High-Level vs. Low-Level Programming Languages, Explained

Programming languages are separated into two classes. They can be either high-level languages or low-level languages. Each type of programming language has its own purpose. Learning the difference between the two is an important step to figuring out which one to use.

So, what exactly is the difference between them? And what does it mean for learning to write code? Let’s start with the definitions of each, and learn more about which language is right for you.

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High-Level And Low-Level Programming Languages

There are a few characteristics that define high-level and low-level programming languages. Here are some rules that are generally followed to define the two.

High-level languages:

  • Feature abstraction
  • Are closer to human languages, and are more readable
  • Do not deal with memory management
  • Examples include: Java, Python, Ruby, and C#

Low-level languages:

  • Do not feature abstraction
  • Are readable by machines, and are not close to human language
  • Involve memory management
  • Examples include assembly language and machine code

If you’ve ever coded in C or C++, you might realize these languages float around in a gray area. These languages allow you to manage memory, but they feature some abstraction.

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Low-Level Languages

Whether a language is high-level or low-level has to do with abstraction, and how close to the operating system the language works. Low-level languages are closer to the computer system. One of the most common low-level languages is machine code.

Machine code has no abstraction—it contains the individual instructions passed to a computer. Machines only understand bytes, they’re represented in binary (though they’re sometimes written in decimal or hexadecimal notation).


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