Programming languages: how it all started - Part 2

Dec 16, 2013 by Adrian

After seeing (in Part 1) how programming languages have started, in Part 2 I will present a series of "vintage" programming languages, that helped develop modern programming.

FORTRAN (now Fortran) was developed at IBM beginning with the year 1953. The team of programmers led by John Backus created in 2 years what is called "the daddy of programming systems", and as a recognition of this performance, John Backus received the W. Wallace McDowell Award.

FORTRAN is a scientific language (optimized for using mathematical matrices and formulas) and uses the first compiler that was ever created, giving FORTRAN huge advantages over the existing way of programming at that time (programming was done in assembly code, which was very difficult and time consuming). Programmers were able to write code in FORTRAN 500% faster than in assembly code, while the execution efficiency dropped by only 20%.

Here is "Hello World" writen in FORTRAN:

program hello
print *, "Hello World!"
end program hello

COBOL comes from COmmon Business-Oriented Language and is amongst the oldest programming languages. It was primarily developed by Grace Hopper (who served in the United States Navy Reserve, in World War II) for business and administrative systems for the enterprise area and governments.

Although COBOL was developed around 1960, its evolution continues even today. Object orientation was integrated in the 4th revision of COBOL in the year 2002, together with other features - such as: locale-based processing, pointers, bit and Boolean support, floating-point support, XML generation and parsing.

Here is "Hello World" writen in COBOL:

  DISPLAY 'Hello, world'.

C is one of the most know programming languages, and one of the most used today. Although it was created 40 years ago, its importance has never decreased. C is very well researched and this means that whatever problem you may have, you will find the answer somewhere. The popular C++ was born as an outcome to adding object oriented features (such as classes, virtual functions etc.) to C, in 1979, and is one of the most popular and powerful programming languages today, being compatible with all operating systems.

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

int main ()
	count << "Hello World!";
	return 0;

Pascal is an imperative, procedural programming language, which was created mostly for teaching structured programming to students, and also it was the primary language used by Apple Computers when developing Apple Lisa. Delphi was created by Borland as a successor to Turbo Pascal (en extension of Pascal) and it evolved over the years, supporting constructs (dynamic arrays, generics and anonymous methods) being added to it.

The Hello World! written in Delphi looks like this:

program p;
	Writeln ('Hello, World');

BASIC is a family of high-level programming languages, designed in 1964, by a team of students, under the guidance of John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz. The language is based on FORTRAN II and ALGOL 60. Microsoft introduced Visual Basic in 1991, which became the macro language for Excel and a very popular programming language over the years, mainly because of its ease of use (its legacy also includes the popular VB.NET language).

This is Hello World! written in Visual Basic:

Private Sub Form_Load()
    ' Execute a simple message box that says "Hello, World!"
    MsgBox "Hello, World!"
End Sub

Programming languages evolved from low level languages (the syntax is assembly language) into high level languages (the syntax contains natural language elements), providing programmers faster ways of writing code, while increasing performance by using Just-in-time compilation (Just-in-time, or JIT compilers are compiling the code after the program has started).

While it all started with low level languages, high level ones are growing in popularity, and the future is headed in this direction: programmers will code using a language that is further and further away from assembly language, and closer to human understanding.

Tags: Programming 


Franklin Chen commented on 12/18/2013 5:37:10 PM

Don't forget Lisp from the 1950s, and Algol from the 1960s, and ML from the 1970s. In my opinion, these are the single most important programming languages in the entire history of computing, with much since the 1970s being based on them!

Adrian commented on 12/19/2013 2:39:17 PM

@ Franklin Chen

You are right, Algol was the most successful of the 4 high high-level programming languages of its days in many aspects, but I have chosen Fortran and COBOL because they are still in use today.

Also, Pascal and C are somehow successors to Algol, so you can say that at least parts from Algol are in this article. :)

Thank you for your comment!


fsilber commented on 12/18/2013 10:42:25 PM

I don't see the point of showing Hello World programs. It would be more interesting to summarize a language's approach to type checking, storage management, availability of recursion, approach to string processing, modularization and abstraction techniques innovated or pioneered by the language, typical implementation techniques, ....

Adrian commented on 12/19/2013 2:41:21 PM

@ fsilber

I showed Hello World! code because it’s the simplest piece of code that can show something about the syntax of the language.

The idea of the article was to present these programming
languages to a wide audience, not to make technical reviews about them, but I will consider your idea and maybe I will write in the future an article that has a more in depth presentation of these programming languages.

Anyway, thank you for your comment :)!


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