Intro to 4th Generation Programming Languages

Lesson I Program



A computer program is simply a set of instructions to tell a computer how to perform a particular task. It's rather like a recipe: a set of instructions to tell a cook how to make a particular dish. It describes the ingredients (the data) and the sequence of steps (the process) needed to convert the ingredients into the cake or whatever. Programs are very similar in concept. Short History Just as you speak to a friend in a language so you 'speak' to the computer in a language. The only language that the computer understands is called binary and there are several different dialects of it - which is why that cool iMac program won't run on your PC and vice versa. Binary is unfortunately very difficult for humans to read or write so we have to use an intermediate language and get it translated into binary for us. This is rather like watching the American and Russian presidents talking at a summit meeting - One speaks in English, then an interpreter repeats what has been said in Russian. The other replies in Russian and the interpreter again repeats the sentence, this time in English. Surprisingly enough the thing that translates our intermediate language into binary is also called an interpreter. And just as you usually need a different interpreter to translate English into Russian than you do to translate Arabic into Russian so you need a different computer interpreter to translate Python into binary from the one that translates VBScript into binary. The very first programmers actually had to enter the binary codes themselves, this is known as machine code programming and is incredibly difficult. The next stage was to create a translator that simply converted English equivalents of the binary codes into binary so that instead of having to remember that the code 001273 05 04 meant add 5 to 4 programmers could now write ADD 5 4. This very simple improvement made life much simpler and these systems of codes were really the first programming languages, one for each type of computer. They were known as assembler languages and Assembler programming is still used for a few specialized programming tasks today. Even this was very primitive and still told the computer what to do at the hardware level move bytes from this memory location to that memory location, add this byte to that byte etc. It was still very difficult and took a lot of programming effort to achieve even simple tasks. Gradually computer scientists developed higher level computer languages to make the job easier. This was just as well because at the same time users were inventing ever more complex jobs for computers to solve! This competition between the computer scientists and the users is still going on and new languages keep on appearing. This makes programming interesting but also makes it important that as a programmer you understand the concepts of programming as well as the pragmatics of doing it in one particular language. Common Features of All Programs A long time ago a man called Edsger Dijkstra came up with a concept called structured programming. This said that all programs could be structured in the following four ways:

Sequence of Instructions

Here the program flows from one step to the next in strict sequence. Branches

Here the program reaches a decision point and if the result of the test is true then the program performs the instructions in Path 1, and if false it performs the actions in Path 2. This is also known as a conditional construct because the program flow is dependent on the result of a test condition.


In this construct the program steps are repeated continuously until some test condition is reached, at which point control then flows past the loop into the next piece of program logic. Modules

Here the program performs an identical sequence of actions several times. For convenience these common actions are placed in a module, which is a kind of miniprogram which can be executed from within the main program. Other Features Along with these structures programs also need a few more features to make them useful: Φ Data (raw materials) Φ Operations (add, subtract, compare, etc) Φ Input / Output capability ( display results)

Clearing some Terminologies We already said that programming was the art of making a computer do what you want, but what is a program? In fact there are two distinct concepts of a program. The first is the one perceived by the user - an executable file that is installed and can be run repeatedly to perform a task. For example users speak of running their "word processor program". The other concept is the program as seen by the programmer, this is the text file of instructions to the computer, written in some programming language, that can be translated into an executable file. So when you talk about a program always be clear about which concept you mean. Basically a programmer writes a program in a high level language which is interpreted into the bytes that the computer understands. In technical speak the programmer generates source code and the interpreter generates object code. Sometimes object code has other names like: P-Code, binary code or machine code. The interpreter has a couple of names, one being the interpreter and the other being the compiler. These terms actually refer to two different techniques of generating object code from source code. It used to be the case that compilers produced object code that could be run on its own (an executable file - another term) whereas an interpreter had to be present to run its program as it went along. The difference between these terms is now blurring however since some compilers now require interpreters to be present to do a final conversion and some interpreters simply compile their source code into temporary object code and then execute it. From our perspective it makes no real difference, we write source code and use a tool to allow the computer to read, translate and execute it. Structure of a Program The exact structure of the program depends on the programming language and the environment that you run it on. However there are some general principles: A loader – every program needs to be loaded into memory by the operating system. The loader does this and is usually created by the interpreter for you. Data definitions – most programs operate on data and somewhere in the source code we need to define exactly what type of data we will be working with. Different languages do this very differently. Statements – these are the core of your program. The statements actually manipulate the data we define and do the calculations, print the output, etc. Most programs follow one of two structures: Batch Programs These are typically started from a command line and tend to follow a pattern of: That is, the program typically start off by setting internal state, perhaps setting totals to zero, opening the needed files etc. Once it is ready to start work it will read data either from the user by displaying prompts on a screen or from a data file. Most commonly a combination is used whereby the user provides the name of the data file and the real data is read from the file. Then the program does the actual will its

data processing involving math or data conversion or whatever. Finally the results are produced, either to a screen display or, perhaps, by writing them back to a file. Event-driven Programs Most GUI systems (and embedded control systems - like your Microwave, camera etc) are event driven. That is the operating system sends events to the program and the program responds to these as they arrive. Events can include things a user does - like clicking the mouse or pressing a key - or things that the system itself does like updating the clock or refreshing the screen.

In this configuration the program again starts off by setting up its internal state, but then control is handed off to the event loop - which is usually provided by the operating environment (sometimes referred to as the runtime). The program then waits for the event loop to detect user actions which it translates to events. These events are sent to the program to deal with one at a time. Eventually the user will perform an action that terminates the program, at which point an Exit Event will be created and sent to the program. Programming Computer programming (often shortened to programming or coding) is the process of writing, testing, and maintaining the source code of computer programs. Computer Programming is the art of making a computer do what you want it to do. At the very simplest level it consists of issuing a sequence of commands to a computer to achieve an objective. Example: Create a batch file

Lesson II


Programming Language

The Early Days of Programming In the early days of computing – back in the 1940s – using a computer required writing programs, because there wasn’t any software for sale. And writing programs required writing out the strings of ones (1) and zeros (0) that the computer could understand. There is still a small amount of programming that’s done this way. It is known as programming in machine language, because it involves writing codes that the machine understands. In general, a programming language is any set of words or symbols used to write instructions for a computer. Code is just a short word for program instructions. It didn’t take long before programmers realized that they were writing certain strings of machine language code over and over. They began inventing shorthand symbols to represent these strings. The result of their efforts was the first symbolic computer languages, known as assembly language. First Generation Programming Languages (1GL) A first-generation programming language is a machine-level programming language. It consists of 1s and 0s. The first-generation programming language, or 1GL, is machine code. It is the only language a microprocessor can understand directly. Currently, programmers almost never write programs directly in machine code, because not only does it (like assembly language) require attention to numerous details which a high-level language would handle automatically, but it also requires memorizing or looking up numerical codes for every instruction that is used, which in assembly language would be written as something more readable like "ADD CX INTEREST" or "RET". Originally, no translator was used to compile or assemble the first-generation language. The first-generation programming instructions were entered through the front panel switches of the computer system. The main benefit of programming in a first-generation programming language is that the code a user writes can run very fast and efficiently, since it is directly executed by the CPU. However, machine language is somewhat more difficult to learn than higher generational programming languages, and it is far more difficult to edit if errors occur. Current Uses 1GL is mainly used on now very ancient computers, machine level programming still finds a use in several areas of modern programming. First and foremost, any native-code compiler creates machine language. Second Generation Programming Languages (2GL) The second-generation programming language, or 2GL, is assembly language. It is considered a second-generation language because while it is not a microprocessor's native language, an assembly language programmer must still understand the microprocessor's unique architecture (such as its registers and instructions). A second-generation programming language is a term usually used to refer to some form of assembly language. Unlike first-generation programming languages, the code can be read and written fairly easily by a human, but it must be converted into a machine readable form in order to run on a computer. The conversion process is simply a mapping of the assembly language code into binary machine code (the first-generation language). The language is specific to and dependent on a particular processor family and environment. Since it is a one-to-one

mapping to the native language of the target processor it has significant speed advantages, but it requires more programming effort and is difficult to use effectively for large applications. The primary niche for these languages are in kernels, device drivers, and system libraries. Compilers usually use these as intermediate languages between a higher level language and machine code. Besides those, they are almost never used directly. Third Generation Programming Language

A third generation language (3GL) is a programming language designed to be easier for a human to understand, including things like named variables. A fragment might be: let b = c + 2 * d Fortran, ALGOL and COBOL are early examples of this sort of language. Most "modern" languages (BASIC, C, C++, Delphi, Java, and including COBOL, Fortran, ALGOL) are third generation. Most 3GLs support structured programming. Features There are three primary features of 3GL. First, they are largely machine-independent. In other words, a program written in a 3GL is not written for a specific type of processor. If you write a program in BASIC, you can use that program on a Mac, or a PC. The second feature is that program require either an interpreter or a compiler to translate the program into machine language. An interpreter is a program that translates the language while the program is running. A compiler translates the program before it can be run. Finally the 3GL are known as procedural languages because they force the programmer a develop a structures series of procedures or steps to accomplish the goal. In general then, a 3GL is a machine-independent procedural language that requires an interpreter or a compiler. Fourth Generation Programming Language 4GL) An "application specific" language, one with built-in knowledge of an application domain, in the way that SQL has built-in knowledge of the database domain. Pure 4GLs do not contain conditionals (if-then-else) and loops (for, while, do), though some languages are combinations of third generation languages and 4GLs. The term was invented by Jim Martin to refer to non-procedural high level languages built around database systems. The first three generations were developed fairly quickly, but it was still frustrating, slow, and error prone to program computers, leading to the first "programming crisis", in which the amount of work that might be assigned to programmers greatly exceeded the amount of programmer time available to do it. Meanwhile, a lot of experience was gathered in certain areas, and it became clear that certain applications could be generalised by adding limited programming languages to them. Thus were born report generator languages, which were fed a description of the data format and the report to generate and turned that into a COBOL (or other language) program which actually contained the commands to read and process the data and place the results on the page.

Lesson III



The natural-language, block-structured mode of the third-generation programming languages improved the process of software development. However, 3GL development methods can be slow and error prone. It became clear that some applications could be developed more rapidly by adding a higher-level programming language and methodology which would generate the equivalent of very complicated 3GL instructions with fewer errors. In some senses, software engineering arose to handle 3GL development. 4GL and 5GL projects are more oriented toward problem solving and systems engineering. All 4GLs are designed to reduce programming effort, the time it takes to develop software, and the cost of software development. They are not always successful in this task, sometimes resulting in inelegant and unmaintainable code. Types

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