High-level programming languages are more human-oriented than machine-oriented, for which their designs would be too complex and resource-intensive. You should not assume that this type, based on the name, is somehow better than others, since both low-level and high-level ones have their own tasks, advantages, and disadvantages.
Understanding the capabilities and features of these languages will allow novice programmers to decide on the direction of developing their skills. In our article, we will tell you what high-level programming languages are, how they appeared, and consider their capabilities and varieties.
Table of Contents
The concept of a high-level programming language
A high-level programming language is a means of writing computer programs that provide high speed and convenience of work. Its hallmark is an abstraction. In other words, a high-level programming language makes it possible to introduce semantic constructs that can briefly describe data formats and operations with them in cases where descriptions in a low-level language (for example, in machine code) will be difficult to understand and very long.
The first high-level programming languages were created in order to prevent the essence of algorithms from being platform-dependent. In this case, platform independence is ensured by shifting links to tool programs that translate texts from high-level languages into machine code. Instrumental programs act as a kind of translators.
They are created separately for each platform, for a specific high-level programming language. For example, a translator program can translate text from the Delphi language into the machine code of an x86 series microprocessor.
Thus, high-level programming languages facilitate complex programming tasks and simplify software adaptation. The use of instrumental translators makes it possible to link programs written using high-level languages and operating systems of devices and equipment. Ideally, when using interpreters, no modification of the original text in a high-level programming language is required for all kinds of platforms.
The history of the emergence of high-level programming languages
An attempt to create the first high-level programming language was made during the Second World War. It was developed by a German engineer, giving it the name Plankalkül. In the 1950s, the evolution of computers ushered in a new era of programming. Then the first programming language was created that allows you to write code regardless of the type of processor, Fortran.
The emergence of the structured programming paradigm was a revolutionary step in the development of programming. This allowed us to write more code with less effort. And the logical structure of the program facilitated testing and avoided many errors. The US military also tried to solve the problem of creating a programming language at one time. As a result of these developments, the Ada language appeared in the early 1980s.
It was still quite simplified, but, at the same time, it was quite functional for its time. The Ada language was used to program military equipment.
Also, in the 60s, Bell Labs began to actively develop the Unix OS. Following the unsuccessful attempts to use assembly language and the B language, came the C language. It was so effective that it supplanted BASIC and Pascal. When the principles of object-oriented programming were developed, the C language was transformed into C++, and later into C#.
Pros and cons of high-level programming languages
The main advantage of machine-independent programming languages is their simplicity and versatility. As a result, the duration of coding and debugging is significantly reduced. The same program can be executed on computers of different architectures.
Also, the advantages of high-level programming languages include the following facts:
- the alphabet is much wider than the machine alphabet. It contains 256 characters and allows you to describe any design;
- meaningful natural language words are used for operators and keywords;
- advanced control operators and a huge arsenal of tools for describing data structures;
- there is a concept of data type and a wide range of them is supported.
The disadvantage of high-level programming languages in comparison with low-level ones is the large size of the programs. Therefore, there are areas where assemblers are still used. This is the development of compilers for high-level languages, drivers, system code, and microcontrollers. The main scope of high-level languages is writing software for computers and devices with large amounts of memory.
Comparison of high- and low-level programming languages
Consider the most significant differences between low- and high-level programming languages.
Machine-dependent languages allow you to write fast programs. For their work, it is not required to use translators, since they are as close as possible to machine language. The efficiency of assemblers is 2-4 times higher than in modern high-level languages.
High-level languages are adapted to a natural language understandable to humans. This means that compilers and interpreters act as a translator between the programming language and the machine language understandable to the processor. This greatly slows down the execution time of the program.
- Memory Requirements
As mentioned earlier, programs written in high-level programming languages are more voluminous. Thus, we pay for the convenience and speed of writing code. The more human-oriented a language is, the more memory it takes up. It can be noted here that programs written in middle-level languages do not need such large amounts of memory.
- Ease of use
The code in low-level languages is close to the principles of the machine, but not to human thinking. Programs look much more voluminous than those written in high-level languages. Code that takes 1 line in Python can take 5-10 lines in assembler. The more complex and longer the program, the more likely it is to make a mistake in the code, and the more difficult it is to debug.
In addition, assembly language programming involves understanding the architecture of the processor and hardware. Everything is complicated by the fact that specific instructions are used for a specific processor.
If you are used to a huge number of libraries when programming in high-level languages, then in the case of assembler, they are often simply absent.
From the above, it becomes clear why high-level languages are gaining popularity. There is a low entry threshold and the ability to master the language in a fairly short time. The fact is that high-level languages consisting of English phrases are easier to understand. This also contributes to their popularity among programmers.
Portability refers to the ability to transfer a program to another architecture or operating system. In the case of programming languages, one speaks of mobility, i.e. platform independence.
Machine-oriented languages are not mobile. Each specific program is written for a specific architecture. The ability to create precise instructions for specific hardware is a huge plus when it comes to performance and memory footprint. But porting to another architecture is not possible in this case.
High-level languages are more or less platform or processor-independent. The more common and technologically advanced a language is, the more mobile it is. That is, the same code can be used relatively easily on different types of computers. All that is needed is an appropriate translator capable of representing the code in machine language. This is why high level languages are called machine independent.
According to the level of abstraction, programming languages can be divided into several levels. The machine level is a language of 0s and 1s, the only language available to a computer. The programmer writes the code directly in binary form. This code is directly loaded into the processor and executed by the processor. Here the level of abstraction is zero, since you are completely adapting to the machine.
The next level is low-level languages. They have a low level of abstraction. This way of programming is somewhat more convenient than programming in machine code. Nevertheless, we cannot abstract from a specific machine.
The third level is high-level languages. At this level of abstraction, the use of a translator is already required to translate from a programming language into a machine language. Therefore, we can abstract completely from the computer we are using.
Varieties of high-level programming languages
Procedural Oriented Programming Languages
As the demand for software increased, programs became more complex and unwieldy. To simplify their development, the code began to be divided into fragments. Each independent fragment of the program is called a procedure (or subroutine). It consists of a sequence of steps to solve a specific problem. The program, in turn, consists of a set of such procedures. Code execution is organized from top to bottom in a hierarchical manner.
The most popular languages that support the procedural-oriented programming paradigm are:
- Fortran. One of the first high-level programming languages. Its name is an abbreviation for Formula Translator, i.e. formula translator.
- basic. It was created for a wide range of users, not programmers. Its name is an abbreviation for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, i.e., “a multi-purpose symbolic instruction language for beginners.
- C. A unique language that can be classified as both high-level and low-level at the same time. It has all the advantages of high-level languages. At the same time, it also makes it possible to write OS and drivers. Characterized by high performance.
- Pascal. It was originally created to teach structured programming. Later, it was modified and also began to be successfully used in the professional environment of software developers.
Domain-Driven Programming Languages
Over time, it became obvious that not always universal languages can provide the optimal solution for specific industries. Then there was a request for applied programming. Each of the domain-specific languages is aimed at solving highly specialized problems. They are characterized by the highest level of abstraction. The alphabet in such languages is the terms of a specific scientific and technical field.
The most famous domain-specific languages are:
- Lisp. Abbreviation for List Information Symbol Processing, or “list processing”. As the name suggests, it works with list structures. When it was created, it was assumed that the main task of the language would be to work in the field of artificial intelligence. Currently, it is actively used in a wide range of application areas from the creation of text editors to AutoCAD design.
- Prolog. Short for Programming in Logic, or programming with logic. Its prototype was a program for working with texts in natural language. Applications for Prolog include artificial intelligence systems, natural language processing systems, planning, and decision-making problems.
- SQL. Abbreviation for Structured query language, or “structured query language”. It was created in the 70s as a simple language that non-programmers could work with. In subsequent years, has undergone significant changes. Today its popularity is due to the need to work with large databases.
Object Oriented Programming Languages
OOP emerged as an evolution of procedural programming languages.
Its concept is to represent the program as a collection of objects. In structural languages, the main role is played by logic, understanding the sequence of actions. In object-oriented languages, the interaction of objects with each other is important, but the logic of each object is not important.
OOP languages allow the programmer to use not only existing classes, but also create custom ones. Thus, it is possible to compete with problem-oriented programming languages in solving applied problems.
The use of classes structures the program better and significantly reduces its size. No more or less large program can be written without using OOP.
Here is a list of high-level programming languages from the category of object-oriented:
- Visual DataFlex;
- ActionScript (3.0);
- JScript .NET
It is not possible to give a complete list of high-level programming languages in this review, as it is quite large today. The languages presented here are the most popular and can be successfully used by novice programmers.