Beginning Programming For Dummies by Wallace Wang - Read Online
Beginning Programming For Dummies
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Do you think the programmers who work at your office are magical wizards who hold special powers that manipulate your computer? Believe it or not, anyone can learn how to write programs, and it doesn’t take a higher math and science education to start.

Beginning Programming for Dummies shows you how computer programming works without all the technical details or hard programming language. It explores the common parts of every computer programming language and how to write for multiple platforms like Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. This easily accessible guide provides you with the tools you need to:

–Create programs and divide them into subprograms
–Develop variables and use constants
–Manipulate strings and convert them into numbers
–Use an array as storage space
–Reuse and rewrite code
–Isolate data
–Create a user interface
–Write programs for the Internet
–Utilize JavaScript and Java Applets

In addition to these essential building blocks, this guide also provides valuable programming resources and lets you in on cool careers for programmers. With Beginning Programming of Dummies, you can take charge of your computer and begin programming today!

Published: Wiley on
ISBN: 9781118051078
List price: $24.99
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A nyone can learn to program a computer. Computer programming doesn’t require a high IQ or an innate proficiency in advanced mathematics. Computer programming just requires a desire to learn and the patience never to give up.

Programming is a skill like rock climbing, tap dancing, and pole vaulting. Some people are naturally better than others, but anyone can get better with regular practice. That’s why so many kids become programming wizards at such an early age. These kids aren’t necessarily brilliant; they’re just willing to put in the time to learn a new skill, and they’re not afraid of failing because they know that failure is nothing more than a part of learning.

If you ever dreamed about writing your own programs, rest assured that you can. Programming can be lots of fun, but it can also be frustrating, annoying, and time-consuming. That’s why Wiley publishes this particular book — to help you discover how to program a computer with minimum inconvenience and maximum enjoyment.

Whether you want to pick up computer programming for fun, to start a new career, or to help make your current job easier, consider this book your personal guide through the sometimes scary — and initially intimidating — world of computer programming.

Although this book won’t turn you into a programming wizard overnight, it can teach you enough about programming to help you understand how programming works, what the strengths and weaknesses of different programming languages are, and how you can get started writing programs all by yourself.

Who Should Buy This Book

You should buy this book if you want to learn how computer programming works without getting bogged down in the technical details of a particular programming language. When you understand how computer programming works, you’ll better understand how to use a specific programming language with cryptic names like C++ or Java. But you should buy this book if you especially want to know any of the following:

How computer programs work

The common parts of every computer programming language

How to write programs for multiple platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux

Whether to write your next computer program by using Visual Basic, C++, Perl, SmallTalk, C#, or some other programming language

Like any skill, you can learn programming only by practicing it. To help you get hands-on experience, the CD enclosed with this book includes trial versions of four language compilers so you can practice writing programs on any computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

The three main languages you learn in this book are BASIC, C++, and a scripting language called Revolution.

BASIC is specially designed to introduce beginners to programming, so you can practice writing BASIC programs in two programming languages: Liberty BASIC and REALbasic.

Liberty BASIC represents the BASIC language in its purest and simplest form so you can understand the concepts of programming without getting lost in the technical details. When you understand how BASIC works, you can study REALbasic to see a version of the BASIC language that includes advanced programming features similar to more powerful languages such as C++.

This book also provides examples in C++, which is the most popular programming language in use today. If you want to write programs professionally, you must at least become familiar with the way C++ works.

You also learn a nontraditional programming language called Revolution, which uses English-like sentences to control your computer. Scripting languages like Revolution are designed to be easy to write and understand. They also provide commands capable of solving complicated problems more easily than traditional programming languages like BASIC or C++.

In addition, the Revolution programming language is based on AppleScript, which is a programming language used to automate a Mac OS X computer, so after you’re familiar with Revolution, you also know most of the AppleScript programming language.

By learning BASIC, C++, and Revolution, you’re exposed to three different programming languages, styles, and approaches to solving problems so you can better understand the advantages and limitations of any programming language. Then you can choose the best programming language for your needs.

How This Book Is Organized

To help you find what you need quickly, this book consists of five parts, and each part covers a certain topic about computer programming. Whenever you need help, just flip through the book, find the part that covers the topic you’re looking for, and then keep the book at your side as you get back to work.

Part I: Programming a Computer

If computer programming seems a mysterious arcane science, relax. This part of the book demystifies all the common myths about computer programming, shows you exactly how computer programs work, and explains why programming isn’t as difficult as many people think.

This part also shows you how programming has evolved, why so many different programming languages exist, and how programming follows easy-to-remember principles so you can start programming your own computer right away.

Part II: The Building Blocks of Programming

Although literally thousands of different programming languages are available for you to learn, every programming language tends to work in similar ways. So in this part of the book, you learn the basic building blocks of writing and creating a program regardless of the particular programming language you use.

To help you understand the building blocks of programming, each chapter provides plenty of examples in different programming languages so you can see how they accomplish the same task. You can also try out the examples on your own computer.

Part III: Advanced Programming Topics

After you master the basics of writing a program, you need to worry about making your program work efficiently, eliminating problems, and designing a user interface so other people will know how to use it. In this part of the book, you learn how programmers fine-tune their software (and what the consequences might be if they don’t).

Part IV: Internet Programming

The Internet is fast becoming an integral part of the computer world, so this part of the book introduces you to the basics of various Internet languages, including HTML (which designs the appearance of Web pages), JavaScript, and Java.

In this part, you also see how other people create cool Web pages that look good and can display forms and respond to users. You can use this information to create Web sites that interact with users.

Part V: The Part of Tens

To help gently guide you toward writing your own programs for money, this part of the book provides information about programming jobs you might want to pursue and how to find more tools and source code to help you learn more about programming all by yourself.

How to Use This Book

This book is meant to show you the basics of computer programming without bogging you down with the technical details of any particular programming language. Typed code often looks like chicken scratches or the random characters that a monkey might type if left alone with a keyboard. So you can use this book as a tutorial (to show you how programming works) and as a reference (to help refresh your memory for understanding different programming techniques).

Ideally, you want to use this book along with your computer. Read some of the book and then try what you just read on your computer so that you can see with your own eyes how programming works.

Foolish assumptions

To get the most out of this book, you need access to a computer (because trying to understand computer programming without a computer is like trying to learn to drive without a car). To take full advantage of this book, you need a computer running Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

Icons used in this book

Icons highlight useful tips, important information to remember, or technical explanations that can amuse you for a moment before you forget all about them. Keep an eye open for the following icons throughout the book:

This icon highlights useful information that can save you time (as long as you remember it, of course).

This icon reminds you to do something or emphasizes an important point that you don’t want to forget.

Watch out! This icon tells you how to avoid potential headaches and trouble.

This icon identifies the name of a particular file on the CD that contains a sample program printed in the book. By loading the sample program off the CD, you don’t have to type the program yourself.

This icon highlights information that’s nice to know but which you can safely ignore if you choose. (If you want to become a real programmer, however, you need to cram your brain with as much technical information as possible so that you can fit in with the rest of the programmers in the world.)

Part I

Programming a Computer

In this part . . .

F iguring out how to program a computer may seem intimidating, so this part of the book gently guides you through the wonderful world of computer programming. First, you see exactly what programs do and how professionals write programs.

Next, you discover why so many different programming languages exist and why some are more popular than others. You get to know the different tools that programmers use to create, edit, and distribute a program from start to finish.

Finally, this part shows you what to consider if you decide to write a program. You see the pros and cons of using different programming languages. You also find out how people can write programs even if they possess very little programming experience.

By the time that you finish this part of the book, you’ll have a better idea of how to write a program, what steps to follow, and how to convert your idea for a program into an actual working product that you can sell or give away for others to use. Who knows? With a little bit of imagination and a lot of persistence, you may create the next program that makes so much money that you can start your own software company and make a million bucks.

Chapter 1

Learning Computer Programming for the First Time

In This Chapter

Learning computer programming

Understanding how a computer program works

Knowing how to program a computer

Despite what you may have heard, programming a computer isn’t difficult. Computer programming is a skill that anyone can pick up, given enough practice, patience, and caffeinated beverages.

Although computers may seem like tremendously complex electronic beasts, relax. Few people know how internal-combustion engines work, yet people can still figure out how to drive a car. Similarly, anyone can pick up programming skills without worrying (too much) about the specific details that make a computer work.

Why Learn Computer Programming?

The first question that you (or your friends, co-workers, and relatives) may ask is, Why bother learning to program a computer? The answer depends on your ultimate goals, but the following list offers some common answers to consider:

For fun: People learn skiing, dancing, gardening, scuba diving, and painting because they enjoy the experience. They may never become professionals or experts in their chosen hobbies, but they enjoy fiddling around nevertheless. Similarly, programming a computer can prove fun because you might design a simple program that displays your boss’s ugly face on the computer. More complex programs may make you a million dollars so that you never again need to work for a boss with an ugly face. Figure 1-1 shows a program known as Comic Life, which can turn any photograph into a comic book. This program was written in a programming language called Objective-C on a Macintosh.

To fill a need: Many people learn programming with no intention of becoming full-time, professional programmers. They just want a program that solves a particular problem, but they can’t find a program that does it, so they write the program themselves. A man once needed a program to help him file his taxes, for example, but he couldn’t find one, so he taught himself programming and wound up creating TurboTax, one of the most popular tax-preparation programs in the country. Similarly, a freelance writer got frustrated with trying to write a novel with an ordinary word processor, so he created a word processor, specially designed to organize a story, called Z-Write, as shown in Figure 1-2. Z-Write was written by using a program called REALbasic. Whatever your interests, you can write a program to solve a specific problem that others may find useful as well.

For a new or second career: With computers taking over the world, you’re never unemployed for long if you know how to program a computer. Companies are always looking to create new programs, but you also find a growing market for programmers who can maintain and modify the millions of existing programs that do everything from storing hotel reservations to transferring bank deposits electronically. If you know how to program a computer, you’re in a much better position to

earn a lot of money and live wherever you want. You may still want to keep your current job, but programming gives you a new way to expand and share your knowledge. A group of alternative healthcare practitioners, for example, wrote IBIS, a program that provides information for treating a variety of ailments by using acupuncture, massage, diet, and homeopathy (see Figure 1-3). They wrote IBIS by using a program known as Revolution.

As an intellectual challenge: Many people find the sheer complexity of computers as fascinating as studying a mathematical puzzle. Not surprisingly, computers tend to attract people of above-average intelligence who enjoy programming a computer to pry into the thought processes of their own minds. To help turn a computer into a thinking tool, one programmer created the Axon Idea Processor (see Figure 1-4) by using Prolog, a popular programming language used for researching artificial intelligence. The goal was to create a program to help people manipulate ideas, concepts, and facts so that they can devise a variety of possible solutions while better understanding their own ways of thinking in the process. If using a computer normally seems boring, try writing your own program to help you use your brain more effectively.

As you can see from these four examples, the programming language you use doesn’t matter as much as what you want to make your computer do. The magic of computer programming doesn’t come from using any particular tool, computer, or language. The real magic of programming comes from applying your own imagination and using programming as a means to achieve whatever you want to create.

Although you can make a decent living programming computers, you can also make a decent living selling paper clips, fixing leaky toilets, or raising farm animals. If you aren’t doing what you truly enjoy, all the money in the world isn’t going to make you happy. Choose to learn programming because you want to — not because you think that it’s going to make you rich.

How Does a Computer Program Work?

Computers don’t do anything without someone telling them what to do, much like the average teenager. To make the computer do something useful, you must give it instructions in either of the following two ways:

Write a program that tells a computer what to do, step by step, much as you write out a recipe.

Buy a program that someone else has already written that tells the computer what to do.

Ultimately, to get a computer to do something useful, you (or somebody else) must write a program.

A program does nothing more than tell the computer how to accept some type of input, manipulate that input, and spit it back out again in some form that humans find useful. Table 1-1 lists some common types of programs, the types of input that they accept, and the output that they produce.

Programming is problem-solving

Essentially, a program tells the computer how to solve a specific problem. Because the world is full of problems, the number and variety of programs that people can write for computers is practically endless.

But to tell a computer how to solve one big problem, you usually must tell the computer how to solve a bunch of little problems that make up the bigger problem. If you want to make your own video game, for example, you need to solve some of the following problems:

Determine how far to move a cartoon figure (such as a car, a spaceship, or a man) on-screen as the user moves a joystick.

Detect whether the cartoon figure bumps into a wall, falls off a cliff, or runs into another cartoon figure on-screen.

Make sure that the cartoon figure doesn’t make any illegal moves, such as walking through a wall.

Draw the terrain surrounding the cartoon figure and make sure that if the cartoon figure walks behind an object such as a tree, the tree realistically blocks the figure from sight.

Determine whether bullets that another cartoon figure fires are hitting the player’s cartoon figure. If so, determine the amount of damage, how it affects the movement of the damaged cartoon figure, and how the damage appears on-screen.

The simpler the problem is that you need to solve, the more easily you can write a program that tells the computer how to work. A program that displays a simple Ping-Pong game with two stick paddles and a ball is much easier to write than a program that displays World War II fighter airplanes firing machine guns and dropping bombs on moving tanks while dodging anti-aircraft fire.

Programming isn’t difficult; it’s just time-consuming

Programming really isn’t that difficult or mysterious. If you can write step-by-step instructions directing someone to your house, you can write a program.

The hardest part about programming is identifying all the little problems that make up the big problem that you’re trying to solve. Because computers are completely stupid, you need to tell them how to do everything.

If you’re giving a friend instructions to get to your house, for example, you may write down the following information:

1. Go south on Highway I-5.

2. Get off at the Sweetwater Road exit.

3. Turn right at the light.

4. Turn left into the second driveway.

Of course, if you try giving these instructions to a computer, the computer will get confused and wants to know the following additional information:

1. Where do I start and exactly how far south do I drive down Highway I-5?

2. How do I recognize the Sweetwater Road exit, and how do I get off at this exit?

3. After I turn right at the light, how far to the right do I turn, and do you mean the traffic light or the streetlight on the corner?

4. After I turn left into the second driveway, what do I do next? Park the car? Honk the horn? Gun the engine and accelerate through your garage door?

You need to tell computers how to do everything, which can make giving them instructions as aggravating and frustrating as telling children what to do. Unless you specify everything that you want the computer to do and exactly how to do it, the computer just plain won’t do what you want it to do.

Sometimes programs never work

After spending years writing a program, people sometimes find that throwing away the whole thing and starting over is easier (and cheaper) than trying to figure out why the current program isn’t working in the first place.

Back in the mid-1980s, for example, the United States government had the bright idea to develop a self-propelled, anti-aircraft weapon nicknamed Sergeant York. The purpose of the Sergeant York weapon was simple: Find an enemy aircraft and shoot it down.

Unfortunately, the program controlling Sergeant York never quite worked correctly. After spending millions of dollars and countless hours rewriting the program, testing it, and rewriting it again, the programmers thought that they’d finally gotten the program to work right.

To celebrate their achievement, the company that made the Sergeant York weapon staged a demonstration for the top Pentagon generals and officials. They put Sergeant York in a field, sat all the people from the Pentagon in a nearby grandstand, and flew a remote-controlled drone overhead to demonstrate Sergeant York’s capability to track and shoot down an enemy airplane.

But instead of aiming at the overhead target, rumor has it that Sergeant York leveled its twin 40-mm cannons toward the ground and swiveled its guns until they pointed directly at the grandstand where all the Pentagon officials were sitting.

Needless to say, the Pentagon officials created quite a commotion as they scrambled to get out of the line of fire. Fortunately, Sergeant York didn’t fire its cannons into the grandstand, but after this disastrous demonstration, the Pentagon cancelled further development and scrapped the entire Sergeant York project.

So if you ever start writing a program and feel like giving up before it ever works, you’re in good company along with the Pentagon, military contractors, Fortune 500 corporations, the FBI, and practically everyone else in the world.

What Do I Need to Know to Program a Computer?

If you’re the type who finds the idea of making a program (such as a video game) just as exciting as actually using it, you already have everything you need to program a computer. If you want to learn computer programming, you need a healthy dose of the following three qualities:

Desire: If you want something badly enough, you tend to get it (although you may serve time in prison afterward if you do something illegal to get it). If you have the desire to learn how to program a computer, your desire helps you learn programming, no matter what obstacles may get in your way.

Curiosity: A healthy dose of curiosity can encourage you to experiment and continue learning about programming long after you finish reading this book. With curiosity behind you, learning to program seems less a chore and more fun. And as long as you’re having fun, you tend to learn faster and retain more information than does someone without any curiosity whatsoever (such as your boss).

Imagination: Computer programming is a skill, but imagination can give your skill direction and guidance. A mediocre programmer with lots of imagination always creates more interesting and useful programs than a great programmer with no imagination. If you don’t know what to do with your programming skill, your talent goes to waste. You need imagination prodding you onward.

Desire, curiosity, and imagination are three crucial ingredients that every programmer needs. If you possess these qualities, you can worry about trivial details such as learning a specific programming language (such as C++), studying advanced math, or attending a university where you can buy a college degree that you can just as easily make with your computer and a desktop-publishing program instead.

Learning to program a computer may (initially) seem an impossible task, but don’t worry. Even the best programmers in the world were beginners once. Computer programming is actually simple to understand; everything just tends to fall apart when you write and put a program into actual use.

Chapter 2

All about Programming Languages

In This Chapter

Understanding the need for different programming languages

Knowing the differences between programming languages

Choosing a programming language

Programming is nothing more than writing step-by-step instructions telling the computer exactly what you want it to do. Because computers are stupid, they require exact instructions, and this limitation is what makes programming so time-consuming.

Computers don’t understand English (or French, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, or any other language that human beings use). Because computers are functionally brain-dead, people must write instructions for a computer by using a language that the computer can understand. Hence, the term programming language came into being.

A collection of instructions that tell the computer what to do is known as a program. The instructions, written in a specific programming language, are known as the source code.

Why So Many Different Programming Languages?

You have many programming languages to choose among because each language serves a specific purpose, and people are always creating new languages to solve different types of problems.

Ultimately, computers understand only one language, which consists of zeroes and ones, also known as machine language or machine code. A typical machine-language program might look something like the following example:

0010 1010 0001 1101

0011 1100 1010 1111

0101 0110 1101 0101

1101 1111 0010 1001

Writing a program directly in machine language can create the smallest and fastest programs possible, but it has the following three major drawbacks:

You can easily mistype a 0 (zero) or 1 by mistake, thereby preventing you from giving the computer the correct instructions.

Programs written in machine language cannot be transferred to run on other processors. If you write a machine-language program to run on a PowerPC processor, you have to rewrite the whole thing completely to run on an Intel processor (and vice versa).

Machine language takes a long time to write (and an even longer time to understand what the language is actually telling the computer to do).

Because of these two huge problems, almost nobody writes programs in machine language. To make writing a program easier, programmers quickly invented a simpler programming language known as assembly language.

The joy of assembly language

The whole purpose of any programming language is to make programming easier. So rather than force programmers to write cryptic programs with the 0s and 1s of machine language, assembly language uses short, easy-to-remember (to programmers, that is) commands with names such as JMP, MOV, and ADD. A single assembly-language command is a shortcut for typing multiple machine-language commands in much the same way that typing an abbreviation like LOL is a shortcut for writing out the phrase Laughing Out Loud.

As a result, assembly-language source code is not only shorter and easier to write than machine code, but also easier to read and modify. A typical assembly-language program looks like the following example:

title Nap Program

; This program displays Take a nap! on the screen


.model small

.stack 100h


my_message db ‘Take a nap!’,0dh,0ah,’$’


main proc

        mov ax,@data

        mov ds,ax

        mov ah,9

        mov dx,offset my_message

        int 21h

        mov ax,4C00h

        int 21h

        main endp

end main

Making programs easy to read and modify is crucial because most programs don’t work right the first time you use them. If you can’t understand how a program