Lower Level versus Higher Level Languages

Jun 20, 2022
5 min read

What is Lower Level Language?

A lower-level language is a programming language that deals with the hardware components and constraints of a computer. Also, referred to as a computer's native language, it has no or only a minute level of abstraction about a computer and works to manage the operational semantics.

Lower-level languages are designed to directly operate and handle the entire hardware and instructions set architecture of a computer. They are considered closer to computers as their prime function is to operate, manage, and manipulate the computing hardware and components. Programs and applications that are written in a low-level language are directly executable on the computing hardware without needing a translation or interpretation.

What is Higher-Level Language?

A higher-level language is any programming language that enables the development of a program in a more user-friendly programming context. Generally, the higher-level languages are independent of the computer's hardware architecture. A higher-level language has a higher level of abstraction from the computer and focuses more on the programming logic instead of the underlying hardware components such as memory addressing and register utilization.

Higher-level languages are designed to be used by the programmer or the human operator and are referred closer to humans. Their programming styles and context is easier to learn and implement than the lower-level languages. Usually, the entire code focuses on the specific program to be created.

A higher-level language doesn't need to address the hardware constraints when developing a program. However, every single program written in a higher-level language must be interpreted into machine language before being executed by the computer. [1]

Advantages & Disadvantages of Lower Level Languages

Advantages

  1. Programs developed using these languages are fast and memory efficient.
  2. It helps the programmers to operate processors and memory in a better way.
  3. Cuts the compilation and interpretation time as there is no need for any compilers or interpreters to translate the source code to machine code.
  4. Provide direct manipulation of computer registers and storage.
  5. It can directly communicate with the hardware devices.

Disadvantages

  1. Programs developed using these languages are machine-dependent and not portable.
  2. The lower-level languages are difficult to develop, debug, and maintain.
  3. These languages are more error-prone.
  4. Usually, they result in poor programming productivity.
  5. Programmers using low-level language must have additional knowledge of the computer architecture of a specific machine.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Higher-Level Languages

Advantages

  1. They are easy to write, debug, and maintain, so these languages are programmer-friendly.
  2. Provides a higher level of abstraction from machine languages.
  3. It is a machine-independent language.
  4. They are less error-prone, so finding and debugging the errors is easy.
  5. Programming using this language results in better programming productivity.
  6. Quite easy to learn these languages.

Disadvantages

  1. It takes additional translation time to convert the source code into machine code.
  2. The programs written in these languages are comparatively slower than the programs written in lower-level languages.
  3. Generally, they are less memory efficient compared to the lower-level language programs.
  4. They cannot be used to communicate with the hardware directly.

Examples of Lower & Higher-Level Languages

Examples of lower-level language include the following:

1) Machine language, which contains a set of instructions written as a sequence of binary bits that are directly executed by the computer. Hence it is considered closest to the hardware.

2) Assembly language, which is an improvement over the machine language that uses mnemonics which are short abbreviated English words that specify a computer instruction. This language also interacts directly with the hardware. It uses a special program called an assembler that translates the mnemonics to specific machine code. An assembly language is used to develop the device drivers, operating systems, compilers, and other programs that need direct access to hardware. [2]

Examples of higher-level language include the following:

1) C

2) C++

3) BASIC

4) Java

5) COBOL

6) LISP

7) PASCAL

8) FORTRAN

As the higher-level languages are slower in terms of execution compared to the lower-level languages, a compiler or interpreter is used to convert it into machine language.

Compiled vs Interpreted Languages

A compiler is a special computer program that translates the computer code written in one programming language into another language. Generally, it is used for programs that translate the source code from a high-level programming language to a lower-level language to create an executable program.

Microsoft has now released the source code for GW-BASIC, its 1983 BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 computer because having the open-sourced MS-DOS, people wanted it to do the same with its BASIC. The sources for Microsoft GW-BASIC are the assembly language for the Intel-designed 8088 microprocessor from 1983 that eventually became the basis for today's Microsoft Visual Basic. NET.

According to Rich Turner, the source code for GW-BASIC is 100% assembly language or a lower-level language that was built for a specific chip architecture. When writing the software for early PCs, every single byte and instruction mattered. So, the developers wrote the code in a lower-level language such that it could physically fit their software into the available memory and be able to access the resources and the internal functioning of the computers. Though the developers writing code for mainframes then could use higher-level languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and LISP, the compilers used for them were quite inefficient and expensive, huge for those PCs. Thus, all the source code for GW-BASIC is pure assembly code, translated on a per-processor/ per machine basic from the core/ master sources. [3]

Where is The Future of Programming Heading?

Power Apps from Microsoft, Visual Builder from Oracle, and other tools let you create software without writing a single line of code. The development of no-code, a software development method, has been gathering momentum; it is now possible to develop software or programs without writing any underlying code. As per Vlad Magdalin, co-founder and CEO of WebFlow, a no-code platform for building websites, 'No-code allows people who don't know how to write code to be able to develop the same application that a software engineer would.'

A no-code development could be regarded as a form of visual programming, where the users manipulate code elements through drag-and-drop user interfaces instead of the traditional text-based development environments. A popular instance is the Scratch Programming Language of the MIT Media Lab that uses graphical programming blocks for teaching children and adults how to code.

A no-code is a natural progression and a product of technological evolution in the realm of software development that began as a lower-level or assembly language programming. The programmers could get closer to machine code instructions that evolved into today's higher-level languages such as Java, C, Python, and other programming languages, making programming easier for software developers. Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft Visual Basic, which still need knowledge of code, are considered earlier iterations of the no-code programming tools.

Today, various platforms like Oracle's Application Express enable no-code development to develop business apps, Microsoft's Power apps and Oracle's Visual Builder creates web and mobile apps, and Salesforce's Lightning Platform helps to develop customer relationship management apps. Moreover, Google is getting into action with the recent acquisition of AppSheet, a no-code platform for building mobile apps.

To conclude, these tools and applications developed using them are gaining traction in the tech world. A no-code development is the result of more powerful computers, easily accessible cloud computing services, and better programming languages that help you start building software without coding. This is also a solution to the rising demand for generating more software, but a limited number of developers can create that software, as coding is a difficult skill to learn.

Moreover, the no-code platforms allow faster application development that will lower business costs and eliminate any possible issues between a person's vision of a product and how a software engineer brings that into life through coding. Thus, visual development tools give business owners the power to create software without handing their project to a developer or learning how to code. [4]