What Are Scripting Languages? (And Why Should I Learn One?)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learning a scripting language may open up new personal and professional opportunities. Discover the differences between server-side scripting languages and the pros of learning them to decide if this is a good path for you.

[Featured image] An IT professional sits at a computer workstation and writes a script to automate a task.

Scripting languages can be an effective tool for programmers, engineers, and other developers to create systems and software. Learning a scripting language is an excellent introduction to coding and programming. They are relatively easy to learn and can be an effective jumping-off point to pursue your hobbies or career interests further. 

What is a scripting language?

People often refer to scripting languages and programming languages interchangeably. However, they are not the same. All scripting languages are programming languages, but not all programming languages are scripting languages. Programming languages are a way for coders to communicate with computers using compiled languages—source code compiled to convert into machine code.

Difference between scripting and programming

Scripting languages are a type of programming language that is interpreted rather than requiring compilation. These are languages designed for specific runtime environments to provide additional functions, integrate complex systems, and communicate with other programming languages. One example is JavaScript, which you can use to display messages, perform calculations, and integrate elements of user interfaces for web pages.

Scripting language vs. markup language

Markup languages are not programming or scripting languages because they are not used to perform actions. Instead, they are used to structure and present data.


Types of scripting languages

As you research possible scripting languages to learn, you’ll see that the different types fall into two main categories: server-side scripting language and client-side scripting language. The main difference is that server-side scripting gets processed through a server, and client-side scripting runs scripts on client machines using browsers without interacting with the server. 

Examples of popular scripting languages: server-side

Server-side scripting works in the back end—what happens behind the scenes that website users don't see but makes it possible for them to use the site. You can customize web pages and create dynamic websites with these scripting languages. Common server-side scripting languages include:

  • PHP: Popular for use on the web

  • ASP.net: A web application language that Microsoft developed

  • Node.js: A scripting language you can use on multiple platforms including Unix, Windows, Mac, and Linux

  • Java: A scripting language used in just about everything, including consumer Bluetooth devices and applications used by NASA

  • Ruby: A dynamic scripting language that focuses on simplicity

  • Python: A popular language that uses shorter code, making it easier for beginners to learn

Read more: What Is Python Used For? A Beginner’s Guide

Client-side scripting languages 

Client-side scripting typically works in the front end, with script visible to users. It can help reduce server load and is often used to change content or examine users' forms for mistakes before submitting them. Common client-side scripting languages include:

  • jQuery: jQuery is a JavaScript library designed to simplify event handling, animation, and working with HTML.

  • CSS: A language that helps you design graphic elements to enhance web applications' appearance

  • JavaScript: A language that creates highly functional modern web browsers, including Mozilla's SpiderMonkey and Chrome's V8 engine

Real-world uses for scripting language

Real-life systems are made up of multiple programs all working together. Scripts can be used to help each separate program work together. For example, if you work as a game developer, scripts allow you to share the flow logic. This lets you specify various routes of program execution with other professionals and artists who don't necessarily have (or need to have) the same high-level, complex coding skills. Scripting languages are used in:

  • System administration

  • Multimedia and games

  • Web applications on the server and client-side

  • Report generation

  • Document and text processing

  • Writing plugins and extensions for existing programs and applications like Firefox

Different scripting languages have different capabilities. For example, you might use PHP to manage cookies and manipulate databases. Or you might use Ruby to write code for web applications designed to run on specific operating systems. A variety of industries and businesses use scripting languages, including some big names, like the following:

  • Node.js is used in the real world for the apps of big-name companies like Paypal, Netflix, eBay, Uber, and LinkedIn.

  • PHP is popular for use by global websites, including Etsy, WordPress, Facebook, Slack, and Wikipedia.

  • Ruby is commonly used on applications like Hulu, MyFitnessPal, Goodreads, and Airbnb.

  • Python is a general-purpose programming language used by well-known companies such as Netflix, Google, and Goldman Sachs.

Benefits of learning a scripting language

Coding is an in-demand career skill, so many employers are willing to pay employees with coding and programming skills higher wages, according to Rasmussen University [1]. Beyond the job opportunities that learning a scripting language may bring, several other benefits may surprise you:

  • You can develop stronger logical thinking skills. Learning a scripting language helps you develop problem-solving and analytical skills while teaching you how to tackle complex problems by breaking them into more manageable steps.

  • You can unlock your creativity. Have you ever wanted to design a game or an app? Once you learn a scripting language, you’ll be able to start creating all kinds of projects that you’re passionate about for work or for your own pleasure.

  • You can become more resilient. Troubleshooting can be an integral part of using a scripting language. If you fail on your first try, you have the opportunity to troubleshoot, find solutions, and persist.

  • You can automate tasks. Not only will you better understand task automation as a concept, but you'll also be able to execute the steps to automate repetitive tasks to simplify your own life.

  • You can better understand how technology works. In today's landscape, technology is everywhere. When you learn coding and scripting languages, you'll have a deeper understanding of how the devices and technology you use in everyday work.

Potential job opportunities

When you learn scripting languages, you typically become more eligible for a variety of job opportunities that require this skill. A range of professionals use scripting language in their daily tasks. A few examples of roles you might pursue include: 

  • Web developer: You’ll create and maintain websites as a web developer. You'll likely use a mix of client- and server-side scripting languages to create functional web pages.

  • Systems administrator: In this role, you'll analyze and assess systems and servers to pinpoint and troubleshoot errors and issues. You'll also update security, install programs, and maintain networks. You may use a scripting language to run commands, generate data, and automate processes.

  • Programmer analyst: In this position, you'll mainly be designing, maintaining, and testing computer systems and software to ensure they're functional for users and operating correctly. You may use scripting languages to create commands, automate tasks that display content, and ensure that systems are displaying content correctly.

  • Application developer: As an app developer, you'll design, code, update, and maintain software applications. You'll use a scripting language (or several) to ensure that all the interactive elements and content are working properly and accessible for users.

  • Software engineer: As a software engineer, you'll primarily develop and maintain software and systems, including networks, computer systems, and specialized software for technology like medical or mobile devices. You might use scripting languages to create functional interfaces, automate processes, and run tests.

Discover your earning potential: Common salaries 

As someone who knows a scripting language, your earning potential will vary widely depending on the job you ultimately choose to pursue. The average for many of the careers in the computer science industry is $97,430, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) [2]. Your level of education and experience, the type of job, and the scripting language you’re proficient in will influence your salary.

For example, according to Indeed, the average salary for Python programmers in the US is $113,453 in 2023 [3]. ZipRecruiter estimates that the average entry-level salary for software engineers and developers with Ruby skills in the US is $125,500 [4].

How much can you earn?

Average annual salaries in the United States for some of the jobs you might pursue after learning a scripting language include the following: 

• Web developer: $78,300 according to the BLS [5]

• Systems administrator: $80,600 according to the BLS [6]

• Programmer analyst: $88,997 according to Glassdoor [7]

• Applications developer: $106,370 according to Glassdoor [8

• Software engineer: $105,772 according to Glassdoor [9]


Engage in the future: Industry outlook

Technology is a rapidly growing field, with spending on IT projected to increase to $4.5 trillion in 2022, a 5.5 percent increase compared to 2021, according to Gartner [10]. From an employment standpoint, the BLS estimates that jobs in computer and IT-related occupations will grow 15 percent between 2021 and 2031, a faster-than-average growth rate for all occupations [11].

Required skills and education

One of the pros of learning a scripting language is that these open-source languages are easy to learn, simple to work with, and relatively fast to develop, making this a good starting point even if you have no previous experience. If you're interested in going into coding professionally, it helps to have some basic skills, including:

  • Curiosity

  • The desire to solve problems

  • Excellent communication

  • The ability to work as part of a team

  • Patience and positivity

  • Accountability

To get started learning scripting languages, you don’t need any formal education. However, if you intend to pursue a career using your scripting skills, you may need to pursue either a degree, certificate, boot camp, or another type of training. According to the BLS, most common careers using scripting languages typically require a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field [10]. 

Start learning a scripting language today.

You can start today by enrolling in a beginner-friendly, self-paced course like Crash Course on Python, a 32-hour course from Google. Or, pursue an IBM Full Stack Cloud Developer Certificate, which includes training in HTML, Node.js, and Python.

Article sources


Rasmussen University. "Why Learn to Code? The Surprisingly Broad Benefits of Coding, https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/why-learn-to-code/." Accessed July 10, 2023.

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