The Evolution of Computer Languages: From Binary Code to High-Level Programming

Sophia Moonstone

Updated Monday, May 13, 2024 at 8:46 AM CDT

The Evolution of Computer Languages: From Binary Code to High-Level Programming

The Origins of Computer Languages

Computer scientists developed the original language used to tell a computer what to do by building on the concept of electricity flow and creating electrical circuits with different rules for flowing and not flowing, which were represented as zero and one. They then turned zero and one into base 2 numbers (binary numbers) that could represent any math and logical operations like "or" and "and". This breakthrough allowed for the development of the first computer languages.

From Binary to Assembly Language

Binary numbers were used for various purposes, such as representing coordinates for pixels on a screen and allocating numbers to letters for drawing them on the screen. However, working solely with binary code was cumbersome. To solve this problem, assembly language was created as a way to write code more intuitively using small collections of binary numbers (about 8 bits) with names. This made it easier to solve common problems like drawing a letter on the screen.

Low-Level Programming Languages

These collections of assembly code were then grouped together to create "low-level programming languages" like C, which provided packs of code to perform specific tasks, such as interacting with hardware. Operating System Kernels, or "kernels," were developed using low-level code to provide packs of code that help with hardware-related tasks like turning lights on and off or saving data to a hard drive. Low-level programming languages formed the foundation for higher-level languages.

High-Level Programming Languages

High-level code, like JavaScript, was created by combining multiple packs of low-level code with symbols and shorthand to make it easier to write complex programs. The "original language" used by computers is designed by the processor or computer chip manufacturer. The chip has physical pins that receive and emit signals, and these signals trigger specific operations based on the chip's design. The pins and commands that the chip can respond to are documented by the chip maker, allowing anyone with this information and some electrical engineering knowledge to wire up the chip to perform specific tasks.

The Role of Machine Code

Machine code, the lowest-level code, is written using the chip's specific signals and commands. However, writing programs solely in machine code is inconvenient for complex actions, as it requires writing numerous individual commands. Higher-level languages are built on top of machine code to make it easier to perform complex actions. These languages translate commands into thousands or millions of subcommands necessary to accomplish tasks, similar to how a chef translates "make a hamburger" into individual steps.

The Translation Process

Each programming language can be automatically translated into lower-level languages until it ultimately becomes a list of machine code commands. Compiler toolkits like GCC or LLVM allow developers to write abstract code with modules for different CPUs and languages. These toolkits generate the necessary binary code for specific processors, making it easier to create new languages that can communicate with different hardware.

Understanding the Binary Code

All computer code is fundamentally binary, consisting of ones and zeros. Physical transistors, arranged in a logical way, create a logic board that allows for the interpretation of binary code as visual representations like numbers or letters. The interpretation of binary code is facilitated by interfaces that provide symbols and buttons to interact with the underlying binary code. For example, pressing a button with a symbol for the number 9 can physically activate hidden buttons representing the binary code for 9.

Learning Resources

To gain a deeper understanding of the development of computer languages and the underlying binary code, educational resources like Ben Eater's YouTube series can be incredibly helpful. Ben Eater has a series of videos where he builds a fully functioning computer from scratch using simple push-together "breadboard" techniques. His videos explain the hardware and software components in a digestible manner, making it easier for beginners to grasp the concepts behind computer languages.

Computer languages have come a long way since the early days of binary code. From the development of assembly language to the creation of high-level programming languages, the evolution of computer languages has made it easier for programmers to write complex programs. Understanding the underlying binary code and the translation process can provide valuable insights into how computers interpret and execute instructions. By exploring educational resources like Ben Eater's YouTube series, individuals can deepen their knowledge and appreciation for the fascinating world of computer languages.

Noticed an error or an aspect of this article that requires correction? Please provide the article link and reach out to us. We appreciate your feedback and will address the issue promptly.

Check out our latest stories