There are many types of programming languages available, and starting out can be quite overwhelming. There is no single programming language that handles every requirement, but some are better geared towards one area of computing over another.
In this section we answer a wide range of questions, typically associated with novice programmers and describe, in simple English*, the key differences between HTML, Java, PHP and Python. We help the learner to choose a programming language most relevant to their needs by giving facts about each. This enables the learner to make good decisions and provides a solid foundation for their next steps. To progress past this page the learner will choose a pathway they feel is best, all pathways are completely free and can be changed at any time, although it is strongly recommended to only study one pathway at a time.
* Some of the words used on this page may be incorrect at a higher level of study. We assume all learners have no previous knowledge of programming and use plain English to kick-start their learning experience.
HTML and CSS
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is used to create websites. On its own, HTML is a basic language that only describes the structure of a page. This means HTML tells the computer 'this is a piece of text' or 'this is an image'. It places each piece of information on a new line, creating a very basic vertical view of a webpage. Whilst this makes a website, it is not very attractive, this is where Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) can help.
CSS is used to make webpages look attractive to customers or users. It moves the HTML elements around and positions them on the page (computer screen). CSS applies color, fonts and various styles to the webpage to enhance its look, and in many cases usability.
Java is known as an Object Orientated (OO) language. All OO languages have similarities; they create and destroy 'objects'. Objects are used to represent something in the program, it could be a person, a chair or a car. Objects can interact with each other to make highly versatile programs. The Java language is suited towards programs on a PC, such as games or business applications. Android mobile phone apps are also created with a special Java package.
If you are considering a programming career, Java is one of the most popular OO languages. When developing in an OO language it is recommended to use an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). These are programs that help make coding easier and almost every developer needs them to create large applications at reasonable speed.
PHP is short for 'PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor'. It is a recursive acronym (meaning the first P of 'PHP' stand for PHP). It is what's known as a server side scripting language. PHP is primarily used to answer queries and requests from webpages. It integrates with HTML seamlessly and allows for complex and advanced features such as databases to be used in websites.
If you are considering a career in PHP it is recommended to start with HTML and CSS. As you start PHP it is likely you will also need to gain knowledge of other languages such as Standard Query Language (SQL) and eXtensible Markup Language (XML). It sounds daunting, and is only recommending for intermediate learners, although when this language is broken down into smaller segments it is easy to learn.
Python is a high level programming language and is used for general purposes, it is a great place for learners to start and is very versatile regardless of the requirements. It can be used in a similar way to PHP or used to create applications like Java. It is what's known as an interpreted language, which means it executes lines of code directly. This makes it slower in some instances but faster in others. One of its best assets is its ability to handle algorithms, it is great for mathematical functions and complex number crunching.
If you are considering a career in Python it is a fantastic language although not the most efficient in every situation. When advancing you will need to learn some of the built-in libraries. Libraries are segments of code that enable more features. As Python is so versatile, the standard library is very large.
After watching the video and reading the details above, it is time to choose a pathway. There is no best choice to be made, as you have seen, it depends entirely on your own thoughts and which area interests you the most. Pathways can always be changed, or restarted at any time. There is no restriction to skipping guides or re-visiting pages for missed information. You could also opt to study all at the same time (although a better approach would usually be to complete one after the other).