Why Are There So Many Programming Languages?

It was in the 1940s that the world’s first programming language named Plankalkül was developed. The first programming language launched commercially was FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation) in 1956. Since then, a number of new programming languages have come into existence. The list is pretty long including most common programming languages like Cobol, C, C++, C#, Java, JavaScript, HTML and CSS, Python, Ruby, Perl, Go, etc.

Sometimes it makes us wonder why there are so many programming languages. Why can’t there be a single or fewer programming languages? What is the need to have multiple programming languages? To answer such questions, here are some important things we need to know about programming languages.

Technology evolution – Technology has evolved at a fast pace over the last few decades. And this trend will only accelerate in the future. New technologies are being constantly developed, based on which new products and services are being launched. This has led to the emergence of several dozen programming languages. Although it may be theoretically possible to use an older programming language for a new technology, a new programming language developed especially for specific projects can work out much better.

Variety of computing projects – Different programming languages cater to different types of projects. For example, C# is most commonly used for game development, applications for mobile and desktop, and virtual reality (VR). In case of JavaScript, it is used for mobile apps, web development, game development and web servers. HTML and CSS are most commonly associated with website development. Python is used primarily for data science, back-end development and app development. Perl is for GUI development, system administration and network programming. Similarly, other programming languages have a specific purpose to serve.

Cost and time – Theoretically, you can use any programming language for any computing task. The only thing is that some programming languages are better equipped to handle a specific project. As an analogy, consider the prospect of travelling from East Coast to West Coast. You can do it on a bicycle too, but a better way to do it will be to use a plane or car. The same applies to programming languages as well. It’s the varying nature of computing tasks that has prompted researchers to come up with different programming languages.

Developer’s preference – Developers have preference for certain programming languages, based on what they feel is easier to learn, understand and execute. This is also the reason that is likely to have motivated innovators and researchers to come up with new programming languages.

The search for new programming languages is likely to be a never-ending process. New technologies and the need to do things faster, more accurate and reliable and in a cost-effective manner will continue to create space for newer programming languages.

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