The common alphabet of programming languages


                                                                   a                                                                                    

                                    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other.”                                     “Four legs good, two legs bad.”

from Animal Farm by George Orwell

Note: This post is largely intended for those who are embarking on their journey into the world of programming. The article below highlights a set of constructs that recur in many imperative, dynamic and object-oriented languages.  While these constructs cannot be applied directly to functional programming languages like Lisp,Haskell or Clojure, it may help. To some extent the programming language domain has been intentionally oversimplified to show that languages are not as daunting as they seem. Clearly there are a  lot more subtle and complex differences among languages. Hope you have fun programming!

Introduction: Anybody who is about to venture into the deep waters of programming will be bewildered and awed by the almost limitless number of programming languages and the associated paradigms on which they are based on. It is easy to feel apprehensive of programming, when faced with this  this array of languages, not to mention the seemingly quirky syntax of each language.  Many opinions abound, about what is the best programming language. In my opinion each language is best suited for a particular class of problems and is usually clunky if used outside of this. As an aside here is an interesting link provided by reader AKS to Rosetta Code, which is stated to be a a programming chrestomathy (present solutions to the same task in as many different languages as possible, to demonstrate how languages are similar and different, and to aid a person with a grounding in one approach to a problem in learning another. Rosetta Code currently has 772 tasks, 165 draft tasks, and is aware of 582 languages)

You are likely to hear  “All programming languages are equal, but some languages are more equal than others” from seasoned programmers who have their own pet language. There may also be others who swear that “procedural languages good, object oriented languages bad” or maybe “object oriented languages good, aspect oriented languages bad”. Unity in diversity Regardless of the language this post discusses a thread that is common to all programming languages. In fact any programming language can be expressed as

Lx = C + Sx

Where Lx is any programming language ‘x’. All programming languages have a set of core, common constructs which I have denoted as ‘C’ and a set of Specialized constructs, unique to each language ‘x’ which I have denoted as Sx. I would like to look at these constructs that are common to most programming languages like C,C++,Perl, Python, Ruby, C#, R, Octave etc. In my opinion knowing these core, common constructs and a few of the more specialized constructs should allow you to get started off in the language of your choice. You can pick up the more unique constructs as you go along.   Here are the common constructs (C mentioned above) that you must familiarize yourself with when embarking on a new language

  1. Reading user input and printing to screen
  2. Reading and writing from a file
  3. Conditional statement if-then-else if-else
  4. Loops – For, while, repeat, do while etc.

Knowing these constructs and some of the basic concepts unique to each language for e.g.
– Structure, Pointers in C,
– Classes, inheritance in C++
– Subsetting in Octave, R
– car, cdr in Lisp will enable you to get started off in your chosen language.
I show the examples of these core constructs in many languages. Note the similarity between these constructs
1. C
Read from and write to console

scanf(x,”%d); printf(“The value of x is %d”, x);
Read from and write to file
fread(buffer, strlen(c)+1, 1, fp);
fwrite(c, strlen(c) + 1, 1, fp);

Conditional
if(x > 5) {
printf(“x is greater than 5”);
}
else if (x < 5)
{ printf(“x is less than 5”);
}
else{ printf(“x is equal to 5”);
}

Loops I will only consider for loops, though one could use while, repeat etC.
for(i =0; i <100; i++)
{ money = money++)
}

2. C++
Read from and write to console
cin >> age;
Cout << “The value is “ << value

Read from and write to a file // open a file in read mode.
ifstream infile;
infile.open("afile.dat");
cout << "Reading from the file" <<
endl;
infile >> data;
ofstream outfile;
outfile.open("afile.dat");
// write inputted data into the file.
outfile << data <<
endl;

Conditional same as C
if(x > 5) {
printf(“x is greater than 5”);
}

else if (x < 5) {
printf(“x is less than 5”);
}
else{ printf(“x is equal to 5”);
}

Loops
for(i =0; i <100; i++)
{ money = money++)

}

2. C++ Read from and write to console
cin >> age;
Cout << “The value is “ << value
Read from and write to a file // open a file in read mode.
ifstream infile;
infile.open("afile.dat");
cout << "Reading from the file" << endl;
infile >> data; ofstream outfile;
outfile.open("afile.dat");
// write inputted data into the file.
outfile << data << endl;
Conditional same as C
if(x > 5) {
printf(“x is greater than 5”);
}
else if (x < 5) {
printf(“x is less than 5”);
}
else{ printf(“x is equal to 5”);
}
Loops
for(i =0; i <100; i++){
money = money++)
}
3. Java
Reading from  and writing to standard input
Console c = System.console();
int val = c.readLine("Enter a value: ");
System.out.println("Value is "+ val);
Reading and writing from file
try {
in = new FileInputStream("input.txt");
out = new FileOutputStream("output.txt");
int c;
while ((c = in.read()) != -1) {
out.write(c); } } ...
Conditional (same as C)
if(x > 5) {
printf(“x is greater than 5”);
}
else if (x < 5) {
printf(“x is less than 5”);
}
else{ printf(“x is equal to 5”); }
Loops (same as C)
for(i =0; i <100; i++){
money = money++)
}

4. Perl Read from console
#!/usr/bin/perl
$userinput =  ;
chomp ($userinput);
Write to console
print "User typed $userinput\n";
Reading and write to a file
open(IN,"infile") || die "cannot open input file";
open(OUT,"outfile") || die "cannot open output file";
while() {
print OUT $_;
# echo line read
}
close(IN);
close(OUT)
Conditional
if( $a  ==  20 ){
# if condition is true then print the following
printf "a has a value which is 20\n";
}
elsif( $a ==  30 ){
# if condition is true then print the following
printf "a has a value which is 30\n";
}else{
# if none of the above conditions is true
printf "a has a value which is $a\n";
}
Loops
for (my $i=0; $i <= 9; $i++) {
print "$i\n";
}

5. Lisp
The syntax for Lisp will be different from the others as it is a functional language. You need to familiarize yourself with these constructs to move ahead
Read and write to console
To read from standard input use
(let ((temp 0))
(print ‘(Enter temp))
(setf temp (read))
(print (append ‘(the temp is) (list temp))))
Read from and write to file
(with-open-file (stream “C:\\acl82express\\lisp\\count.cl”)
(do ((line (read-line stream nil) (read-line stream nil)))
(with-open-file (stream “C:\\acl82express\\lisp\\test.txt” :direction :output :if-exists :supersede)
(write-line “test” stream) nil)
Conditional
$ (cond ((< x 5)
(setf x (+ x 8))
(setf y (* 2 y)))
((= x 10) (setf x (* x 2)))
(t (setf x 8)))
Loops
$  (setf x 5)
$ (let ((i 0))
(loop (setf y (* x i))
(when (> i 10) (return))
(print i) (prin1 y) (incf i )))

6. Python
Reading and writing from console
var = raw_input("Please enter something: ")
print “You entered: ”  value
Reading and writing from files
f = open(filename, 'r')
a = f.readline().strip()
target = open(filename, 'w')
target.write(line1)
Conditionals
if x > 5:
print "x is greater than 5”
elif
x < 5:
print "x is less than 5"
else:
print "x is equal to 5"
Loops
for i in range(0, 6):
print "Value is :" % i 7.

R
x=5
paste('The value of x is =',x)
Reading and writing to a file
infile = read.csv(“file”)
write(x, file = "data", sep = " ")
Conditional
if(x > 5){
print(“x is greater than 5”) 
}else if(x < 5){
print(“x is less than 5”) 
}else {
print(“x is equal to 5”)
}
Loops
for (i in 1:10) print(i)

Conclusion
As can be seen the core constructs are very similar in different languages save for some minor variations. It is generally useful to get started with just knowing these constructs and few other important other features  of the language that you are trying to learn. It is possible to code most programs with these Core constructs and a few of the Specialized constructs in the language. These Core constructs are the glue that hold your code together.

You can learn more compact and more powerful features of the language as you go along The above core constructs are like the letters of the programming language alphabet. You need to construct words by stringing together these constructs and form sensible sentences which will be your program. Good luck with your adventure in your next new programming language!!!

Also see
1.Programming languages in layman’s language
2. The mind of the programmer
3. How to program – Some essential tips
4. Programming Zen and now – Some essential tips -2 

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6 thoughts on “The common alphabet of programming languages

  1. Pingback: The mind of a programmer | Giga thoughts …

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