CPU).

▪ It is specific to a particular type of computer and cannot be run on other types of computer without first translating it into their native language.

▪ Also, It is difficult for humans to read and memorize, as it consists of long strings of binary numbers.

▪ Machine language forms the basis of computer programming, but programmers do not commonly use it because it is very low-level and difficult to work with, rather than a high-level programming language.

Assembler, Compiler, and Interpreter
Assembler, Compiler, and Interpreter
▪ Both compiler and interpreter translate high-level language into machine language or machine code, but the main difference between them is, the compiler translates complete code and interpreter translates code line by line.

▪ The compiler first scans the entire code, if there are no errors in it, it translates it into machine code.

▪ Compiler shows all errors and warnings at the same time. 

▪ The interpreter scans one line at a time and translates it into machine code.

▪ Interpreter shows one error at a time.

High-level languages

▪ High-level languages are more conceptual and are easier for humans to read and write.

▪ High-level languages allow programmers to write programs for all types of computers and systems.

▪ They are translated into low-level machine languages by a compiler or interpreter before they can run on a computer.

▪ Some examples of high-level languages include PASCAL, FORTRAN, C, C++, and Java.

Types of High-level language

Scripting languages

▪ These languages are used to write scripts that automate tasks or control other programs. They are usually interpreted rather than compiled.

▪ Examples include Python, Perl, and Bash.

Markup languages

▪ These languages are used to structure and format text and other content for display on the web or in other documents.

▪ Examples include HTML, XML, and LaTeX.

Object-oriented Languages

▪ The working principle of an object-oriented programming language (OOP) is based on the concept of “objects” and their interactions.

▪ These objects are self-contained units that contain both data and the methods needed to manipulate that data.

▪ Some examples include Java, C+, C++, Python, Swift etc.

Functional languages

▪ These languages are based on the concept of function calls and are designed to support functional programming. They are often used for tasks that involve complex data manipulation and are well-suited for parallel processing.

▪ Examples include Lisp and Haskell.

Logic languages

▪ These languages are based on formal logic and used for tasks involving reasoning and problem-solving.

▪ Examples include Prolog and Mercury.

Procedural Programming Language

▪ Procedural programming focuses on writing code as a series of step-by-step procedures or functions.

▪ These languages are known for their efficiency and flexibility, and they are often used for tasks such as systems programming, scientific computing, and game development.

▪ Some examples of procedural programming languages include FORTRAN, ALGOL, BASIC, COBOL, and Pascal.

Generation of Programming Languages

▪ Programming languages can be broadly classified into 5 generations based on their development and capabilities. They are: 

First-generation (1G) languages

▪ These are low-level machine languages.
▪ This language is machine-dependent (close to the hardware).

▪ They are also known as. Examples include binary code (consisting of 0s and 1s) and assembly language.

▪ The statements are written in binary code (0/1 form) because the computer can understand only binary language.

Example of First-generation programming language: Machine Language

Advantages of First-generation languages

Fast execution speed: No interpreter is needed to execute instructions like a program written in a high-level language. All instructions are directly executed by the computer’s processor, which enables it to execute quickly.

Tight control over the hardware: These are low-level languages that provide the most direct control over the hardware, which can be useful for tasks that require precise control of computer resources.

Small program size: Programs written in 1st generation languages are generally shorter and simpler than programs written in high-level languages, which means they can be easier to store and transfer.

Less prone to security vulnerabilities: By not providing abstractions or high-level properties, such languages are less prone to security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers.

Disadvantages of First-generation languages

Difficulty of use: Difficult for humans to read and write because they are represented as strings of binary digits (0s and 1s).

Hard to find errors Since programs are written in a binary code consisting of 0’s and 1’s, it is difficult to find an error in their written code.

Lack of portability: They are tied to specific hardware architectures and cannot be easily ported to other platforms without rewriting.

Lack of abstraction and error-prone: It provides no high-level features, meaning programmers have to write low-level code to perform even simple tasks. This can be time-consuming and error-prone.

Poor error handling: Built-in error handling or debugging features are missing in this generation of languages, which can make it difficult to identify and fix problems in a program.

Lack of support for software engineering principles: Provide no support for software engineering principles, such as modular design and structured programming, which can make it difficult to write maintainable and reliable code.

Poor support for large-scale development: They are unsuitable for large-scale development projects, as they do not provide the necessary tools and abstractions to manage complexity.

Second-generation (2G) languages

▪ Second-generation languages are called low-level assembly languages.

▪ Assembly language has a human-readable notation that is more readable and easier to write than first-generation languages.

▪ It uses an assembler to interpret the instruction, which converts assembly-level instructions into machine-level instructions.

Example of second-generation language: Assembly Language

Advantages of Second-generation languages

Portable: Programs written in 2GLs can often run on a wide variety of computers and operating systems without requiring significant modifications, making them more portable than programs written in first-generation languages.

More flexible: Provide a wide range of features and programming constructs, such as loops, arrays, and functions, which make writing complex programs easy.

Easier to learn: Second-generation languages use more familiar, English-like syntax and are generally easier to read and understand than first-generation languages.

More efficient: They are compiled or interpreted into machine code, making them more efficient than programs written in first-generation languages.

Disadvantages of Second-generation languages

Slower than first-generation languages: 2GLs can sometimes be slower than programs written in 1GLs because 2GLs are compiled or interpreted into machine code while 1st-generation languages are executed directly by the computer’s hardware.

More memory required: It requires more memory to run than those written in first-generation languages, as they may include additional instructions for the compiler or interpreter to execute.

More complex than 1st Generation language: Second-generation languages offer a wider range of features and programming structures, making them more complex to learn and use.

Third-generation (3G) languages

▪ Third-generation or 3GL languages are high-level procedural languages and are more abstract and closer to human language.

▪ They are easier to write, read and maintain than 1G and 2G languages because the written instructions consist of a series of words like English.

Examples of third-generation languages: C, C++, PASCAL, FORTRAN, COBOL, Visual Basic, and Java.

Advantages of Third-generation languages

▪ Greater readability: 3rd generation languages are more readable and easier to understand than 1GLs or 2GLs, making them easier to write, debug, and maintain.

Higher level of abstraction: These are more abstract and less bound to specific hardware architectures, meaning that programs written in third-generation languages can be more portable and easier to maintain.

Greater support of software engineering principles: More adept at using software engineering principles, such as modular design and structured programming, which can lead to more maintainable and reliable code.

▪ Better support for large-scale development: More suitable for large-scale development projects, as they provide more powerful tools and abstractions for managing complexity.

Improved productivity: Because they are easier to read and write, programmers can be more productive when using them.

Better error handling: It has built-in error handling and debugging features, which can make it easier to identify and fix problems in a program.

Disadvantages third-generation languages (3GLs)

▪ Less control over the hardware: Not suitable for hardware-specific tasks because they do not provide as much control over the hardware as low-level languages.

Slower execution speed: 3GL is usually compiled into machine code before execution, which can result in slower execution speed than programs written in low-level languages.

Dependence on the compiler: Programs written in 3GL are usually compiled into machine code by a compiler, meaning they depend on the compiler’s performance to run correctly.

Larger program size: 3GL programs can be larger than programs written in low-level languages, making them more difficult to store and transfer.

Fourth-generation (4G) languages

▪ These are specialized languages that are used to access databases.

▪ It is also called a non – procedural language or 4GL.

Examples of Fourth-generation languages: SQL (Structured Query Language), Python, Perl, Ruby, and MatLab (matrix laboratory).

Also, Read: List of Computer Abbreviations (Updated)

Advantages of Fourth-generation languages

Ease of use: It requires less coding and less technical knowledge than other general-purpose programming languages. This makes them accessible to a wide range of people, including non-developers.

▪ Increased productivity: Coding takes some time to learn, but 4th generation languages can help increase productivity due to less coding required.

▪ Better readability: These are more readable and easier to understand than general-purpose programming languages, which can make code easier to maintain and modify.

Specificity: Since they are designed for a specific purpose, they may be more efficient and better suited to solving certain problems than general-purpose programming languages.

Disadvantages of Fourth-generation languages

▪ Limited scope: They are designed for specific purposes, so they may not be suitable for other troubleshooting or tasks.

▪ Dependency on vendor support: Some of the 4th generation languages are developed and maintained by a specific vendor. You may rely on the vendor for updates, support, and documentation.

Lack of flexibility: They are not as flexible as a general-purpose programming language to perform various tasks and customize solutions.

Poor performance: They are not suitable or efficient for performing tasks requiring much processing power or speed.

Limited portability: Running solutions on different platforms and devices is difficult because they are often tied to a specific platform or operating system, making it difficult to port to other environments.

Fifth-generation (5G) languages

▪ The fifth-generation languages are also called 5GL.

▪ It is based on the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP).

▪ Parallel processing and superconductors are used to create real artificial intelligence for such languages.

▪ They are more human-like in their ability to process and understand information.

Examples of Fifth-generation languages: PROLOG, LISP, OPS5, and Mercury

Advantages of Fifth-generation languages

Increased productivity: Easier to learn and use than traditional programming languages, which can boost productivity. of a developer.

Better readability: They are often designed to make the code easier to understand and maintain.

Improved reliability: The machine can make decisions and find any errors in coding.

Greater flexibility: They can be used to solve a wider range of problems.

Disadvantages Fifth-generation languages

Limited scope: These are designed to solve specific problems like R&D in artificial intelligence.

Lack of control: Fifth-generation languages are designed to solve given problems without a computer programmer. Thus, the developer may have less control over executing their code.

Limited availability of developers: Fifth-generation languages such as OPS5 and Mercury are still not well known to developers, as they are specialized programming languages that are not as widely used as traditional programming languages such as C++ or Python.

Computer Languages Types and Generations Chart

Computer Languages Types and Generations Chart
Computer Languages Types and Generations Chart

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q1. What are the three main types of computer programming languages?

Answer: Machine language, Assembly language, and High-level language.

Q2. How many types of computer languages are there?

Answer: There are more than 500+ types of computer programming languages.

Q3. How many generations of computer languages are there?

Answer: There are 5 generations of computer languages.

Q4. In which generation was the high-level language developed?

Answer: Third-generation languages.

Q5. Which generation of computer languages includes SQL?

Answer: SQL or Structured Query Language is included in the 4th generation languages.

Q6. When was the first high-level language developed?

Answer: 1960
• The first significantly expanded high-level language was Fortran

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