What Are the Different Types of Coding Languages?

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Individual programming languages like HTML, Python, and Ruby can be categorized into different types of coding languages.

Getting clear on the different types of programming languages will improve your overall understanding of programming and computers. 

In this post, I’m going to explain these different types of coding languages and their use cases. But first, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what a programming language actually is. 👇

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

What Is A Programming Language?

A programming language is a set of rules that converts strings of text into machine code outputs. There are lots of types of coding languages out there but, at their core, all programming languages are instructions given to a computer to execute. 

Essentially, all types of computer code allow you to translate binary code (made up of 1s and 0s—the main language of computers) into something that humans can understand and write.

binary code

How Many Programming Languages Are There?

About 700 in total! 😲

However, many of these are relatively obscure. There are a handful of coding languages that are much more common, popular, and in demand than others (Java, PHP, JavaScript, etc).

But why do we need so many? Why are there different types of coding languages at all? In short, there are different problems out there that require different tools to solve them.

Some languages are better at solving a certain type of problem than others. Some programs may be looking for speed and simplicity, while another program may need to do complex things that take more time.

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How to Categorize Coding Languages

😵‍💫 So, there must be a formal way to organize the different types of programming languages, right?

Actually, you may be surprised to learn that there is no single overarching classification scheme for programming languages. Instead, there are a variety of methods you can use to categorize types of code.

Programming paradigms, for example, are one way to classify programming languages based on their features (e.g., functional, imperative, object-oriented, etc). But there are also “multi-paradigm” languages that allow coders to use more than one programming style. 

Plus, there are other ways to categorize languages, such as by high vs low level, their programming generation, how the code is run (interpreted vs compiled), and so on!

code on a screen

In this post, we’ll classify the different types of coding languages, using various grouping schemes to give you an idea of what the different kinds of programming are all about.

Keep in mind that many languages fall into multiple groups, and not every language or paradigm is mentioned here. (After all, there are hundreds out there!)

5 Ways to Classify the Different Types of Programming Languages

Here are five of the best methods to group the various types of computer programming languages. 👇

1. High-Level vs Low-Level

A high-level language (HLL) is a programming language that is independent of a particular type of computer. HLLs are generally the types of coding languages you are used to hearing about. 

In contrast to low-level programming languages, HLLs may use natural, English-like language elements, making them more human-friendly and easier to write.

Programs written in a high-level language must then be translated into machine language by a compiler or interpreter. 

➡️ High-level programming languages include:

A low-level programming language is a programming language that is more machine-friendly than human-friendly. They are optimized for a specific type of system architecture. 

Low-level languages don’t need a compiler or interpreter in order to convert to machine language. While they are more difficult to code with, programs developed using low-level languages are fast and memory-efficient.

➡️ Low-level programming languages include: 

  • Machine code
  • Assembly language
person coding

2. Interpreted vs Compiled

Think about a human interpreter translating a document, going line by line. With interpreted languages, a program is used to interpret their code line by line and execute each command as it’s being run.

A machine’s processor can’t follow an interpreted language’s instructions without the help of that interpreting program.

➡️ Examples of common interpreted languages are:

By contrast, a machine’s processor can directly execute compiled languages, since they’re converted into machine code first.

This makes them more efficient than interpreted languages, since they don’t have to be read one line at a time. However, if you need to make a change to the program, you have to “rebuild” the whole thing, since these programs need to be manually compiled first.

➡️ Examples of pure compiled languages:

  • Erlang
  • Haskell
  • Rust
  • Go

Now, a language doesn’t have to strictly be interpreted or compiled. There are types of programming languages that can be executed either way! Python is an example of a crossover language that can be implemented in an interpreted or compiled form.

coding books

3. Programming Paradigms

Programming paradigms give you ways to classify the different types of programming languages according to their features.

There are two main types of programming paradigms: imperative and declarative. Each paradigm also has different sub-types!

Let’s check them out.

Imperative programming paradigms

In imperative programming, you’re giving the computer commands to perform, using step-by-step statements describing how the program should operate.

Under the umbrella of imperative programming, you’ll find object-oriented and procedural programming.

Object-oriented programming: OOP programming breaks programs down into “objects,” which are essentially collections of data and code. Often, OOP languages are multi-paradigm, meaning they can also support the next type of imperative programming (procedural).

➡️ Popular OOP languages include:

  • Ruby
  • Perl
  • Objective-C
  • Swift
  • Scala
  • Kotlin
  • TypeScript

Procedural programming: Instead of breaking a program down into data objects like OOP, procedural programming breaks a task down into procedures (consisting of variables, data structures, and subroutines).

➡️ Procedural languages include: 

  • Fortran
  • PL/I
  • Pascal
  • C

Declarative programming paradigms

Declarative coding paradigms are more about the what than the how. You describe the outcome you want from the computation and the logic it should follow, but not necessarily all the instructions about how to accomplish a process.

Functional programming: This type of declarative paradigm relies on pure mathematical functions, using conditional expressions and recursion to build software programs. 

➡️ Functional languages include:

  • Haskell
  • Erlang
  • Common Lisp
  • F#
  • Clojure

Logic programming: This declarative type of coding uses a system of formal logic to guide program statements. For instance, this type of code might describe what a program should accomplish, or facts and rules about the problems being solved—but explicit instructions on how to solve them aren’t necessary since the logic is already built into the system.

➡️ Examples include:

  • Absys
  • Cycl
  • Alice
  • ALF
  • Prolog
coding on latop

Domain-specific language (DSL)

Many types of declarative languages are domain-specific, meaning they’re only intended for use in a particular purpose within a specific domain (e.g. web pages, databases, and specific software). In contrast to general-purpose languages (GPLs), they won’t work to solve problems outside their domain.

➡️ Examples:

  • SQL
  • Yacc (Yet Another Compiler-Compiler)
  • QML
  • The Make build specification language
  • Puppet’s configuration management language
  • Many markup languages such as HTML, MXML, XAML, XSLT are domain-specific declarative languages

4. Backend vs Frontend Types of Programming Languages

The front- and back-end of a website or application work together to bring you a working website/application. Some programmers focus on one or the other, while others work with both (known as full-stack programming). Most “software engineers” work on the back end. 

Since different types of computer programming languages are used on each end, this can be a good way to classify the various computer coding types.

Frontend: The “front” of a web page or app (AKA the client side), meaning what users see and can interact with. 

➡️ Front-end languages include:

  • HTML / CSS (note: HTML is a markup language & CSS is a style sheet language, they are not considered “programming languages”)
  • JavaScript
  • Asynchronous request handling and AJAX
  • Single-page applications (with frameworks like React, Angular or Vue.js)

Backend: Handle the ‘behind-the-scenes’ functionality of web applications. Connects the web to a database, manages user connections, and powers the web application itself. 

➡️ Back-end languages include:

A full-stack developer needs to know a mix of front-end and back-end technologies, since there isn’t really overlap here.

Frontend programer

5. Different Types of Programming by Generation

Programming languages can also be broken down by their “generation.”

Despite the implication of the name, this doesn’t refer to the time period they were invented in. Instead, it’s more about the language’s “distance from the machine.”

The first generation is the lowest-level of code, closest to the machine (and often hardest to use). The sixth generation is on the other side of the spectrum—easiest for humans to use and not very technical. 

Let’s look at some examples of the types of coding languages within each generation:

  1. First generation (1GL): Machine-level programming languages
  2. Second generation (2GL): Assembly languages
  3. Third generation (3GL): Machine-independent (portable) and programmer-friendly languages like Java, Python, C, C++,  PHP, Perl, C#, BASIC, Pascal, Fortran, ALGOL, COBOL.
  4. Fourth generation (4GL): Languages that are specialized toward very specific programming domains, such as ABAP, Unix Shell, SQL, PL/SQL, Oracle Reports, R.
  5. Fifth generation (5GL): Any programming language based on problem-solving using constraints given to the program, rather than using an algorithm. Examples include: Prolog, OPS5, Mercury
  6. Sixth generation (6GL): No-code / low code programming languages that are based on visual development such as Bubble, Webflow, Pega, etc.
SQL code

12 Popular Programming Languages & Their Types 

Now we know a variety of methods to classify different types of code languages!

Here’s a quick rundown of twelve popular languages and all the different types of programming they belong to: 

  1. Python: High-level, compiled or interpreted, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  2. Go: High-level, compiled, back-end, 3GL
  3. Java: High-level, compiled, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  4. JavaScript: High-level, interpreted, imperative, object-oriented, back-end & front-end, 3GL
  5. C++: High-level, compiled, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  6. C#: High-level, compiled, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  7. Ruby: High-level, interpreted, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  8. Perl: High-level, interpreted, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  9. PHP: High-level, interpreted, imperative, object-oriented, back-end, 3GL
  10. Rust: High-level, compiled, imperative, functional, back-end, 3GL
  11. Haskell: High-level, can be both compiled and interpreted, declarative, functional, back-end, 3GL
  12. SQL: High-level, can be both compiled and interpreted, declarative, domain-specific language
Computer coding

As you can see, a lot of these languages fall into similar categories. Yet they all have unique uses and advantages.

The takeaway here is that simply categorizing the different types of code languages isn’t really enough. Taking a deeper dive into each language is the best way to learn about which language is best for which purpose!

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What Types of Coding Should You Learn?

That brings us to the question: how do you know which types of programming languages you should use/learn? 

🎧 Listening to this podcast episode on deciding what program language to learn would be a great next step. 

It’s also a good idea to start by thinking about your end goals. Do some research to find out what languages are used in the job you’re hoping to get. What tech stack does your dream company use? What program or app do you want to create and what is the best language for that specific use case?

⭐ To take a deeper dive into different types of programming languages and other tech skills, explore our Skills section on Learn to Code With Me!