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Low-level programming languages: why are they needed and is it worth learning today

Low-level programming languages ​​are not bad or outdated; such a name only indicates how the program interacts with the hardware. The first low-level PL is machine code, with only zeros and ones. Over time, other languages ​​have been added.

Even though high-level programming is now popular, low-level programming languages ​​are still in demand. Drivers, operating systems, firmware, etc., are written on them. In addition, it will be useful for any programmer to study such languages.

The concept of a low-level programming language

The very first and most primitive programming language is machine code, which consists of a set of sequential commands transmitted to the processor with two characters – “0” and “1”. Zero is the absence of an electrical signal on the device, and one is the presence of such a signal.

The flow of signals will allow you to activate the processor to perform certain operations. Thanks to this, computers could solve the simplest tasks, for example, perform arithmetic calculations, transfer data from one register to another, and compare codes of different numbers.

Gradually, the complexity of the operations that programming languages ​​could perform increased. The number of commands and the speed of their implementation increased. They began to be divided into microprograms to make machine codes more efficient and flexible.

Low-level programming languages ​​are languages ​​close to programming directly in the machine codes of the real or virtual processor being used.

A mnemonic is used to designate machine instructions. For this, special abbreviations of words of ordinary language (usually English) are used. At the same time, one such abbreviation can correspond to several machine instructions that perform the same operation with different processor memory cells.

Primitive programming languages ​​, such as macro definition (macros), may have additional features. Through directives, it is possible to control the process of translation of machine codes with the introduction of constants and literal strings, as well as with the reservation of memory for variables and the placement of executable code at certain addresses.

With the help of such languages, ​​it is possible to use variable memory locations. When working, the specifics of a particular family of processes are considered.

Binary machine codes were used to develop the first computer programs. This complex process has been simplified thanks to low-level languages. They made machine instructions easier to understand. Special programs called translators were used to convert to binary code. There are two types of such programs:

  • Compilers. They are used to convert program text into machine code, which is then stored and used without a translator. A vivid example file with *.exe extension.
  • Interpreters. They allow you to partially transform the program into machine code, execute it and move on to the next fragment.

When creating an algorithm in a low-level language, the programmer refers “directly” to the hardware functionality of the computer:

  • processor
  • memory;
  • peripherals.

Since, in this case, there are no hidden parts of the code that the compiler automatically adds in converting the source code to binary, the high-speed operation of programs is ensured.

If the programmer decides to use a low-level language, he will be responsible for all the hardware functionality of the device (processor loading speed, allocated memory, etc.). Thus, low-level languages ​​are the least secure. Fewer errors in the resulting code distinguish high-level writing methods.

Low-level programming languages ​​are used to create the following types of software:

  • real-time systems;
  • microcontrollers;
  • drivers that control external devices (printers, scanners, cameras, etc.).

High-level languages ​​are by far the most common. Of course, this was not always the case. Previously, low-level languages ​​were the most popular. However, these ways of writing code are still used today. We list the main areas of application of low-level languages:

  • Writing drivers for hardware and peripherals that connect to a computer;
  • Development of OS and firmware kernels;
  • Performing other important tasks, such as managing various devices and their characteristics in the military, engineering, and medical fields.

Pros and cons of low-level programming languages

At the moment, there are many low-level programming languages. They have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of low-level languages ​​is the ability to develop efficient and compact programs. When using this recording method, the programmer gets access to the processor’s functionality.

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However, low-level languages ​​have several disadvantages:

  • The developer must have a high level of skill. He needs to be well-versed in the structure of the microprocessor system for which the program is being written. Therefore, to create a program for a PC, it is necessary to understand how its hardware works. In particular, this applies to the specifics of the processor.
  • The resulting program cannot be used on a device with a different processor type.
  • It takes a lot of time to create complex programs.

Most often, low-level languages ​​are used to develop small system programs, device drivers, and interface modules with non-standard equipment, as well as when programming specialized microprocessors, which should provide the ability to access the hardware and be compact and fast directly.

Examples of low-level programming languages

As previously mentioned, the lowest level language is machine code, containing only “0” and “1”. Assembly language is considered more complex.

Assembly language is a set of principles for creating a new syntax for controlling processors in various architectures. Its syntax is more functional and understandable than in native code. The assembler allows you to perform operations on all processes inside the computer. However, the syntaxes of other low-level languages ​​are much simpler.

It is only possible to mention the Forth language, which was created in the early 70s. It used to be widespread. This is explained by the fact that Forth has a simpler and more understandable syntax. With its help, kernels and OS were developed. This language has lost its former relevance and is rarely used.

CIL is another low-level language created by Microsoft (in this organization, it is called a “high-level assembler”). Used as an intermediate language in the .NET virtual machine. In other words, all compilers that work with .NET transform high-level languages ​​from this framework into CIL, allowing you to control the hardware functionality of the device.

In addition, there are flexible languages, which are also called “middle-level languages.” Simply put, they can be both high-level and low-level. These are C, C++, RUST, and others. But why are they so versatile? Low-level programming languages ​​are distinguished because they can “directly” affect the “hardware” of the computer.

The same can be said about the mid-level options. Due to this feature, they are often used in developing OS and drivers created in low-level languages. However, flexible methods are also used in applications and games written in high-level languages.

Is learning low-level programming languages ​​worth it?

Many people think that learning low-level languages ​​is a waste of time. However, this is a big misconception. Consider several important areas of application of languages ​​of this level:

  • Working with memory

Many people who know only Java, C#, and other similar languages ​​do not know how to solve some problems related to memory. On the one hand, high-level ways of writing code should free the programmer from performing such operations. But every program has bugs sometimes. For example, a garbage collection program might start using too much memory.

To solve this problem, you need to understand allocating and clearing memory specifics. In addition, you may need to combine heterogeneous elements in one program. In this case, “native” regular win32 libraries are used, which do not support NET and C #. Thus, low-level languages ​​are needed to exchange data through an unprotected memory area.

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  • Development of multi-threaded applications

The highest level of abstraction for creating threads is what distinguishes high-level languages. But if you understand the nuances of the thread-safe concept, you can speed up the debugging time of a multi-threaded application.

  • General understanding

The pursuit of efficiency often results in too early optimization. Using low-level optimization is an even worse mistake since it usually only leads to a useless expenditure of effort. However, there is one caveat. To understand how a computer works, you must learn the low-level language Assembler.

You can write in asm if you know the processor architecture of memory addressing systems and I/O mechanisms. Having mastered this language, you will be able to understand what to expect from other manufacturers in the present and future. It is best to study further the asm of a particular RISC processor, such as ARM. However, this advice is relevant only to special fans. In any case, knowledge of assembly language is necessary to understand the computer’s nuances.

Learning low-level languages ​​is useful, regardless of whether this knowledge will be applied in practice. However, mastering these ways of writing code is not an easy task. That is why these materials should be taught in higher educational institutions.

The future of low-level programming

Low-level languages ​​have both pros and cons. But it should be noted that in the future, such programming will be actively used in various fields. The same asm will not lose relevance until different types of processors cease to exist. If a specialist knows this language, he can easily optimize the code created on it.

The better you understand low-level programming, the better you understand computer architecture and hardware functionality. This helps to avoid errors in software development.

Demand for asm is falling because the IT sector is developing frantically. Currently, the most important aspects of development are reliability and speed. These qualities are inherent in high-level languages. However, the demand for asm will only grow in the future. This is due to low cost and high speed – the paramount parameters for performing many important operations.

The Fort also has promising prospects. It is the best language for developing cross-platform systems and programming systems. The Fort will likely become a key link in a particular area due to its undeniable advantages after some time. We are talking about “wired code” – the internal structure of the language, which became famous for its simplicity, economy, and efficiency of bytecodes.

It is only possible to mention the low-level language C, which will also be in demand on the market. It is quite simple, standardized, and adapted to many platforms. In the future, features of C may be used to develop new languages.

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