Beginner's guide to the 5 most popular programming languages

Jul 02, 2020 - 13 min read
Aaron Xie
editor-page-cover

Each year, more programming languages are created to fulfill the demands of developers and companies. For beginners, it can be a headache to determine which programming language to learn. Today, we’ll break down the different languages so that you can better decide which one you want to learn in 2020.

Today, we will cover the following:


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What is a programming language?

A programming language is a language that instructs computers to perform its tasks. It is ultimately used to build software applications, scripts, and any other set of instructions needed to make a computer run. Although many programming languages share many similarities, each has its own syntax: the set of rules for grammar and spelling for a programming language. If you do not follow the proper rules and grammar for a programming language’s syntax, you will receive a syntax error, causing your program to fail.

Today, we will talk about five popular programming languages: Python, JavaScript, Java, C++, and Swift. We will also mention a few other popular programming languages that you should consider. Before we dive in, it’s important to take the time to cover some important concepts.


Interpreted vs Compiled

An interpreted programming language is a programming language where there is an interpreter that runs through the program source code line by line, executing each command. A compiled programming language requires an extra build step, in which the compiler converts the entire source code into machine-readable code before executing the program.


Object-oriented programming

Object-oriented programming is a model of programming that focuses on designing software around objects. An object can be defined as a data field that has unique behavior and attributes.


High-level vs Low-level

The distinction between high-level and low-level is the level of abstraction of the two languages. A low-level language has a lower level of abstraction, whereas a high-level language has a high level of abstraction.

  • High-level programming languages are languages that are “human-readable” in that they are similar to human language in terms of syntax. Generally, high-level programming languages are easier to learn for a beginner.

  • Low-level programming languages are “machine-readable” in that they give you more control over the implementation details and can be more difficult to learn because the syntax is less abstracted.


Python

Python is an interpreted, object-oriented, high-level, scripting language created by Guido van Rossum. In the past few years, Python has skyrocketed in popularity because of its applicability in machine learning, data science, and web development, which we’ll dive more into.


Advantages

  • Extensive libraries: Python provides a large collection of standard libraries to use, which include string operations, Internet, web service tools, operating system interfaces, and more. This offers a lot of functionality to the Python programming language, which explains why it’s so diverse in how it’s used in development.

  • Extensible: Python can be extended to other programming languages, meaning that you can write some of your code in other languages like C++ or C.

  • Increased productivity: Python offers a lot of simplicity in its syntax, meaning that you have to write less code, allowing you to be more productive in the development process compared to languages like Java and C++.

  • Easy to learn: Python is an easy language to learn because the syntax is very similar to pseudo-code. It’s a high-level programming language, meaning that you don’t have to worry about low-level implementation details like memory control that may be difficult for beginners to learn.


Limitations

  • Speed: Because Python is interpreted, it often results in slower compilation and execution time. However, this isn’t a problem unless high speed is the focal point of a project.

  • Mobile computing: Even though Python is used heavily in desktop and server applications, it is a weak language to use for mobile computing.

  • Design restrictions: Python is a dynamically typed language meaning that you don’t have to declare the type of a variable when writing the code. Because of the lack of type checking, this can result in run-time errors.


Who uses it?

Python is used by major companies likes Google, Pinterest, Instagram, Youtube, DropBox, NASA, and Amazon.

  • Web development: For one, Python is used in web development, particularly for back-end development, using frameworks like Django, Flask, Pyramid, and more.

  • Internet of Things: Python also is used in hardware for programming logic. It’s used in technologies such as Raspberry Pi, MicroPython, and more.

  • Machine Learning: One of the most popular uses for Python is machine learning because of how efficient Python syntax is and its low entry point. Some popular Python ML technologies that you can look into are TensorFlow, nilearn, NumPy, Pandas, and Scikit-learn.

  • Data science: Python is also incredibly popular for data science because it offers a large collection of libraries dealing with data. A large reason why Python is used so extensively in machine learning and data science is because of its ease of use and simple syntax.


Hello World application

Take a look at how simple Python’s syntax is with this Hello World statement.

print("Hello World")


JavaScript

JavaScript is an interpreted, object-oriented, high-level programming language created by Brendan Eich. Unlike languages like Java, JavaScript is not class-based. JavaScript is one of the most popular programming languages in the world because of how predominantly it is used in web development to build dynamic web pages.


Advantages

  • Simplicity: JavaScript’s syntax is relatively easy to understand and learn compared to other popular languages like C++, which require more low-level implementation and control.

  • Speed: JavaScript is an incredibly fast programming language because it can be run in the client-side browser. This is true as long as it doesn’t necessitate outside resources.

  • Rich libraries: JavaScript offers many technologies like frameworks, libraries, and more to greatly expand its tool-set to build powerful web applications. Some notable JavaScript technologies are React, Angular, Node.JS, and more.

  • Constant updates: ECMA International has been dedicated to updating JavaScript annually. This means constant improvements and added functionality to the language that makes it constantly evolve and become more powerful.


Limitations

  • OOP Limitation: While some programmers may be used to class-based Object-oriented programming. JavaScript does not offer this, which can be a significant downside to some developers.

  • Client-side security: Because JavaScript is executed on the client-side, bugs and other potential vulnerabilities can be taken advantage of for malicious purposes. Because of this, some disable JavaScript from their browser entirely.

  • Browser support: Sometimes, different browsers can interpret the front-end JavaScript code differently. However, this isn’t a large problem nowadays because many developers test their JavaScript in all the major browsers.


Who uses it?

JavaScript is used by essentially every major company to build out the web application, in all kinds of sectors: information technology, engineering, design, marketing, finance, and healthcare.

Typically, JavaScript is used to build web applications along with HTML and CSS. Specifically, there are JavaScript technologies for front-end website development and also back-end development. If you want to become a web developer, this is the language to learn.


Hello World application

JavaScript’s syntax is not as simple as Python, and some developers say that it can be rather verbose. Regardless, JavaScript is still somewhat easy to learn, and it’s sure to open up doors for you in tech.

Take a look at its syntax below.

console.log("Hello World");


Java

Java is a general-purpose, object-oriented, high-level programming language, which is suitable for all kinds of development. Java is consistently one of the top three most popular programming languages, and for good reason.


Advantages

  • Simple: Like Python and JavaScript, Java is a relatively simple language to learn than more complicated languages like C++. This is because Java uses automatic memory allocation and garbage collection, making it a high-level language. This makes it easy and simple to write, maintain, and read.

  • Object-oriented programming: Java offers class-based object-oriented programming, while allows for standardized programs and reusable code that is highly modularized. Essentially, developers are able to create objects through classes and maintain interactions between objects.

  • Platform: Java is platform-independent in that it doesn’t need any unique software to be installed, as long as the JVM is present in the machine.

  • Multi-thread: Java allows you to created multi-threaded programs when you can perform multiple tasks at once.


Limitations

  • Performance: Compared to natively compiled languages like C or C++, Java is slower and more memory-consuming. Still, it’s a popular language for competitive programming because it’s faster than a lot of other languages.

  • Verbosity: Some developers believe that Java requires a large amount of code to perform the same command compared to a language like Python. Java requires developers to write so many words into code, such that it’s quite similar to the natural thought process of people.


Who uses it?

Some notable companies that use Java are Uber, Airbnb, Google, Netflix, Instagram, and many other large applications. It’s quite popular for enterprise.

Back-end services: Java is incredibly popular to build any back-end service. Many companies use technologies like Java Spring Boot to build out their business logic and server-side application.

Android apps: Java is commonly used to build android applications, meaning that it’s popular in the mobile space.


Hello World application

Java’s syntax looks a lot more like some of the older programming languages. Take a look at the Hello Statement below.

class main
{  
    public static void main(String args[]) 
    { 
        System.out.println("Hello World"); 
    } 
} 

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C++

C++ is a general-purpose, object-oriented, generic, low-level programming language created by Bjarne Stroustrup. The language has evolved throughout the years, expanding in functionality to what it is currently.


Advantages

  • Portability: C++ offers platform independence, meaning that developers are able to run their C++ programs on any interface or operating system at ease. For example, if you write your program in Windows OS, and you want to switch to Linux OS, you should be able to smoothly run the same program, which can be incredibly convenient.

  • Object-oriented: like Java, C++ is objected oriented and offers functionality like classes, inheritance, polymorphism, encapsulation and more that allow for code modularization and re-usability. OOP allows for developers to treat data as an object to solve many real-world problems.

  • Multi-paradigm: C++ is a multi paradigm programming language in that there are multiple approaches to writing C++ in terms of logic, structure, and procedure of the program. The three paradigms for C++ are generic, imperative, and object oriented. This gives developers more flexibility in terms of how they want to write their code.

  • Low-level: C++ allows for low-level implementation to manipulate data and control their memory usage. This allows for more management in terms of how the program runs, rather than memory being managed by a garbage collector. This can also be a downside to those who don’t effectively manage the low-level implementation details.


Disadvantages

  • Pointers: Pointers in C++ can be a difficult concept to grasp for many initially exposed to the programming language, especially with memory management. Mishandling pointers can cause the system to crash because of how much memory they consume.

  • Memory management: As stated above, it can be both a positive and a negative to manage memory. C++ does not offer a garbage collector to automatically clean unnecessary data, and some may prefer to use a garbage collector.


Who uses it?

Many well known companies have C++ in their stack: Microsoft, NASA, Facebook, Evernote, and Linkedin. It’s quite popular with software developers.

  • GUIs: Many GUI applications like Adobe Photoshop are created with C++. Many adobe systems utilize C++ to develop their mainstream applications: Illustrator, Premier, etc.

  • Games: C++ is incredibly popular in game development because it makes resource allocation much easier, which is important especially for 3D games. Furthermore, not only is the language very fast, but it also allows for control over the hardware and CPU.

  • Back-end applications: C++ is also popularly used to build server-side applications and to communicate with databases, making it quite popular in the back-end space.


Hello World application

The syntax of C++ is not as intuitive as Python or JavaScript, but it’s still reasonably easy to learn. It’s the language most commonly taught in universities!

#include <iostream>

int main() {
    std::cout << "Hello World";
    return 0;
}


Swift

Swift is an open-source programming language developed by Apple to create iOS and OS X apps. It’s a multi-paradigm programming language that integrates Objective-C’s object-oriented model, while also including features like an advanced compiler, debugger, and framework infrastructure.


Advantages

  • Rapid development: Swift has a relatively simplified syntax and grammar structure, which makes it easy to read, write, and maintain Swift applications. Like Python, it requires less code to perform the same actions compared to a programming language like Java or C++.

  • Scalability: Swift projects are future-proof and can be extended with new features whenever needed. This makes Swift projects easy to scale. Furthermore, it’s easier to scale teams with Swift because of how simple and concise the code-bases are, creating easy readability.

  • Safety: As the name suggests, the programming language seeks to be swift. Their initial claim that there was a 40 percent increase in speed over Objective-C has proven to be true. Swift also offers great safety in development because of it’s strong type-checking and error handling.


Disadvantages

  • Young: The programming language is still relatively young, meaning that there are still many issues to be fixed as the language continues to mature.

  • Unstable: After each update for Swift, there seems to be a concern that developers are forced to completely rewrite their code-base as the language gets changed.


Who uses it?

Major organizations like Apple, Slack, Dow Jones, and Getty Images use Swift. Swift is primarily used for iOS development.


Hello World application

Swift is more similar to Python than C++ in its simplicity and intuitive style. Take a look at this Hello World statement to see it in action.

import Swift
print("Hello World")

Wrapping up and Resources

Nice job! Now, you should have a good overview of some of the most popular programming languages: Python, JavaScript, Java, C++, and Swift.

However, there are still many more programming languages for you to explore.

Here’s some other popular programming languages you can check out:


Continue reading about programming languages


WRITTEN BYAaron Xie

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