The Ultimate Guide to Scripting Languages

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by Bethanny Parker

Updated September 16, 2022

Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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Scripting languages differ from other programming languages in several important ways. In this guide, you will learn what scripting languages are, what they are used for, and which ones you should consider learning.

What Are Scripting Languages?

Scripting languages are programming languages that are designed for scripting. So, what is scripting? Scripting is the process of using a scripting language to write a short program that is executed one line of code at a time. These programs do not need to be compiled before running. Instead, the application or shell that runs them interprets them line by line.

Often, scripts contain instructions that a human operator could type in manually. The script automates these actions so that many lines of code can be run simply by running the script. These can be used to automate computer processes and generate web pages.

Scripting vs. Programming Languages

A scripting language is a type of programming language. However, unlike code written in scripting languages, code written in other programming languages must be compiled before being run. The process of compiling creates an executable (.exe) file that can be run directly from the operating system.

Scripts written in scripting languages, on the other hand, must be run within the shell or program they were designed to run in. They cannot be compiled into a program or run from the command prompt.

Students interested in learning how to script should research the languages various schools teach in their computer science programs. Many computer programming degree programs include regular programming languages like Java and C/C++, but do not include any scripting languages.

Factor Scripting Language Other Programming Language
Interpreted by Interpreter within a program or shell Compiler
Conversion Converted to machine language one line at a time Compiled all at once to convert to machine language
Size Small amount of code, up to a few thousand lines The full code for a program
Complexity Easy to use More difficult
Execution Runs inside of another program Runs independently from other programs

Server-Side vs. Client-Side Scripting Languages

There are two main types of scripting languages used in web design: server-side and client-side. Server-side refers to any code that runs on the server in the background. For example, the PHP code that powers a WordPress website is executed on the server, not by the browser itself.

Client-side refers to anything that runs on the user's web browser. For example, JavaScript code can be read and interpreted by a browser. Here are some of the most common server-side and client-side scripting languages.

Server-Side Scripting Languages

Client-Side Scripting Languages

What Are Scripting Languages Used For?

Scripting languages allow programmers to create interactive websites, browser extensions, and online games. JavaScript, in particular, makes it easy for programmers to develop cross-platform mobile games. Popular JavaScript games include Polycraft, Swoop, Hangman, and Little Alchemy.

Scripting languages are also used for data extraction. Python and R are commonly used for data mining. These languages can be used to import data from Excel spreadsheets, perform calculations, and display the mined data in a graphical format.

In addition to careers such as JavaScript programmer and Python programmer, there are many jobs available for those who can program in scripting languages. Examples include UX/UI designer, front-end web developer, mobile app developer, and software engineer.

Benefits of Learning a Scripting Language

There are many benefits to learning a scripting language. These include:

The Best Scripting Languages To Know

If you are ready to get started scripting, here are a few of the best scripting languages to learn:

Scripting Languages Bootcamps

Since many bachelor's degree programs in computer programming do not cover scripting languages, a lot of students have to find alternative ways to learn them. Many bootcamp providers offer programs in scripting languages, especially JavaScript, Python, and PHP. These coding bootcamps typically take just a few months to complete and may cost less than a college education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Scripting Languages

What jobs require scripting language knowledge?

Jobs such as Python programmer and JavaScript programmer obviously require knowledge of those languages, but so do many other positions. Individuals who know JavaScript frequently find work as software engineers, product managers, front-end web developers, and UX/UI designers.

Is C++ a scripting language?

No, C++ is not a scripting language. C++ is a general-purpose programming language that is typically compiled prior to executing the code. C++ is an object-oriented language that is capable of low-level memory manipulation. It was originally intended for system programming and embedded software in large systems.

C++ was designed with flexibility, efficiency, and performance in mind. It is useful for resource-constrained applications and software infrastructure. It is also good for applications where performance is critical.

What are the characteristics of scripting languages?

Scripting languages are interpreted rather than compiled. The program or shell that does the interpreting reads and executes one line of code at a time. This differs from other programming languages, which must be compiled before they are run. When they are compiled, an .exe file is created, which is used to run the program.

Scripting languages run inside of other programs, which read the code. The programmer does not create a separate file for the program. Rather, the code is incorporated into an existing file. For example, JavaScript code is often inserted into HTML files.