The History of Computer Programming Languages

Computers are only as good as the programs they run. Programming languages are used by computer programmers to write specific sets of instructions for the computers microprocessor to read in order to complete a specific task.

There are many kinds of computer programming languages. Computer pioneer Charles Babbage's difference engine began to explore what would be the precursor of today's personal computers or PC logic. Although he began building it in 1822, both knowledge and precision parts were scarce. Scientists attempted to finish what Babbage started, but completed just one part of his work just shy of the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1991.

It wasn't until ENIAC was born in 1942 that the computer revolution took hold of the scientific world. ENIAC is the acronym for Electrical Numerical Integrator And Calculator, a 30-ton monstrosity that contained over 20,000 vacuum tubes and covered 1800 square feet of a room. The programming was cumbersome because after calculations were performed, it took weeks to reprogram ENIAC and hard drive data recovery was virtually non-existent.

It was worth the effort as Dr. John Von Neumann found in 1945, that adding and storing a converter code to the programming greatly reduced the amount of time it took for programmers to reprogram. EDVAC continued the alphabet soup and stood for Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer. Unlike ENIAC, EDVAC used binary code instead of decimal--series of zeros and ones on punch cards fed to the computer. Decimal code is the "first generation" of computer programming, binary, the second.

It wasn't long until the first rudimentary programming language was developed. Conditional control transfer Short Code was invented in 1949. Unlike machine code, Short Code used logic statements such as IF, THEN to define a command. An example of an IF, THEN statement is much like the logic statements of mathematics--IF red, THEN stop or IF zero, THEN multiply by two. IF, THEN statements evolved without exclusion to WHEN, THEN statements as in the CASE statement syntax in 1972.

Rear admiral Dr. Grace Hopper and her team compiled such statements into sets of commands that the machine would recognize, pull out of its "brain" and execute. The "compiler" was born in 1952. Third generational higher programming languages were just around the corner.

FORTRAN was the first of the third generation programming languages, created in 1957, followed by the LISP and Algol languages in 1958 and COBOL in 1959. Third generation programming languages utilized actual English words or syntax for the compilers to translate into binary or machine code.

FORTRAN stands for "formula translation" and is still used today for science and math applications. COBOL or Common Business-Oriented Language is actively used in business and government applications. LISP is the world's second oldest higher programming language. It's usage is similar to FORTRAN's usage. Algol or algorithm language gave way to BNF Pascal in 1968. Each calculation could only occur with a specific sequence of code or function. The Backus-Naur Form or BNF Pascal was notation describing the syntax of a certain programming language. The higher level languages made data recovery much easier to accomplish.

Subsequent languages increased the efficiency of coding programs by using object-oriented programming as well as scripting techniques and syntax creating highly structured programming languages liked B and BCPL Object-Oriented Programming, C++, Perl and Java Visual Basic Widgets usage.