MODERN PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES A.Webber Cap1

MODERN PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES A.Webber Cap1 - Chapter 1...

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Chapter 1 Programming Languages 1 1.1 Introduction Computer programs are practical magic. To craft a program is to construct a complex and beautiful incantation; to run a program is to discover with delight that the magic actually works! Even if the program does not do exactly what you intended, it does something, which is more than can be said of most other kinds of incantations. The delight of practical magic draws many beginners to computer programming and continues to reward experienced programmers. The author, at least, has not found this pleasure to diminish after 20 years of programming practice. This book is about programming languages. It gives tutorial introductions to three languages: ML, Java, and Prolog. 1 These languages are very different from each other. Knowing a little about them gives you three widely 1. The published definitions of the oldest languages usually gave their names in all upper case: FORTRAN, COBOL, and BASIC. Newer definitions, even for dialects of the older languages, usually give the names in mixed case: Fortran. This book follows the convention of using mixed case for names that are pronounced as words (such as Java and Prolog) and all capital letters only for names that are pronounced as sequences of letters (such as ML, which is pronounced “em ell”).
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2 Chapter 1—Programming Languages separated points from which to triangulate the principles of programming lan- guages. There are good, free implementations of these three languages on a variety of platforms, so you can enjoy tinkering with them. Interleaved with the tutorial chapters are philosophical chapters that discuss important concepts of program- ming languages more abstractly. Although these chapters are abstract, they are not particularly mathematical. Programming languages have, to be sure, an interesting and elegant mathematics, but there is plenty to appreciate about programming languages without going in that direction, where not all readers can follow or care to follow. Before you read further, be warned: this book assumes that you already know at least one programming language well—at the level normally achieved by a college student after two semesters of study. It does not matter which language you know. But if you have not programmed before, this is not the right place to start learning how. The rest of this chapter explains what makes programming languages such an interesting subject: the amazing variety, the odd controversies, the intriguing evolution, and the many connections to other branches of computing. 1.2 The Amazing Variety One of the things that makes programming languages so fascinating is their diver- sity. Here is a quick glance at four very different kinds of languages, including the three core languages of this book.
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