Web programming languages: the best languages for web development

Whether you are watching videos on YouTube, networking with business partners on LinkedIn or reading an article on Wikipedia, these large, frequently visited websites generally run smoothly. The question of what scripts are running in the background and how they have been programmed usually only arises when you want to create a website yourself. Web development requires a number of decisions to be made beforehand. For example, you need to consider whether you need to choose a good programming language, whether you want to hire a developer who has the skills you need or whether, as a programmer yourself, you need to choose a web programming language which would enhance your knowledge and improve your portfolio.

Note

So as to clear up a common misconception, HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is not a programming language. It is a markup language. HTML is used to structure digital documents, integrate hyperlinks, and define the overall structure of the page. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is also a markup language, which is used for website design (e.g. font colours and backgrounds).

Web programming languages can be used to define complex logical instructions and processes. While markup languages such as HTML can only be used to generate documents, you can use programming languages to create programs of any size to meet your needs. So what programming languages are especially good for use with the web? What are they used for? Which languages are the most versatile, and which are fairly easy for novice programmers to learn can be found in our article on learning to code. This overview of web development languages will answer these questions.

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Java

Java is an open source and platform-independent programming language, which can be used for almost any situation thanks to its versatility. It is object-oriented like most web programming languages. This means that it focuses on concrete applications. Its vast number of web frameworks and libraries, which generally have comprehensive documentation, makes it easier to create even highly complex web projects. Programs written in Java are easy to expand upon, can be scaled as required and are easy to maintain, provided that the programmer who wrote them knew what they were doing.

Since Java is comparatively difficult to learn, resulting in fewer experts in this programming language, clients will have to deal with higher costs than when using other programming languages. Meanwhile, programmers who are proficient in Java are likely to have a comparatively high income.

JavaScript

Despite its name, this dynamic, object-orientedscripting language has nothing to do with Java, apart from them both being based on C. In 1995, Netscape developed JavaScript, originally called LiveScript, with the goal of expanding HTML and CSS to enable programmers to evaluate user interactions and dynamically display content. Today, JavaScript is not just used for web browsers but also for micro-controllers and servers. The name JavaScript was chosen merely because of Java’s popularity. At the time, people wanted to be associated with it. This was a great success. Today, almost all the most popular websites use JavaScript as their programming language of choice on the client side. Additionally, JavaScript has extensive frameworks and libraries.

This programming language is dynamically typed and classless. It gives programmers the choice of object-oriented, procedural, or functional programming, making it a highly versatile programming language. This is especially apparent in web browsers. For example, JavaScript can be used to dynamically change websites, validate form entries even before they are sent to the target server, switch dialogue boxes as well as integrate scripts for downloading and uploading. JavaScript has also become an essential tool for online marketing, as many advertisements are programmed with it. This language can also be used to read and write cookies, which makes modern marketing strategies such as targeting possible. In short, JavaScript has helped shape the modern internet and is an integral part of today's web browsing experience.

PHP

Hypertext Preprocessor, better known under the old acronym PHP, is a scripting language based on C and Perl. It is mainly used for programming dynamic websitesandweb applications. PHP is considered to be beginner-friendly and can be integrated into HTML. Therefore, it is often one of the first languages an aspiring programmer learns. Many website operators still rely on PHP today, even though the language is widely viewed as a bit obsolete. Some of its most important advantages include its broad support for various databases and its efficient integration of internet protocol. PHP has received several updates since its creation and is currently on version 7. This language has an open source license and is available free of charge.

Tip

You can learn the basics of this scripting language with our PHP tutorial for beginners.

PHP processes the code on the server side, bypassing the web browser's interpretation, which is usually encountered in other popular internet programming languages. This also means that PHP is subject to stateless HTTP and stresses the queried web server much more than programming languages which only send the source code to a dedicated web browser. PHP is also criticised for its weak typing and lack of standardised error-handling functions. However, the fact that many major websites still use PHP is proof of its popularity. Problems can arise, though, if website operators use outdated PHP versions which compromise the security and stability of the website.

Python

Python is known as a high-level programming language and uses compact yet easy to understand code. Python is also easy to type because you do not need to separate blocks of code by using special characters but rather by indenting. This is why the language is considered to be enjoyable to learn and use. You can use it as required either for object-oriented, aspect-oriented, or functional programming. Python is also dynamic and is therefore often used as a scripting language. Python is supported by an active community and is kept up-to-date and relevant by the non-profit Python Software Foundation. This language is freely available and can be used with most current operating systems.

Many popular web services like YouTube and other Google projects are partially based on Python. The video game industry has also embraced this programming language. The same can be said for scientific projects. Python has become highly popular for this purpose primarily because most scientific databases can be easily integrated with the language and because tasks which involve collecting empirical data can be carried out efficiently using it. Python is therefore a particularly important programming language for beginners in these fields. However, it has been criticised for its relatively low execution speed and for how long-winded the definitions of its methods are.

Ruby

Ruby is another high-level programming language. It was developed in the mid-1990s by Yukihiro Matsumoto. This purely object-oriented programming language boasts dynamic typing and reflection as well as automatic garbage collection. Ruby’s major distinguishing feature is its object-oriented focus in which every value and class is an object. Unlike other object-oriented programming languages, there are no primitive data types in Ruby. To put it briefly, “everything is an object.”

Ruby's syntax is conveniently flexible. For example, the use of brackets is often optional. This makes the language easy to read and often makes it look like a markup language. In spite of this, Ruby is very deep and also allows for meta-programming with which programmers can generate methods, modify the inheritance hierarchy and change other constants in the programming language as they see fit. This is why Ruby is considered “easy to learn but hard to master”. Critics have voiced concerns about the negative consequences of having typos in program code. In such cases, unexpected run-time errors can lead to tedious debugging sessions. Ruby is often used as a scripting language for web servers but also surprisingly often in the video game industry. This language is available for all current operating systems.

C++

C++ is based on C, one of the oldest programming languages. The development of this language, which was then thought of as an extension of C, began in 1979, but it was not released to the public until 1985. It is still very popular today. C++ is one of the programming languages with an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) standard. It is also considered to be machine oriented and efficient as well as highly abstractable and complex. C++ is fundamentally easy to learn, especially because the core language is concise using approximately 60 key words. The language becomes more complex and comprehensive through its standard library.

C++’s greatest strengths are its variety of combinations and its efficient machine-oriented programming. This allows highly complex processes to be integrated into basic functions. As a result, C++ programmers can save time by relying on the core language and the standard library. Due to the fact that it is heavily based on C, this programming language has some disadvantages, such as its comparatively messy syntax. Nevertheless, C++ is one of the most popular programming languages today when it comes to system and application programming. However, when it comes to web programming languages, C++ has to be ranked lower than Java, JavaScript, and C#.

C#

The relatively new programming language C#, pronounced as “C sharp“, was released in 2001 and is considered to be a general-purpose language. It is type-safe, object-oriented and fundamentally platform-independent. However, it was specifically developed by Microsoft for the .NET Framework. C# is often also referred to as “Visual C#”, mostly for implementations. Conceptually, the language is related to Java and C++ among others, but it extends the object-oriented modelto include attributes which store information about classes, objects and methods as well as delegates which refer to methods for specific classes. This primarily results in a more accurate error description when compiling code, saving developers a lot of time.

Many people believe C# is the most important programming language web developers should learn besides Java. As an object-oriented web programming language, C# offers the bestcombination of functionality and depth. Critics have warned that using C# ties you to Microsoft's .NET Framework. Having said that, programmers use it for a large portion of the market. Many programmers now rely on C#, be it for developing for Windows systems or for video games on Xbox and PC. C# is mainly used as a web programming language for web API's and various web applications.

Perl

The free programming language Perl appeared in 1987 and provided the inspiration as an interpreted programming language and a scripting language for languages such as PHP, JavaScript, Ruby and Python. The programmers primarily used programming languages in the C family. This language is fundamentally platform-independent and was originally designed for network and system administration. Since then, Perl has also established itself as one of the most popular programming languages for web software, bioinformatics and finance.

Programmers who use Perl benefit from a high level of freedom and efficient problem-solving. For example, you can modify texts with regular expressions. Moreover, there are many freely available modules for Perl which can be retrieved from the Perl library CPAN. The programming language Perl is designed with the goal of always offering programmers several ways to accomplish their objectives while remaining simple and efficient and working in a context-sensitive manner. Perl played a key role in the spread of the World Wide Web and continues to play a huge role today as a web programming language. Perl is used less frequently when proximity to the hardware (e.g. web servers) and speed (e.g. drivers) play a role.

These web programming languages are used by the most popular websites.

Novice programmers often find themselves overwhelmed by the numerous options available in different languages. They can, however, look to major websites for guidance. Which programming languages do Facebook, Twitter, or Google use? Which ones are best for use on the client side and which for on the server side?

Tip

Nowadays, you do not need to master a programming language to set up a website. 1&1 offers MyWebsite, an intuitive toolbox with which you can create your website quickly and easily.

The following table shows that all websites mentioned work with JavaScript on the client side but on the server side rely on various programming languages. Only Yahoo uses PHP on the server side.

Website Client-side programming language Server-side programming language(s)
Google JavaScript C, C++, Go, Java, Python, PHP (HHVM)
Facebook JavaScript Hack, PHP (HHVM), Python, C++, Java, Erlang, D, XHP, Haskell
YouTube JavaScript C, C++, Python, Java, Go
Yahoo JavaScript PHP
Amazon JavaScript Java, C++, Perl
Wikipedia JavaScript PHP, Hack
Twitter JavaScript C++, Java, Scala, Ruby

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