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[ The PC Guide | Introduction to the PC | How the PC Works | How the Computer Computes ]

Computer Languages

The only languages that a computer understands is its own binary machine language. So for example, simply to tell the computer to add the numbers 181 and 207 together, the command might be "01101001 00110100 10110101 11001111". Who could write a 3D action game like that? Nobody, which is why a different method was invented to tell the program what to do.

Higher-level languages act as a "compromise" between what the computer understands and what the human programmer understands. They are not like natural spoken languages, but they use symbols that are relatively easy to learn. For example, in a high-level language, the command to add those numbers might be "X = 181 + 207". C, C++, BASIC, FORTRAN and Java are examples of these sorts of languages.

But how does the computer know what to do with "X = 181 + 207"? It doesn't. A special program called a compiler is used to translate (or compile) the high-level language instructions into a form the computer can understand. This lets both the computer and the human work in terms they can understand well.

Next: Example: What Happens When You Press A Key

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