5 Types of Programming Language

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about some common categories of programming languages to get inspired to start coding.

[Featured image] A woman sits in front of two computer monitors writing code in a programming language.

Programming is a skill that is becoming increasingly sought after in the job market. The Government in the UK has been putting billions of pounds into building the UK digital economy and increasing digitalisation in the UK, with £27.4 billion private capital flow put into tech in 2021 [1]. With the high rate at which digital technology is expanding, skills in computer programming are likely to continue to be in high demand across many professional industries.

Anyone who interacts with technology should have at least a basic understanding of how software functions. With a background in programming, you can get a job coding, designing software, data architecture, or creating intuitive user interfaces. 

But what language should you learn? You'll find a seemingly infinite number of programming languages that are free to learn and develop projects online. With the technology field growing exponentially each year, the internet is a great place to start when exploring the latest developments or discovering a new skill. 

Whichever language you learn, you may find it helpful to take notes or draw diagrams detailing the steps you're taking and why. Programmers need to be able to communicate their process to non-technical stakeholders, but taking notes can also be a great learning tool. 

In this article, we'll explore some of the most common programming languages and provide some resources for learning them.

5 major types of programming languages

While you'll find dozens of ways to classify various programming languages, they generally fall into five major categories. Keep in mind that some languages may fall under more than one type:

1. Procedural programming languages

A procedural language follows a sequence of statements or commands to achieve a desired output. Each series of steps is called a procedure, and a program written in one of these languages will have one or more procedures within it. Common examples of procedural languages include:

  • C and C++

  • Java

  • Pascal


2. Functional programming languages

Rather than focusing on the execution of statements, functional languages focus on the output of mathematical functions and evaluations. Each function–a reusable module of code–performs a specific task and returns a result. The result will vary depending on what data you input into the function. Some popular functional programming languages include:

  • Scala

  • Erlang

  • Haskell

  • Elixir

  • F#

3. Object-oriented programming languages

This type of language treats a program as a group of objects composed of data and program elements, known as attributes and methods. Objects can be reused within a program or in other programs. This makes it a popular language type for complex programs, as code is easier to reuse and scale. Some common object-oriented programming (OOP) languages include:

  • Java

  • Python

  • PHP

  • C++

  • Ruby

4. Scripting languages

Programmers use scripting languages to automate repetitive tasks, manage dynamic web content, or support processes in larger applications. Some common scripting languages include:

  • PHP

  • Ruby

  • Python

  • bash

  • Perl

  • Node.js

5. Logic programming languages

Instead of telling a computer what to do, a logic programming language expresses a series of facts and rules to instruct the computer on how to make decisions. Some examples of logic languages include:

  • Prolog

  • Absys

  • Datalog

  • Alma-0

Other ways to classify programming languages

You'll find many more ways to categorise languages beyond the five listed above. Let's take a closer look at the other ways you can think about programming languages:

Front-end vs back-end languages

Front-end languages are primarily concerned with the ‘user’ aspect of the software. The front end deals with all of the text, colours, buttons, images, and navigation that the user will face when navigating your website or application. Anyone with a background in graphic design or art may be more inspired to begin learning one of the front-end languages. 

Some examples of front-end programming languages include: 

  • HTML 

  • CSS 

  • JavaScript 

  • React 

Back-end languages deal with storage and manipulation of the server side of software. This is the part of the software that the user does not directly come into contact with but supports their experience behind the scenes. This includes data architecture, scripting, and communication between applications and underlying databases. 

Anyone with experience in mathematics or engineering may find more interest in back-end development.

Some examples of back-end programming languages include:

  • JavaScript

  • PHP

  • Java

  • Python

  • Ruby

  • C#

High-level vs low-level languages

The biggest factor that differentiates high- and low-level programming languages is whether the language is meant to be easily understood by a human programmer or a computer. Low-level languages are machine-friendly, which makes them highly efficient in terms of memory usage but difficult to know without the help of an assembler. Since they're not very people-friendly, they're also not widely used anymore. Examples include machine code and assembly languages.

High-level languages, on the other hand, are less memory efficient but much more human-friendly. This makes them easier to write, understand, maintain, and debug. Most popular programming languages in use today are considered high-level languages. 

Interpreted vs. compiled languages

The distinction between interpreted and compiled languages concerns how they convert high-level code and make it readable by a computer. With interpreted languages, code passes through an interpreter program, which reads and executes the code line by line. This tends to make these languages more flexible and platform-independent.

Examples of interpreted languages include:

  • Python

  • JavaScript

  • PHP

  • Ruby

Compiled languages undergo a build step, which converts the entire program into machine code. This makes the program faster to execute, but it also means that you have to compile or "build" the program again anytime you need to make a change.

Examples of compiled languages include:

  • C, C++, and C#

  • Rust

  • Erlang

Learn to code on Coursera.

Learning to program is easier now than ever. Start writing program in Python with Python for Everybody from the University of Michigan, learn the basics of web development with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for Web Developers from Johns Hopkins University, or prepare for a career in IT with Google IT Automation with Python—all offered on Coursera. By taking these courses, you are setting yourself up to enter an entry-level programming position or building a foundation to expand your skills and work towards higher-level positions.

Article sources

  1. GOV.UK. “UK Digital Strategy, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uks-digital-strategy/uk-digital-strategy.” Accessed May 20, 2024.

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