A programming language is a formal language that specifies a set of instructions that can be used to produce various kinds of output. Programming languages generally consist of instructions for a computer. Programming languages can be used to create programs that implement specific algorithms.
The earliest known programmable machine that preceded the invention of the digital computer was the automatic flute player described in the 9th century by the brothers Musa in Baghdad, during the Islamic Golden Age. From the early 1800s, “programs” were used to direct the behavior of machines such as Jacquard looms, music boxs and player pianos. Thousands of different programming languages have been created, mainly in the computer field, and many more still are being created every year. Many programming languages require computation to be specified in an imperative form (i.e., as a sequence of operations to perform) while other languages use other forms of program specification such as the declarative form (i.e. the desired result is specified, not how to achieve it).
The description of a programming language is usually split into the two components of syntax (form) and semantics (meaning). Some languages are defined by a specification document (for example, the C programming language is specified by an ISO Standard) while other languages (such as Perl) have a dominant implementation that is treated as a reference. Some languages have both, with the basic language defined by a standard and extensions taken from the dominant implementation being common.
Function and target
A computer programming language is a language used to write computer programs, which involves a computer performing some kind of computation or algorithm and possibly control external devices such as printers, disk drives, robots, and so on. For example, PostScript programs are frequently created by another program to control a computer printer or display. More generally, a programming language may describe computation on some, possibly abstract, machine. It is generally accepted that a complete specification for a programming language includes a description, possibly idealized, of a machine or processor for that language. In most practical contexts, a programming language involves a computer; consequently, programming languages are usually defined and studied this way. Programming languages differ from natural languages in that natural languages are only used for interaction between people, while programming languages also allow humans to communicate instructions to machines.
Programming languages usually contain abstractions for defining and manipulating data structures or controlling the flow of execution. The practical necessity that a programming language support adequate abstractions is expressed by the abstraction principle; this principle is sometimes formulated as a recommendation to the programmer to make proper use of such abstractions.
The theory of computation classifies languages by the computations they are capable of expressing. All Turing complete languages can implement the same set of algorithms. ANSI/ISO SQL-92 and Charity are examples of languages that are not Turing complete, yet often called programming languages.
Markup languages like XML, HTML, or troff, which define structured data, are not usually considered programming languages. Programming languages may, however, share the syntax with markup languages if a computational semantics is defined. XSLT, for example, is a Turing complete XML dialect. Moreover, LaTeX, which is mostly used for structuring documents, also contains a Turing complete subset.
The term computer language is sometimes used interchangeably with programming language. However, the usage of both terms varies among authors, including the exact scope of each. One usage describes programming languages as a subset of computer languages. In this vein, languages used in computing that have a different goal than expressing computer programs are generically designated computer languages. For instance, markup languages are sometimes referred to as computer languages to emphasize that they are not meant to be used for programming.
Another usage regards programming languages as theoretical constructs for programming abstract machines, and computer languages as the subset thereof that runs on physical computers, which have finite hardware resources. John C. Reynolds emphasizes that formal specification languages are just as much programming languages as are the languages intended for execution. He also argues that textual and even graphical input formats that affect the behavior of a computer are programming languages, despite the fact they are commonly not Turing-complete, and remarks that ignorance of programming language concepts is the reason for many flaws in input formats.
Main article: History of programming languages
The earliest computers were often programmed without the help of a programming language, by writing programs in absolute machine language. The programs, in decimal or binary form, were read in from punched cards or magnetic tape or toggled in on switches on the front panel of the computer. Absolute machine languages were later termed first-generation programming languages (1GL).
The next step was development of so-called second-generation programming languages (2GL) or assembly languages, which were still closely tied to the instruction set architecture of the specific computer. These served to make the program much more human-readable and relieved the programmer of tedious and error-prone address calculations.
The first high-level programming languages, or third-generation programming languages (3GL), were written in the 1950s. An early high-level programming language to be designed for a computer was Plankalkül, developed for the German Z3 by Konrad Zuse between 1943 and 1945. However, it was not implemented until 1998 and 2000.
John Mauchly’s Short Code, proposed in 1949, was one of the first high-level languages ever developed for an electronic computer. Unlike machine code, Short Code statements represented mathematical expressions in understandable form. However, the program had to be translated into machine code every time it ran, making the process much slower than running the equivalent machine code.
At the University of Manchester, Alick Glennie developed Autocode in the early 1950s. A programming language, it used a compiler to automatically convert the language into machine code. The first code and compiler was developed in 1952 for the Mark 1 computer at the University of Manchester and is considered to be the first compiled high-level programming language.
The second autocode was developed for the Mark 1 by R. A. Brooker in 1954 and was called the “Mark 1 Autocode”. Brooker also developed an autocode for the Ferranti Mercury in the 1950s in conjunction with the University of Manchester. The version for the EDSAC 2 was devised by D. F. Hartley of University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in 1961. Known as EDSAC 2 Autocode, it was a straight development from Mercury Autocode adapted for local circumstances and was noted for its object code optimisation and source-language diagnostics which were advanced for the time. A contemporary but separate thread of development, Atlas Autocode was developed for the University of Manchester Atlas 1 machine.
In 1954, FORTRAN was invented at IBM by John Backus. It was the first widely used high-level general purpose programming language to have a functional implementation, as opposed to just a design on paper. It is still popular language for high-performance computing and is used for programs that benchmark and rank the world’s fastest supercomputers.
Another early programming language was devised by Grace Hopper in the US, called FLOW-MATIC. It was developed for the UNIVAC I at Remington Rand during the period from 1955 until 1959. Hopper found that business data processing customers were uncomfortable with mathematical notation, and in early 1955, she and her team wrote a specification for an English programming language and implemented a prototype. The FLOW-MATIC compiler became publicly available in early 1958 and was substantially complete in 1959. Flow-Matic was a major influence in the design of COBOL, since only it and its direct descendant AIMACO were in actual use at the time.
The increased use of high-level languages introduced a requirement for low-level programming languages or system programming languages. These languages, to varying degrees, provide facilities between assembly languages and high-level languages and can be used to perform tasks which require direct access to hardware facilities but still provide higher-level control structures and error-checking.
The period from the 1960s to the late 1970s brought the development of the major language paradigms now in use