Evolution of programming languages – How did it happen?

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Evolution of programming languages – How did it happen?

What is the magic that makes your phone’s alarm go off in the morning, connects you, a restaurant, and the delivery guy in a food delivery app keeps all data about your finances in the bank’s digital records for you to access 24/7?

Undoubtedly it is the programs running in these machines. It is these programs that handle millions of transactions in banks, runs your car efficiently, make all your desired operations on your mobile feasible.

What exactly is a programming language?

In simple terms, programming is a way of telling a computer what to do. Just as there are several languages in the world for the sole purpose of communication, there are many programming languages suitable for running different applications on different computing devices.

Can computers understand everything we write?

A computer cannot always understand an instruction that we give in our native language. It needs them in machine-readable formats. Compilers are the programs that convert high-level language (human-readable programs) into machine-readable byte codes/assembly codes. So, a programmer writes instructions in a certain programming language which is then converted into machine-readable formats by the compilers.

Evolution of programming languages – How did it happen?

It all began back in 1842 (yes, that long ago) when Ada Lovelace wrote the first program for Charles Babbage’s (of the father of computers fame) primitive computer, the analytical engine. The next notable programming language came only in the 1950s with IBM developing a language named FORTRAN that was well suited for high-performance computation.

Interestingly, after several enhancements to the original language, this programming language is still used to this day, in areas like aerospace engineering.

In the same decade, another efficient programming language, COBOL was also introduced. It is mostly deployed in mainframe computers which are critical for banks and insurance companies. A very important milestone in the evolution of programming languages came in the year 1972 when Dennis Ritchie developed a language named ‘C’. This language proved to be versatile across myriad computer applications and also served as a foundation for many more programming languages that were developed in the later years.

C worked well for intense mathematical calculations as well as hardware control. Hence it is still in wide use across many domains such as embedded systems, operating systems like Linux, compilers, and gaming.

Why didn’t the evolution stop with C?

While C has been a very good procedural programming language, the evolution of programming languages gradually shifted towards object-oriented programming to cope up with the advancement of computer hardware resulting in wider applications in diverse fields requiring more flexibility and data protection. Thus in 1980, came C++, an object-oriented programming language. C++ is widely used to this day, in GUI based applications like Adobe Photoshop, operating systems like Apple OS, browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Chrome. Major drawbacks with C and C++ was that the written programs were compiled into machine-readable code that was specific to the target machine. This made the program non-portable. The programming language JAVA, developed in the early 1990s addressed this concern. With its ability to generate machine-independent byte code, this programming language garnered quite a large attention. To this day, JAVA is widely used in android mobile applications, web applications, and client-server applications.

Another popular programming language of the 90s is JavaScript. JavaScript forms a basis for other popular web development languages like AngularJS. While C is a procedural language, C++ and Java are object-oriented languages, JavaScript is a scripting language. It can be used for dynamic applications like the interactive user end of a web page.

Another scripting language used in web applications in PHP. Facebook is written with PHP. Python is another programming language of the early 90s that is gaining traction in recent years particularly owing to its vast in-built libraries. This would mean that a developer need not spend much time coding for commonly used operations like calculating the average of numbers.

This allows a developer to concentrate on what he wants to achieve rather than how he’s going to achieve it. Python finds use in the rapid prototyping of applications in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Upcoming programming languages

These days artificial intelligence and machine learning are finding widespread use cases in our daily lives. Likewise, programming languages are evolving to give efficient support for Big data, AI, and ML related applications. Programming languages like R, Swift, and Julia are new entries in this segment.

In the open-source world of things, Rust is an emerging language that is gaining popularity.

Future of programming

With the advent of several programming languages, it is not possible for one person to learn syntaxes of all of them. Here, model-based programming comes to the rescue. The designer shall create a model for the expected behavior on a tool like IBM’s Rhapsody which can generate code in any programming language. This would avoid code iterations and effort for development to some extent.

How to pick the best language for your requirement

Several factors that need to be considered while picking a programming language are:

● Execution time and speed
● Target platform
● Data security
● The extent of hardware access

Whatever be the application, there is always more than one programming language that can be used to implement it. It is up to the developer to weigh the pros and cons and finalize the optimal language. Or, one could take the help of companies like Pacewisdom that assist in using the most optimal programming language for a given requirement.

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