I often see people asking the same question over and over, "How do I learn to program, and where do I start?" Some people may take that question to the next level by asking, "Which language should I learn first?". The answer to those questions is fairly simple, but also a little subjective. So I'm going to attempt to help solve those very valid, logical questions.

How do I program?
Programming is the act of giving the computer information and directions to complete a certain task. Most often programming is achieved by typing in a certain "Programming Language" into a normal text editor, then compiled (or 'made' into machine language that the computer can understand) into native or interpreted code, which I'll explain soon. There is also several programs that are called IDE's or Integrated Development Environments. These are useful in several aspects. For one, they look similar to a normal text editor, but they color coordinate your code, to make it easier to read at a glance. They can also perform automated tasks for, that ease up the amount of typing you have to do. They also provide a single area to write, compile, link, test, and run your programs, without having to use several different utilities. But you are not forced to use an IDE, it just makes your job, as the programmer, slightly easier. Now, you can't just use any IDE you want, most often, IDEs are specialized for a certain language. Search for the proper one for your language (programming language, not spoken).

How do I learn to program?
Reading and practicing. That is the short and sweet answer. Search the internet, at places such as google, yahoo, dogpile, lycos, hotbot, and other popular search engines for tutorials and books on the specific language you are trying to learn. I also recommend buying a book, books will help tremendously. You could go down to your local book store, or search amazon.com for a specific book. I don't recommend going to your library, because you will be forced to read and 'cram' the knowledge into your head, which is not good. Plus libraries rarely have up-to-date versions of the books you need. With the rapid development and updates of programming languages today, you need to find the most recent edition of a book you can, or you may miss out on valuable information. I have also added a few simple resources at the end of each section to help you find the information you need.

What all can I do with [Insert Language]?
The possibilities are limitless. So long as you're a creative person, you can do just about anything. Of course some languages are better suited for certain tasks, but still. If you've got the will, it's possible. To see what languages are good for your task, see the below sections.

How long does it take to learn to program?
This is very hard to answer. Some small scripting languages you can pick up in a few hours. Other major languages, such as C++, you may be able to grasp the basics within a few days or weeks, but would take years to fully master. It all depends on how dedicated you are, how well you learn concepts, how much time you spend reading learning and practicing, as well as which language(s) you choose to learn.

What language is best?
There really is no telling. Some languages are better suited for some tasks, while other languages are better for other tasks. For instance, you wouldn't use C++ for a web based application, you'd probably choose a web scripting language, or Java or Perl. Each language has their own strengths and weaknesses, which brings me to the next question.

What is OOP (Object Oritented Programming) and should I learn it?
Object Oriented Programming, or OOP for short, is a programming paradigm that says everything is a unique object. You build applications with "objects". Such as, you'd build a car with different unique "parts", the same is true with a program. You as the programmer are responsible for "making" each part (Actually making a blueprint of the part) then putting them together to do something useful. Procedural programming is mentioned a lot when you hear of OOP, Procedural programming is where you program by making a "to-do list" for the computer, which it then goes down the list. OOP is becoming almost the only way to do things now a days, so it's a must to learn. Learning a programming language that implements OOP is a very wise choice, though it's not required.

Which language should I learn first?
The only way to answer this is to know why you want to program. Each language has its strengths and weaknesses. Here is a VERY short rundown of some popular major languages:

C - Perhaps one of the most famous programming languages. C is robust, procedural (as apposed to Object oriented) extremely fast language. C is used in many commercial games and applications because of it's speed. Yet C also it's drawbacks, being that it's not object oriented, and there are many languages that could do C's job, only slower. But with today's market for productivity and such amazing computers, the speed difference is slowly slipping away. Many people ask if they should learn C before tackling C++, the answer is that you don't have to. Some would even say it's not very good for you to. I stand in between, if you learn C first, it might be a little easier, but you'll have to unlearn a lot when you move to C++. Personally, I think they are equally challenging, so I would say to go ahead and learn C++ if that's your goal, but that's just my opinion.

-- Large usage base. Easy to find help, other programmers, libraries etc.
-- Simple core language, with further functionality being added through the use of libraries.
-- Very powerful. If your computer can do it, it can do it through C.
-- Low-level unchecked access to computer memory using of pointers.
-- One of the fasted running languages.
-- C code can be used in C++ applications.
-- Programs are compiled and stand alone, no need for interpretters (sometimes external libraries will need to be installed on the target PC).

-- Relatively difficult to learn.
-- Very little safety net. If you choose (accidentally or otherwise) to make a program that will access memory incorrectly and horribly break your system, it won't stop you. It only pulls you up on compile errors.
-- Non trivial programs could be hard to port. Programs have to be compiled for each specific platform.
-- Not strictly object oriented.
-- Code can get messy easily.


C++ - A very powerful, and a very 'complete' language. C++ is an Object Oriented Programming (or OOP) which has some VERY good qualities to it. It has strengths such as speed, performance, and flexibility. But it's weaknesses consist of it being overwhelming to new programmers, and it is not platform independent. C++ code can easily get very complex, yet it's performance normally makes up for this. C++ is mainly used for many desktop applications, such as many of those run on Microsoft Windows and other Operating Systems, and some games (such as Quake III). This is a very nice language, yet extremely large and complex. Tackle this language if you need a fast application and are willing to WORK at it.

-- As close to a universal programming language as you're likely to get at the moment. It's used everywhere.
-- Object oriented technology included, highly supported and recommended, but not forced upon you.
-- Programs are stand alone, no need for interpreters (sometimes external libraries will need to be installed on the target PC).
-- Easy to port to other platforms if standard C++ guidelines are adhered to.
-- Many libraries available for added functionality.

-- Quite difficult to learn. You'll never really stop learning new things about it (which is also a pro, I guess)
-- Non-trivial programs aren't easily ported if they use platform-specific libraries (e.g. DirectX etc.)
-- Programs can be slightly larger and slower than those programmed in C.

Info, Tutorials, etc
Compiler/IDE (UPDATE: obsolete, read this)

Java - Java is actually my favorite language, tied by C# (see below). Some hate it, some swear by it. Its syntax is very similar to C++ syntax, yet it is much simpler due to the fact that it's creators decided to leave out the complex features of C++. Java is a very flexible and powerful language, but is slower than C++. Java is a partially interpreted language, which means it's code is not completely compiled into native machine code but instead compiled into byte code interpreted by the runtime environment. And because of this it runs slower, yet is platform independent, meaning you can write one program and run it on nearly any operating system that has a Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Java code is much shorter, and easier to learn than C++ (in my opinion). Java is also 'pure' OOP. Which has some major strengths. Major improvements are being made to eliminate Java's speed problems, and soon we hope java code will be just as fast, if not, faster than native C++ code. Some improvements include optimizations, and the ability to compile into complete native machine code, yet you will lose some portability, or platform independency. Java is used a lot on the web, and networks, but can also be used to make windowed applications as well.

-- Java is platform independent, it can be run on everything.
-- It's free, you can just download the SDK and go.
-- It's easy to learn if you know C or C++.
-- Provides automatic memory management.
-- Large library of pre-built classes and many more available from around the net
-- It's quite safe. It's fairly hard (if not impossible) to damage your computer through programming in Java.

-- Speed. Java is quite slow, because it is essential compiled at run-time by the system's virtual machine.
-- Difficult to compile into a stand-alone application.
-- Memory pointers not allowed.
-- Some people dislike being forced into object oriented programming. But that's their problem.

Info, Tutorials, Compilers, etc
Free IDE
Another Free IDE

C# - Pronounced See-Sharp, this language would be tied for first on my favorites list. C# derives much of it's syntax from Java, and C++. Some have referred to C# as the "Java-Killer" because it's similar to an enhanced version of Java. Instead of taking out the complex features of C++, the C# creators decided to allow the programmer to use them, but not make it mandatory. C# is a master at building Windows applications on the .NET Framework. Similar to Java, C# compiles it's code into an IL code, or Intermediate Language (much like Java's ByteCode), which is then compiled and interpreted by the CLR, Common Language Runtime (akin to Java's Java Virtual Machine). This in turn produces native, efficient machine code. C#'s speed doesn't necessarily suffer as much as Sun's Java does. But in some instances, such as trig. math, Java kicks the snot out of C# (said with respect for both languages). All in all, C# is (as of now) a much less portable language than Java, but has many more features, and possibilities, in my opinion, than Java. Microsoft claims to be working on porting the .NET runtime to other OSs, but no promises. So far the Mono Project has brought the .NET runtime to GNU/Linux which is a great step given C#'s power.

Info, Tutorials, etc

.Net Environment - Not really a programming language, but closely related.
The .Net environment is a relatively new creation of Microsoft's. It adds an overall cohesiveness to various programming languages by compiling them into a standard form that is interpreted by an intermediate language between the code and the OS. In this way it is similar to Java. The creation of the .Net environment means that the method of programming basically comes down to personal preference.

-- Easy-to-use tools may increase programmer productivity
-- Has a strong framework for building rich graphical user interfaces
-- Gives developers choice of working in more than 20 programming languages
-- Is tightly integrated with Microsoft's operating system and enterprise server software
-- Has built-in support for Web services standards

-- Framework runs only on Windows
-- Users of prior Microsoft tools and technology face a potentially steep learning curve
-- Choice of integrated development environments is limited
-- Getting older applications to run in new .Net environment may require effort

VisualBasic/VB.NET - Most people don't care for VB all too much, yet it is used very widely in the job industry. The main reason for people not liking this language is the fact that projects could become VERY unreadable and unmanageable when they extend past a few pages of code. The major reason VB is being used is because of it's time-to-market aspect, meaning it only takes a short while to create, debug, and market your applications. You could make a Windows or web application in VB VERY quickly. VB is also a very easy language to learn. The drawbacks are that it teaches bad programming practice habits and syntax. If you do decide to start with VisualBasic or QBasic or Basic (or any other of the *Basic languages), move on to something else as soon as you get moderately comfortable with the language and idea of programming.
Visual Basic is a very easy language to use. It's code is similar to Pseudo-code, and many times the developer can simply type what they think should work and it does. Which is cool.

-- Very easy to learn
-- Quick to implement an application or algorithm
-- Lots of in-built functionality
-- Recently added complete OOP support with the .Net upgrade.

-- Not as flexible as other languages. Can't do as much.
-- Runs slower than C/C++
-- Purely a Microsoft product and Windows based.

Python - Python is a relatively small language, but very powerful. Compared to Java or C++ it takes no time at all to create a program. For example to create a small program that prints the string "Hello World!" to the screen, compare these three languages:

In C++:

#include <iostream>
using namespace std;
int main()
    cout << "Hello Worl!" << endl;
    return 0;

In Java:

public class HelloWorld {
    public static void main(String[] args){
        System.out.println("Hello World!");

In Python:

print "Hello World!"

As you can see, python is a bit shorter. Python is also OOP. I suggest you start with Python then move on to something more powerful, such as Java or C++. But again, that is just my personal opinion. Python is used fairly widely in scripting for games, and other such scripts.

Info, Interpeter, Tutorials

Perl - Perl is a nice language, but mainly used for web and CGI (Common Gateway Interface), and UNIX/Linux programming. But Perl can also be used on MS Windows machines as well. The nice thing about Perl is that there is such a nice developers community. You could find nearly and modules you ever need just by looking on the internet for 30 seconds in CPAN.org. The drawback is that it's more of a scripting langauge, and used on UNIX more than Windows. The other drawback is that Perl code can get extremely cryptic. Because their are so many ways to do the exact same thing. This is not to say Perl is a bad langauge, by all means I love Perl, it simply can get cryptic when trying to decipher what someone else has done. But so long as you use good programming practice this should not happen. This is not to say you shouldn't learn it, if you are into UNIX or Linux systems, Perl would be a great language for you to learn. Or if you are into web design and CGI programming. Or if you just need a robust language for a round about task, Perl is your language.


ASM - This is a language I haven't dealt with too much. This is practically pure machine code. Which means optimizations can be made from OS to OS. But there is zilch portability. I suggest you learn ASM only after learning a high level language, such as C++ or Java, and then want to better understand architecture. ASM would be a very nice language for making optimizations on an application that is extremely dependant on speed and performance. Or for a VERY low level programming language.

Delphi - Delphi is, at heart, a Pascal compiler. It was designed to be a visual rapid application development environment without the limitations of other similar products. Delphi was the first to combine a visual development interface, an optimizing native-code compiler, a scalable database access engine and other features.

-- Rapid development environment that is very fast to make programs in.
-- Easy to learn and program in.
-- Faster compiler than many other languages
-- Powerful database architecture that can be changed if desired
-- Solid OO Design encouraged, helping to keep code clean.

-- Visual Studio's interface is more customizable.
-- VB can edit code while in Debug mode but Delphi can't.
-- Compiled code is slightly slower than (good) C and C++ compilers'
-- No operator overloading

Code Example (Prints "Hello World" to the screen"):


  Writeln('Hello World!');

(--By sippin codeine)

Quick Basic - Quick Basic is generally well known for being the easiest language to learn. Just though I would add the language I am currently interested in. I've known qbasic for quite some time now, and now I'm getting back into it. After finally realizing that the new 7.1 edition comes with a compiler

--Extremely easy to learn
--Somewhat flexible as to what you can do
--Also somewhat powerful as to what you can do
--Can be compiled into a .exe file for use with other systems and can be used as a stand-alone program

--Since its easy to learn, you can't do as much with it as the other languages like c++

Ada - Originally designed by the Department of Defense, this language is a very strongly typed language that is excellent for learning how to program. Ada will not allow a programmer to "get away" with bad code such as C or C++ would, the compiler will not compile the program if an error is in the code. (Syntax error, not logic error.) Ada95 is completely object oriented, and code can be compiled for the three major operating systems currently used today: Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
The largest draw backs to this language are many programmers don't use it (perhaps they were scarred by the fact it was developed by the department of defense?), and due to that it's hard making a program look "native" to the operating system's GUI.

Web Languages
These languages are mainly used for web applications and rarely used offline.
Some very nice ones to check into are PHP, JSP, ASP, JavaScript, VBScript, and CGI.
Web languages are mainly divided into 2 groups, client side and server side programming. Client side (like JavaScript and VBScript) interact with the client and browser. The 'client' side of the internet. Things such as PHP, ASP, and CGI focus more on the server side of things. They are used to program and tell the server what to do with information provided by the client. Often you can use more than one of these languages in a single webpage for a single job.

PHP - PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is an interpreted programming language that is usually used for (but not limited to) generating dynamic content on websites. However, it can be used for other tasks as well. It is powerful, and fairly easy to learn. The syntax is nice and clean as well. Its OOP support is also getting considerably better as it matures.

Info, Tutorials, Downloads

ASP/ASP.NET - Developed by Microsoft ASP (Active Server Pages) used the syntax of VBScript, but in ASP.NET you may use the C# or Visual Basic. This is a great improvement because of C#'s ease of use. ASP.NET also hides a lot of the boiler plate code from the programmer, making it a whole lot easier to create quick server script. If you know the .NET framework, C#, or VB ASP.NET would be a very sound choice.

ASP Tutorial
ASP.NET Tutorial

JSP - JSP Stands for Java Server Pages. Using the syntax of Java, one can use an extremely powerful sever side programming language. If you know Java, then JSP is for you! A huge number of websites are now using this great language.

JavaScript - Not to be confused with Sun's Java, Java and JavaScript are NOT the same thing. JavaScript was created by Netscape, not Sun. JavaScript is also not the same as Microsoft's JScript, so don't confuse the two. JS is great client side scripting language with an incredible amount of power in that area. Nearly all WebPages include some amount of JS. Another awesome thing about JS is that it's also Object Oriented, making for great code reuse and user friendliness. JavaScript used with DHTML can create some amazing dynamic pages, this one is defiantly worth learning if you're into web development.


VBScript - VBScript, or VisualBasicScript, needless to say, uses the syntax of Visual Basic. To keep things short, it's used in the same way that JavaScript is used, in client side programming. Personally I think JavaScript is a better use of your time, unless you're wanting to program in ASP (classic, not .NET).


Perl/CGI - CGI Stands for Common Gateway Interface, and uses Per's syntax. CGI is starting to become a bit dated simply because other languages are able to do much more complex things, only with less programming. CGI is still good for making things like ImageMaps or Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). CGI is not out the door yet, but in my opinion, it will only remain because of "legacy sites".

Markup Languages
These languages, aren't so much languages, they're more "Ways to present data" They can include HTML, DHTML, XML, CSS, and a few others. These are pretty much what make up WebPages you see from day to day. If you're into web design learning some of these is a must.

HTML Tutorial
DHtML Tutorial
CSS Tutorial
XML Tutorial

If you have any question you'd like me to add, or question on what I've said. Feel free to post up. Or you may comment on just about anything you like.

-- Iron_Cross
-- Punch-M6.net
-- NeoNemesis
-- Puckdropper
-- Jag3k

~s.o.s~ commented: Good one - ~s.o.s~ +14
arjunsasidharan commented: Well Done! +3
Aelphaeis commented: very good summary of languages and getting started on programming +1
FreeBirdLjj commented: Great! +0
\007 commented: Great FAQ! +0
mike_2000_17 commented: Nice! And you managed to keep your pure OOP / Java bias (almost) under control! +14
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