The Ultimate Guide to Scripting Languages

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  • Developers use scripting languages to add dynamic, engaging functionality to websites.
  • Software developers, web developers, and computer programmers use scripting languages.
  • You can learn a scripting language in a virtual or in-person coding bootcamp.

The power of scripting languages is their ability to automate digital tasks.

That's one reason scripting languages remain a foundational element of web and app development. In simple terms, scripting languages are digital instructions that control another programming language. Along with programming languages and markup languages, scripting languages are a foundational element of web development and app design.

When looking at scripting vs. programming languages, the difference is that programming languages tell a computer what to do. And markup languages, like HTML, indicate how a page should look. Many scripting languages, like Python or JavaScript, can also be used to program or build full applications.

Learning scripting languages is a good first step if you're interested in a coding or programming career. Learning scripting languages can help you understand how technology works, developing your logical and problem-solving skills. It can also highlight and elevate your creativity.

Keep reading to learn how scripting languages work. If you're wondering, "what is scripting language?" we'll explain it below. We'll also highlight the differences in the worlds of scripting vs. programming. Finally, we'll guide you through the most popular scripting languages and how you can learn and use them.

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 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.

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

Coding Bootcamps for You

Server-Side vs. Client-Side Scripting Languages

Two main types of scripting languages are 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

  • PHP: PHP is a general-purpose scripting language widely used in web development. Because this scripting language is fast and flexible, it is used to power millions of websites, including every site that runs on WordPress or Joomla. These popular content management systems are written in PHP.
  • Ruby: Ruby can be used on the server side to save and store data and execute and validate transactions. Although it has some client-side uses, it is not typically executed within a browser. Therefore, it is mainly a server-side scripting language. Ruby can, however, be interpreted and compiled into a standalone program.
  • Python: Python is not usually used directly to generate websites. Rather, it's typically run within a framework designed for this purpose. Django and Flask are examples of popular web frameworks that can be used to support the development of websites using Python.

Client-Side Scripting Languages

  • JavaScript: JavaScript is commonly used as a client-side scripting language. The code runs on the user's browser and allows the programmer to add interactivity to the website. For example, JavaScript lets you click to show more information or hide information. It can allow you to zoom in on an image or play a video within a webpage.
  • AJAX: AJAX can be used as either a client-side technology or a server-side technology. AJAX stands for "asynchronous JavaScript and XML." It is a technology that enables JavaScript to send information to a server-side script and receive information back from the script.

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 data scientist, 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:

  • Easy to learn: Scripting languages are high-level programming languages, meaning they are written to make sense to those who use them. As a result, they are easy to learn and use.
  • No compiling: Scripting languages do not need to be compiled before use. This means they require one less step than other programming languages. It is also easier on the system's memory to run an interpreter than to compile.
  • Cross-platform: Scripting languages are designed to be read by a browser or a remote server, so they don't require special software to run.
  • Open source: Scripting languages are freely available to anyone who wants to use them. All you have to do is learn.

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:

  • Check Circle
    PHP: PHP is an open-source scripting language frequently used in back-end web development.
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    Python: Python is known for its concise syntax. It requires less typing than many other languages. It is used in data analytics, data, engineering, and data science.
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    Ruby: Ruby is one of the easiest scripting languages to learn. It is an object-oriented programming language that lends itself to writing logical and clean code.
  • Check Circle
    JavaScript: JavaScript allows functions to be treated as variables and supports object-oriented programming. It is used in web development.
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    Perl: Perl was frequently used for common gateway interface scripting in the 1990s and is still a fairly popular general-purpose scripting language.

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 data analysts.

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.

How can I learn a scripting language?

You can learn a scripting language virtually or in person. Most learning programs run from a few weeks to a few months in length. Free options include: the PHP Manual, Learn JavaScript, the Modern JavaScript Tutorial, and Learn Python, which offers a free tutorial and a certificate upon completion. Paid options include virtual and in-person coding bootcamps like Actualize, Coding Dojo, and Noble Desktop.

Which scripting language should I learn first?

Industry experts suggest learning either JavaScript or Python first. They're both popular scripting languages used by professional developers. But if you must choose, go with Python. It's free, open source, and easy to write and implement. That makes Python ideal for beginners. It's also used for software and website development. And people outside the tech industry use Python for task automation and data analysis.

Is C++ a scripting language?

No, C++ is not a scripting language. C++ is a general-purpose programming language typically compiled before 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.

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