High level languages vs Low level languages (Infographics)

high level languages

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I have written this blog considering people who will read this are absolute beginners. People who have a background like, I mean not exactly a technological background would actually find it hard to start learning programming when there is no one to guide them. Thus I have written this blog as a courtesy for them. So, speaking of languages, what are exactly high level language and low level language? Why are they even called that? And how much do they differ from each other?

Needless to say I have covered all of them in this blog.

High level vs Low level languages Infographics



What is High Level Languages?

You must be thing What is High level language? but tell me you they are an easier to understand and is user-friendly. With the help of these languages one can write applications that are portable across various platforms (such as Linux or windows) and is independent of any architecture (such as non-intel ARM or the infamous Intel). High level language Example, writing a program in python which by default works in any Linux system, then just compiling it into any exe using py2exe and then running it on windows.

Similar examples are Python, C, Fortran or Pascal. Such languages are considered as high-level language because they are closer to human languages and much further from machine languages. When I say human language, I don’t mean what we talk in our day-to-day life. It means the code is something we can understand by knowing some basics in programming. The code written is almost readable by humans, something that can be read and pronounced.

Following are some examples of machine language to print out a simple program on screen in Fortran and C.

In Fortran:

program NewProgramF90

                         write(*,*) "This is a printed program"

end program NewProgramF90

Now you can compile it using:

            gfortran newprogram.f90 -o newprogram -f90-gcc

And then just simply run it.

Similar program in C:




printf("This is a printed program");


For pure beginners, this is the easiest it can get.

But however, since we are talking about computers, for a computer this is hard to understand. So in order to make this sensible to computers and run a program created with a high-level language, it must be compiled into machine language.


Image Source: github.com

And this is where Low-level language comes in between. Unlike previously, where there were only a few high-level languages, today there are n number of high-level languages such as C, Cobol, FORTRAN, Pascal, Java, Perl, Python, PHP, Ruby, C++, BASIC and Visual Basic.

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What are Low-level languages?

Low-level languages those languages which are extremely close to machine language. They are also known as Assembly languages. The closest languages after Assembly to Machine language are C and C++. Some people even call C and C++ as low level languages. Machine code is known as low level because unlike high level programming languages it doesn’t need anything else like compilers or something. It runs directly on the processor and they are extremely architecture specific.

Low-level languages are more appropriate for developing new operating systems or writing firmware codes for micro-controllers.  They can do anything with a little bit of hard work (actually a lot of hard work to be specific), but obviously you won’t want to write some major application in it. Similar is the case with C (Actually called as Cee). C is actually a very vast language to start with. It allows you to register directly and give instant access to various memory locations.

But at the same time it also has a lots of constructs, that allow the hardware to load abstraction. Frankly speaking, C and C++ dually represent variety of languages, since most languages have taken its libraries from them. In practice, both C and C++ are low-level as I told you previously because writing applications on enterprise level is quite difficult. But theoretically, both of them are actually high-level languages.

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Characteristics of High-level and Low-level Languages:


Now, the thing is that every once in a while I have been asked in various interviews and other places which I like the best- low level or high level programming. It seems to me that there is no such thing as the best. The answer is that they both have their own specialty and you cannot replace one for the other. Thus, I actually like both of them.

Low level Programming is challenging and requires a great deal of experience and knowledge. Features of High level languages is where all the creative things take place i.e. applications that people use in their day-to-day life and it can be debugged in a much easier manner than in low-level. And here, you can get to work with extremely new technologies since a lot of these languages are continuously upgraded due to community support.

If you question this to any high-level language coders as to what they like, the answer you will receive would be far from what you require. They won’t tell you which is better.

They probably will say that they are more passionate about a specific high-level language and not all of them.  I don’t know this happens. Most famous examples are Python and Ruby, and if you show them some programs written in assembly, then will probably go hasta-la-vista.


Image Source: mathworks.com

What’s actually superb about many high-level languages is that they fall into hybrid category. For example, python is extremely object-oriented, but at the same time, it also supports closures and first-class functions.  Though it’s not as powerful as Scala, but it does have the capability of representing more or less stuff as that of a purely language.

High-level languages are usually slow when compared to low-level languages. This is because high-level languages have a lot of abstractions and layers of code before they reach the hardware itself whereas since machine code is nearer, its actually fast to process and return the output. One piece of code in Python most likely gets translated in thousands of lines of machine words.

Of course, high-level languages are at par where raw-performance is unnecessary, because you cannot develop as stable and large applications in low-level as in high-level. This is one thing worth remembering.

C Programming – The Low-level/High-level Confusion

Though C has lots of characteristics similar to that of Pascal Language, sometimes it is still considered as a low level language, reason being it supports operations of bits, pointers and direct access to memory. C actually is a high level language with the inclusive features of low level. This is the main reason why programmers depend on C over anything for its unbeatable qualities.

It may seem weird that C though treated as a low level language, is extremely portable. Fanatically speaking, C is actually extended to use hardware at its extreme limits as possible.

Assembly language, on the other hand is hardly portable. Though, trying to achieve portability is a big deal in case of low-level especially in the case of Java, which runs on a JVM i.e. a virtual machine. C or Assembly running in a VM will never have pure access to the hardware.

To be more precise, a language becomes a low level if it is specifically structured to run directly on the hardware. Low level languages have very less syntax, unlike High level languages which have loads of codes.

Languages that are low level which allow full access of the hardware would actually be a poor choice to write projects.

When to Use Low-level?

A machine code looks something like this, which runs extremely fast since it is very close to the hardware.

8B542408 83FA0077 06B80000 0000C383

FA027706 B8010000 00C353BB 01000000

B9010000 008D0419 83FA0376 078BD98B


Above here, is a function written for a 32-bit architecture i.e. x86 machine code to calculate the Fibonacci number.

Writing machine code is indisputably quite irritating because it requires checking numerical codes every now and then for every other instruction that is ran. Who the heck has the time for that? And that is the reason Low-level Programming was born.

But if you ask about low-level programming to High-level programmers, the answer you would get is this:


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Low-level languages do have an added advantage of giving lose control of the CPU but their codes are extremely difficult to understand and debug by fellow programmers. Every other architecture family have their own set of assembly language, which means that code written for one is impossible to run on the other. Which in short means, the code is not portable.

Advantages of High Level Language is that High level languages are extremely portable on the other hand and they are mostly used to write software’s which can run on multiple platforms and architectures. Neither of them can replace each other because they two are two sides of the same coin.

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    Pawandeep Singh

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    awesome content. thank you so much

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