Maybe you are starting to learn a programming language, or maybe it’s out of sheer curiosity, but you may be wondering if and how programming languages work together. Every system and application you see and use on your digital device is made from some language, and there are many, so surely they should be able to work together? Let’s find out.
Programming languages work together by being compiled or interpreted. Essentially this means using some sort of element to change one language into another or allowing it to be understood by a different language. Note that only specific languages generally work together. Low-level languages work together, while application-level languages can work together.
This article will detail programming languages giving you a better understanding of what they are and the different types that there are. With that in mind, we will look at if you can actually combine specific languages together or at least let them work with one another.
How do programming languages work together?
Many different kinds of programming languages are built to carry out specific tasks, and some of them can indeed work together even though they may seem completely different. In a nutshell, specific programming languages are compiled or interpreted into other languages or codes that other languages or systems can read, but there are many factors that have to be considered, and some languages will not work with others. So let’s look at this in more detail.
Understanding programming languages
In order to first understand if programming languages can and do work together, we will first need to understand the core concepts of programming languages as a whole because they are different in many ways, and as such, some may or may not be able to work together.
First up, we have machine code, also known as binary code, which a computer reads like a series of ones and zeros. Humans are not meant to be able to read binary, although when learning to program or code, some understanding is required, and this type of language is purely instructional information that the computer needs to operate. To learn more, have a look at the article we have written about binary.
Following that, you have what is known as assembly-level languages. This is typically just a simple wrapper placed over binary code to convert the basic language to machine code. An example of this would be instead of writing binary code; you would write ADD R0, R3, R5.
Up a level from that, you get system-level programming languages. This type of language is used to program the actual computer itself, such as the operating system of its device drivers. Examples of these types of programming languages include C and C++.
The last level of programming languages that you get is high-level or application languages. This is a broad term, and many different languages that are used for specific systems are included in this level. Languages here can be used for almost anything from designing applications to building websites. Another way to look at it is that these types of languages are used to build consumer-facing applications. Some examples of these languages are Java, Python, PHP, Ruby, C#, HTML, and more.
The main thing to understand and take away from this section is that there is a significant difference between system (low-level languages) and application (high-level) languages. System languages function and operate the computer itself, while application languages are used to build software.
Can you combine programming languages to work together?
Now that we understand the different types of programming languages, we can start to get a clear picture of if they can work together and if they can be combined together in a specific way.
Different languages can work together, but it’s not as simple as you may think. For the most part, as we now know the difference between programming languages, system-level languages will work with assembly-level languages to give instruction to the computer, while application-level languages can work together to form consumer-facing systems.
The languages work together by putting code through a compiler or interpreter, and this is how the other programming languages are able to understand it.
Looking at a simple example, different languages can be compiled to form the same code, such as C and C++ code will typically be compiled into machine assembler or C#. Another form of system code known as VB.Net will be compiled into IL (this is the language that is understood by the .Net runtime).
As you can imagine, the process can get quite complicated, especially if the programming languages, compilers, or interpreters use different types of systems. This means that different languages will have a specific way of assigning and reading particular data types such as integers, floats, and doubles. Furthermore, each language may have different ways of representing strings and other functions.
When working between languages, it is important to note that these data types have to be the same from language to language and if they are not, then at least they have to be mapped correctly, and this type of data mapping is known as marshalling.
Another easy example to understand of programming languages that would be interoperable with one another is HTML, PHP, and CSS that work together to render webpages.
Other elements that allow programming languages to work together
Besides having to compile or interpret code from one language to the next in order for them to work with one another, three main elements allow different programming languages to work together. These elements are namely Connection, Storage, and Interface.
Breaking this down, we must understand that the user or system must be able to exchange data with the platform or other systems over internal storage or the internet. The storage will contain executable code and a method of sifting through the information, and the interface would be some sort of hardware that could be a medium between the user and the system and the languages themselves.
Let’s use our example of websites being rendered using HTML, PHP, and CSS. A website that is coded in PHP will use some sort of database such as MySQL or Oracle for storing, retrieving, and archiving data. The back-end programming language (PHP) would allow the website to be rendered out into HTML, allowing the browsers to show it, and the CSS would detail how the website should look. Another programming language such as Java could also be implemented, forming some sort of interactivity.
Even though these elements are not specific to allowing languages to work together, such as a compiler or interpreter, they are still needed; otherwise, the languages won’t be able to interface with one another, so indeed, this is another way of how programming languages work together.
We discovered that programming languages could indeed work together; however, there are strict rules that have to be followed in order for this to happen.
Typically low-level system languages will not operate or be able to work together with high-level languages because they are used for different purposes. Low-level languages are used to specifically communicate with the computer and program the actual computer itself.
High-level (application level) languages are used to create software, systems, and applications from a consumer perspective. These languages can work together if they are compiled or interpreted into the correct code that they need to be in. Not to be misunderstood that system languages are not also compiled or interpreted because they are.
Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of what programming languages are and how some of them can work together. If you are looking at a career in programming, make sure to do your homework and find out what languages you would need for your career type.