Introduction to Programming Languages/Preface

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There exists an enormous variety of programming languages in use today. Testimony of this fact are the 650 plus different programming languages listed in Wikipedia. A good understanding of this great diversity is important for many reasons. First, it opens new perspectives to the computer scientists. Problems at first hard in one language might have a very easy solution in another. Thus, knowing which language to use in a given domain might decrease considerably the effort to build an application.

Furthermore, programming languages are just by themselves a fascinating topic. Their history blends together with the history of computer science. Many of the recipients of the Turing Award, such as John McCarthy or John Backus were directly involved in the project of some programming languages. And some of the most vibrating discussions in computer science were motivated by the design of programming languages. For instance, many modern programming languages no longer provide the goto command. It has not been like this in early designs. It took many years of discussions, plus a letter signed by Edsger Dijkstra, himself a Turing Award laureate, to ostracize the goto command into oblivion.

This wikibook is an attempt to describe a bit of the programming languages zoo. The material present here has been collected from blogs, language manuals, forums and many other sources; however, many examples have been taken from Dr. Webber's book. Thus, we follow the organization used in the slides that he has prepared for his book Modern Programming Languages. Thus, we start describing the ML programming language. Next, we move on to Python and finally to Prolog. We use each of these particular languages to introduce fundamental notions related to the design and the implementation of general purpose programming languages.

Programming Language Paradigms