3.2.9 Classification of Programming Languages

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1 Classification of Programming Languages


Learn It: What are the different levels of Programming Languages?

A programming language - Is a formal language, which comprises a set of instructions
that produce various kinds of output. Programming languages are used in computer
programming to implement specific algorithms. Most programming languages consist
of instructions for computers.
A computer program - Is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task
when executed by a computer. Most computer devices require programs to function
properly. A computer program is usually written by a computer programmer and can be
can be written in either high or low-level languages, depending on the task and the
hardware being used.
  • When we think about computer programmers, we probably think about people who write in high-level language.
  • Most computer programming languages are written in a high-level programming language. They use the common English language to help make the code more understandable and to speed up the process of writing and debugging programs.
  • Computers, however, use their own language written using binary called Machine code. This is known as a low-level language.

Programming languages can be divided into two different levels:

  • High-level Languages – Python, Visual Basic, Java, C, C++, SQL and many more.
  • Low-level Languages – Hardware/Processor-specific assembly languages and machine code.

Differences between Low-level and High-level Languages: Diff_High_Low_Prog_Table.png




Learn It: Program Translators

Program Translators:

  • High-level languages and assembler languages need to be translated into machine code for a computer system to understand it.

There are three types of translator programs that will do this:

  • Interpreters
    • Once the program has been created, it needs to be saved before it can be run.
    • At this point the programming language translates the source code into machine code one command/line at a time and immediately executes them.
    • You must have the interpreter installed on your computer in order to run the software.
    • Every time the program runs, it has to be translated again as there is no secondary file that is created to store the machine code and therefore must be translated each time the program is run.
    • A long, complex program will take a considerably more time to execute if it is being interpreted.
    • This makes interpreted code slower to run than compiled code, but it shows any errors as soon as it finds them, so it is easier to debug than compiled code. Python, Basic, JavaScript and Pascal are all interpreter-based programming languages.
  • Compilers:
    • A compiler translates all the source code at the same time to create the compiled code, or machine code, also known as the object code.
    • The machine code is saved and stored in a separate file to the high-level programming language.
    • Once the programmer has created the program, they need to request it to be compiled before they can run and test the file which can take a while.
    • This can make testing small sections of the program slower as the whole program needs to be compiled before any of it can be run.
    • Compiling can take a long time, but once complete the compiled code runs quickly and reports a list of errors, if any have occurred.
    • Overall, once the program has finished compiling, compiled programs are faster to run. Java and C++ are compiler programming languages.
    • For the developer, compiled code has the advantage that the user of the software cannot see the source code or copy it.


  • Assemblers:
    • An assembler translates assembly language into machine code and is effectively a compiler for the assembly language, but can also be used interactively like an interpreter.
    • Assembly language uses words called ‘mnemonics’, such as LOAD, STORE and ADD. The instructions are specific to the hardware being programmed because different CPUs use different programming languages.
    • Finally, every assembly language instruction is translated into a single machine code instruction.


  • Compilers versus Interpreters Table:


Badge It: Exam Questions

Silver - Exam Style Questions

  1. Explain why a developer, who is good at both low-level and high-level programming languages, would normally use a high-level language when writing programs? (4 Marks)
  2. What is machine code? (1 Mark)
  3. Give an example of a high-level language? (1 Mark)

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Badge It: Exam Questions

Gold - Answer the following questions:

  1. Describe three differences between low-level language and high-level languages? (6 Marks)
  2. What does a translator do? (2 Marks)
  3. Identify two types of translators that can turn high-level languages into machine code? (4 Marks)

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Badge It: Exam Questions

Platinum - Exam questions

  1. What is the difference between an interpreter and a compiler? (4 Marks)
  2. What is assembly language? (2 Marks)
  3. A developer is writing a program.
    • a) The program is written in a high-level language and it is then translated into machine code. Describe two differences between high-level language and machine code? (2 Marks)
    • b) One type of translator is an interpreter.
      • i) Describe how an interpreter translates high-level language programs into machine code? (1 Mark)
      • ii) State the name of a different type of translator that can be used to translate high-level code into machine code? (1 Mark)

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