Programming paradigm

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Programming paradigms are a way to classify programming languages based on their features. Languages can be classified into multiple paradigms.

Programming language Language designed to communicate instructions to a machine

A programming language is a formal language, which comprises a set of instructions that produce various kinds of output. Programming languages are used in computer programming to implement algorithms.


Some paradigms are concerned mainly with implications for the execution model of the language, such as allowing side effects, or whether the sequence of operations is defined by the execution model. Other paradigms are concerned mainly with the way that code is organized, such as grouping a code into units along with the state that is modified by the code. Yet others are concerned mainly with the style of syntax and grammar.

A programming language consists of a grammar/syntax plus an execution model. The execution model specifies the behavior of elements of the language. By applying it, one can derive the behavior of a program that was written in terms of that programming language. For example, Operational Semantics is one method of specifying a language's execution model. The observed behavior of a running program must match the behavior derived from the execution model. An execution model covers things such as what is an indivisible unit of work, and what are the constraints on the order in which those units of work take place. For example, the addition operation is an indivisible unit of work in many languages, and in sequential languages such units of work are constrained to take place one after the other.

In computer science, an operation, function or expression is said to have a side effect if it modifies some state variable value(s) outside its local environment, that is to say has an observable effect besides returning a value to the invoker of the operation. State data updated "outside" of the operation may be maintained "inside" a stateful object or a wider stateful system within which the operation is performed. Example side effects include modifying a non-local variable, modifying a static local variable, modifying a mutable argument passed by reference, performing I/O or calling other side-effect functions. In the presence of side effects, a program's behaviour may depend on history; that is, the order of evaluation matters. Understanding and debugging a function with side effects requires knowledge about the context and its possible histories.

Common programming paradigms include: [1] [2] [3]

In computer science, imperative programming is a programming paradigm that uses statements that change a program's state. In much the same way that the imperative mood in natural languages expresses commands, an imperative program consists of commands for the computer to perform. Imperative programming focuses on describing how a program operates.

Procedural programming is a programming paradigm, derived from structured programming, based on the concept of the procedure call. Procedures, also known as routines, subroutines, or functions, simply contain a series of computational steps to be carried out. Any given procedure might be called at any point during a program's execution, including by other procedures or itself. The first major procedural programming languages first appeared circa 1960, including Fortran, ALGOL, COBOL and BASIC. Pascal and C were published closer to the 1970s.

Object-oriented programming (OOP) is a programming paradigm based on the concept of "objects", which can contain data, in the form of fields, and code, in the form of procedures. A feature of objects is an object's procedures that can access and often modify the data fields of the object with which they are associated. In OOP, computer programs are designed by making them out of objects that interact with one another. OOP languages are diverse, but the most popular ones are class-based, meaning that objects are instances of classes, which also determine their types.

Symbolic techniques such as reflection, which allow the program to refer to itself, might also be considered as a programming paradigm. However, this is compatible with the major paradigms and thus is not a real paradigm in its own right.

In computer programming, symbolic programming is a programming paradigm in which the program can manipulate its own formulas and program components as if they were plain data.

In computer science, reflection is the ability of a process to examine, introspect, and modify its own structure and behavior.

For example, languages that fall into the imperative paradigm have two main features: they state the order in which operations occur, with constructs that explicitly control that order, and they allow side effects, in which state can be modified at one point in time, within one unit of code, and then later read at a different point in time inside a different unit of code. The communication between the units of code is not explicit. Meanwhile, in object-oriented programming, code is organized into objects that contain state that is only modified by the code that is part of the object. Most object-oriented languages are also imperative languages. In contrast, languages that fit the declarative paradigm do not state the order in which to execute operations. Instead, they supply a number of operations that are available in the system, along with the conditions under which each is allowed to execute. The implementation of the language's execution model tracks which operations are free to execute and chooses the order on its own. More at Comparison of multi-paradigm programming languages.


Overview of the various programming paradigms according to Peter Van Roy Programming paradigms.svg
Overview of the various programming paradigms according to Peter Van Roy

Just as software engineering (as a process) is defined by differing methodologies, so the programming languages (as models of computation) are defined by differing paradigms. Some languages are designed to support one paradigm (Smalltalk supports object-oriented programming, Haskell supports functional programming), while other programming languages support multiple paradigms (such as Object Pascal, C++, Java, JavaScript, C#, Scala, Visual Basic, Common Lisp, Scheme, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, Wolfram Language, Oz, and F#). For example, programs written in C++, Object Pascal or PHP can be purely procedural, purely object-oriented, or can contain elements of both or other paradigms. Software designers and programmers decide how to use those paradigm elements.

In object-oriented programming, programs are treated as a set of interacting objects. In functional programming, programs are treated as a sequence of stateless function evaluations. When programming computers or systems with many processors, in process-oriented programming, programs are treated as sets of concurrent processes that act on a logical shared data structures.

Many programming paradigms are as well known for the techniques they forbid as for those they enable. For instance, pure functional programming disallows use of side-effects, while structured programming disallows use of the goto statement. Partly for this reason, new paradigms are often regarded as doctrinaire or overly rigid by those accustomed to earlier styles. [6] Yet, avoiding certain techniques can make it easier to understand program behavior, and to prove theorems about program correctness.

Programming paradigms can also be compared with programming models which allow invoking an execution model by using only an API. Programming models can also be classified into paradigms, based on features of the execution model.

For parallel computing, using a programming model instead of a language is common. The reason is that details of the parallel hardware leak into the abstractions used to program the hardware. This causes the programmer to have to map patterns in the algorithm onto patterns in the execution model (which have been inserted due to leakage of hardware into the abstraction). As a consequence, no one parallel programming language maps well to all computation problems. It is thus more convenient to use a base sequential language and insert API calls to parallel execution models, via a programming model. Such parallel programming models can be classified according to abstractions that reflect the hardware, such as shared memory, distributed memory with message passing, notions of place visible in the code, and so forth. These can be considered flavors of programming paradigm that apply to only parallel languages and programming models.


Some programming language researchers criticise the notion of paradigms as a classification of programming languages, e.g. Harper, [7] and Krishnamurthi. [8] They argue that many programming languages cannot be strictly classified into one paradigm, but rather include features from several paradigms. See Comparison of multi-paradigm programming languages.


Different approaches to programming have developed over time, being identified as such either at the time or retrospectively. An early approach consciously identified as such is structured programming, advocated since the mid 1960s. The concept of a "programming paradigm" as such dates at least to 1978, in the Turing Award lecture of Robert W. Floyd, entitled The Paradigms of Programming, which cites the notion of paradigm as used by Thomas Kuhn in his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). [9]

Machine code

The lowest-level programming paradigms are machine code, which directly represents the instructions (the contents of program memory) as a sequence of numbers, and assembly language where the machine instructions are represented by mnemonics and memory addresses can be given symbolic labels. These are sometimes called first- and second-generation languages.

In the 1960s, assembly languages were developed to support library COPY and quite sophisticated conditional macro generation and preprocessing abilities, CALL to (subroutines), external variables and common sections (globals), enabling significant code re-use and isolation from hardware specifics via use of logical operators such as READ/WRITE/GET/PUT. Assembly was, and still is, used for time critical systems and often in embedded systems as it gives the most direct control of what the machine does.

Procedural languages

The next advance was the development of procedural languages. These third-generation languages (the first described as high-level languages) use vocabulary related to the problem being solved. For example,

All these languages follow the procedural paradigm. That is, they describe, step by step, exactly the procedure that should, according to the particular programmer at least, be followed to solve a specific problem. The efficacy and efficiency of any such solution are both therefore entirely subjective and highly dependent on that programmer's experience, inventiveness, and ability.

Object-oriented programming

Following the widespread use of procedural languages, object-oriented programming (OOP) languages were created, such as Simula, Smalltalk, C++, C#, Eiffel, PHP, and Java. In these languages, data and methods to manipulate it are kept as one unit called an object. With perfect encapsulation, one of the distinguishing features of OOP, the only way that another object or user would be able to access the data is via the object's methods . Thus, the inner workings of an object may be changed without affecting any code that uses the object. There is still some controversy raised by Alexander Stepanov, Richard Stallman [10] and other programmers, concerning the efficacy of the OOP paradigm versus the procedural paradigm. The need for every object to have associative methods leads some skeptics to associate OOP with software bloat; an attempt to resolve this dilemma came through polymorphism.

Because object-oriented programming is considered a paradigm, not a language, it is possible to create even an object-oriented assembler language. High Level Assembly (HLA) is an example of this that fully supports advanced data types and object-oriented assembly language programming  despite its early origins. Thus, differing programming paradigms can be seen rather like motivational memes of their advocates, rather than necessarily representing progress from one level to the next[ citation needed ]. Precise comparisons of the efficacy of competing paradigms are frequently made more difficult because of new and differing terminology applied to similar entities and processes together with numerous implementation distinctions across languages.

Further paradigms

Literate programming, as a form of imperative programming, structures programs as a human-centered web, as in a hypertext essay: documentation is integral to the program, and the program is structured following the logic of prose exposition, rather than compiler convenience.

Independent of the imperative branch, declarative programming paradigms were developed. In these languages, the computer is told what the problem is, not how to solve the problem  the program is structured as a set of properties to find in the expected result, not as a procedure to follow. Given a database or a set of rules, the computer tries to find a solution matching all the desired properties. An archetype of a declarative language is the fourth generation language SQL, and the family of functional languages and logic programming.

Functional programming is a subset of declarative programming. Programs written using this paradigm use functions, blocks of code intended to behave like mathematical functions. Functional languages discourage changes in the value of variables through assignment, making a great deal of use of recursion instead.

The logic programming paradigm views computation as automated reasoning over a body of knowledge. Facts about the problem domain are expressed as logic formulas, and programs are executed by applying inference rules over them until an answer to the problem is found, or the set of formulas is proved inconsistent.

Symbolic programming is a paradigm that describes programs able to manipulate formulas and program components as data. [3] Programs can thus effectively modify themselves, and appear to "learn", making them suited for applications such as artificial intelligence, expert systems, natural-language processing and computer games. Languages that support this paradigm include Lisp and Prolog. [11]

Differentiable programming structures programs so that they can be differentiated throughout, usually via automatic differentiation. [12] [13]

Support for multiple paradigms

Most programming languages support more than one programming paradigm to allow programmers to use the most suitable programming style and associated language constructs for a given job. [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Computer programming Process that leads from an original formulation of a computing problem to executable computer programs

Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program for accomplishing a specific computing task. Programming involves tasks such as: analysis, generating algorithms, profiling algorithms' accuracy and resource consumption, and the implementation of algorithms in a chosen programming language. The source code of a program is written in one or more languages that are intelligible to programmers, rather than machine code, which is directly executed by the central processing unit. The purpose of programming is to find a sequence of instructions that will automate the performance of a task on a computer, often for solving a given problem. The process of programming thus often requires expertise in several different subjects, including knowledge of the application domain, specialized algorithms, and formal logic.

Computer program Instructions to be executed by a computer

A computer program is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. Most computer devices require programs to function properly.

Computer science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their implementation and application in computer systems. One well known subject classification system for computer science is the ACM Computing Classification System devised by the Association for Computing Machinery.

In computer science, declarative programming is a programming paradigm—a style of building the structure and elements of computer programs—that expresses the logic of a computation without describing its control flow.

Programming languages can be grouped by the number and types of paradigms supported.

Software development is the process of conceiving, specifying, designing, programming, documenting, testing, and bug fixing involved in creating and maintaining applications, frameworks, or other software components. Software development is a process of writing and maintaining the source code, but in a broader sense, it includes all that is involved between the conception of the desired software through to the final manifestation of the software, sometimes in a planned and structured process. Therefore, software development may include research, new development, prototyping, modification, reuse, re-engineering, maintenance, or any other activities that result in software products.

In computer science, dynamic dispatch is the process of selecting which implementation of a polymorphic operation to call at run time. It is commonly employed in, and considered a prime characteristic of, object-oriented programming (OOP) languages and systems.

In computer programming, dataflow programming is a programming paradigm that models a program as a directed graph of the data flowing between operations, thus implementing dataflow principles and architecture. Dataflow programming languages share some features of functional languages, and were generally developed in order to bring some functional concepts to a language more suitable for numeric processing. Some authors use the term datastream instead of dataflow to avoid confusion with dataflow computing or dataflow architecture, based on an indeterministic machine paradigm. Dataflow programming was pioneered by Jack Dennis and his graduate students at MIT in the 1960s.

The object-relational impedance mismatch is a set of conceptual and technical difficulties that are often encountered when a relational database management system (RDBMS) is being served by an application program written in an object-oriented programming language or style, particularly because objects or class definitions must be mapped to database tables defined by a relational schema.

In computing, a parallel programming model is an abstraction of parallel computer architecture, with which it is convenient to express algorithms and their composition in programs. The value of a programming model can be judged on its generality: how well a range of different problems can be expressed for a variety of different architectures, and its performance: how efficiently the compiled programs can execute. The implementation of a parallel programming model can take the form of a library invoked from a sequential language, as an extension to an existing language, or as an entirely new language.

This is an alphabetical list of articles pertaining specifically to software engineering.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to computer programming:

In computing, reactive programming is a declarative programming paradigm concerned with data streams and the propagation of change. With this paradigm it is possible to express static or dynamic data streams with ease, and also communicate that an inferred dependency within the associated execution model exists, which facilitates the automatic propagation of the changed data flow.

This article attempts to set out the various similarities and differences between the various programming paradigms as a summary in both graphical and tabular format with links to the separate discussions concerning these similarities and differences in extant Wikipedia articles.


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