Low-Level Programming Languages: Pros, Cons, and Must-Knows

There are a few types of programming languages in computer science, and some are categorized as high-level programming languages while others as low-level programming languages. The difference is tricky, and people willing to jump into the tech niche often get confused and can’t decide which one to learn.

In this post, we focus on the nature of a low-level programming language. We’ll highlight its pros and cons, share low level language examples for you to understand which programming languages are low level, and explain the critical differences between high-level programming languages and low-level ones.

What is a low-level programming language?

A low-level programming language provides little or no abstraction of programming concepts and is characterized as a computer’s native language. (In plain English, it’s a computer “who” reads it.)

It is closely related to writing actual machine instructions since it’s associated with a computer’s hardware components and constraints. Commands or functions in the language map closely to processor instructions. It’s code written directly for the computer and is often used by those working in fields like the IoT (Internet of Things) or Machine Learning. If you’re an aspiring coder, the good thing about learning low-level programming languages is that they’ll make you a better developer (since you’ll know the ins and outs of programming, of course).

Low level programming languages can run quickly with quite a low memory. However, they require a more profound knowledge of machine learning and can be challenging to use because of that. Machine code and assembly language are two low level programming language examples:

  1. Machine code is the set of instructions that a CPU comprehends and makes a direct action upon. Any program written in machine code consists solely of 0s and 1s, which are binary and often very difficult to write or debug. 
  2. In its turn, assembly language sits between machine code and high-level language and is easier to use. An assembly language works because they use mnemonics, which are short abbreviations where each corresponds with a machine code instruction.
coding on laptop

High-level vs. low-level coding

When comparing high-level and low-level programming, it’s safe to say that the latter is more challenging to write and debug. It is because high-level programming languages are closer to human language.

Also, with high-level programming, there’s no specific knowledge of hardware required for the programmer to understand since high-level languages create portable programs without being tied to a particular computer or microchip. Some examples of high-level programming languages are Java, Pascal, Python, and Visual Basic.

There are a few more differences between high-level and low-level programming languages:

Firstly, any language where the memory management is processed for the programmer is considered high-level. In comparison, low level languages tend to require the developers themselves to handle memory management.

Additionally, high-level programming languages can take more memory management, meaning that developers work with them more quickly than low-level programming languages.

Even though low-level programming languages are more challenging to deal with, they are crucial in building devices that require efficient power consumption, such as the Internet of Things and wearable devices.

In the end, the main difference to note between high-level and low-level languages is that the high-level ones are much easier to read and debug than machine code. However, machines do easily understand the low-level language when compared to humans.

The low-level programming languages list

There are three different types of computer languages involved with computer programming: low-level, middle-level, and high-level languages.

As noted earlier, there are primarily two types of low level code languages: machine code and assembly language; below is a brief description of each:

  • Machine code: this machine language consists of a mixture of binary digits that the computer reads and interprets. Machine code consists of 0’s and 1’s — and is not easily understood by humans. In fact, it’s the only computer program that the computer understands.
  • Assembly language: this one lies between the machine code and the high-level language. It’s the low-level language for microprocessors and other programmable devices. Assembly language additionally implements the symbolic representation of the machine code. The approach of embedding assembly code in a high-level language is known as inline assembly

To better understand what assembly language is, think of it as the primary programming language available for every type of processor. When programmers work with operations, they can only do so using assembly language — and these operations are carried out directly on the CPU.

When comparing both types of low-level programming languages, each has a different purpose and pros/cons attached to them. It’s important to remember that a low level coding language is often known as a computer’s native language.

Pros and cons of a low level code

There are pros and cons to every facet of computer programming, and this is the case for low-level code as well. First, the low-level programming language provides minimal abstraction and sometimes none at all.

When we talk about machine language in low level code, it’s a very machine-dependent language, which makes it more relatable to a machine than it is to a human. With machine code, if programmers write the binary code on any computer machine, this code cannot be run on any other computer system, meaning that it’s very challenging to interpret for programmers.

Perhaps the only advantage of machine code is that it has a speedy execution time because it’s not required to translate from one language to another to run. Machine code also has a high error level when a programmer writes in its language, and it’s challenging to modify any code changes.

Next comes assembly language in low-level code, which has a few benefits over machine code. It’s much easier to understand and use for programmers, given its relatability to the human language. Compared to machine code, it’s also easy to locate any code errors and correct them, where it’s tough to debug any mistakes or even find them. Because of this, it’s easy to modify code in assembly language.

What is low-level programming used for?

The primary goal of low-level programming is to utilize high-level languages like PHP, C#, and Swift to build software programs and scripts that operate, manage, and modify the computer’s hardware and instruction’s set architecture. The source code can then be created and edited by a developer in a high-level language, with the assistance of using a primary text editor/programming IDE. The CPU can’t actually recognize the code directly; prior to this, the code is compiled into a low-level language.

Website development, mobile apps, databases, or software is done using high-level languages via artificial intelligence algorithms. However, if these things had to be developed using assembly or machine code, with zero assistance from frameworks and their level of abstraction, then so much time would be spent by programmers in doing so. That said, low level software is still widely used in the software industry.

5 jobs that require low-level programming

Junior Web Developer:

 A Junior Web Developer’s responsibilities would be to write well-designed, testable, and efficient code and create website layout/user interfaces through the use of standard HTML/CSS practices. In addition, this tech specialist’s duties are to integrate data from various back-end services and databases. Moreover, they will be expected to gather and refine specifications and requirements based on technical needs and create and maintain software documentation.

Some of the qualifications required from a Junior Web Developer can include having an in-depth knowledge of modern HTML/CSS and familiarity with some programming languages like PHP, ASP.NET, JavaScript, etc., and a solid understanding of how web applications work.

Moreover, Junior Web Developers are sometimes expected to have hands-on experience with network diagnostics and network analytics tools, along with basic knowledge of the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process.

C Analyst:

Employers sometimes struggle to stumble upon good C Analysts because the programming language is outdated and serves particular niches.

C Analysts develop code that integrates into the operating systems, operating system modules, embedded systems, or low-level libraries for high-level languages like Python, Node.js or Python. Some responsibilities of C Analysts could include:

  • designing, building, and maintaining efficient, reusable, and reliable C mode;
  • implementing performance and quality modules;
  • identifying bottlenecks and bugs;
  • devising solutions to these issues;
  • helping maintain code quality, organization, and automation.

Software Engineer:

Software Engineers are primarily responsible for creating, maintaining, auditing, and improving systems to meet specific needs. (A Systems Analyst or Architect usually advises these needs.) Software Engineers work in an environment that’s constantly evolving because of technological advances occurring now and then.

Some key responsibilities of Software Engineers include:

  • analyzing user requirements;
  • writing and testing code, as well as refining or rewriting this code as needed;
  • researching and designing new software;
  • developing existing soft and programs by analyzing and identifying areas for modification;
  • writing new computer operating systems;
  • evaluating the software and techniques that make computers and hardware work;
  • integrating software products and getting incompatible platforms to work together; and more.

Digital Strategist:

Digital Strategists work with an organization to identify any unmet needs, goals, opportunities, and challenges of all of its business departments. Through this, they’ll also create and execute a plan that meets the objectives of their strategy.

Digital Strategists are also expected to help cross-functional teams develop ideas that align with brand goals and consumer needs. Familiarity with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are keys to a Digital Strategist’s success.

It’s also beneficial for these specialists to obtain and develop tons of various hard and soft skills throughout their careers if they wish to keep advancing. Things like knowing simple design elements will prove helpful for their job, being web-savvy, and being on top of social media tools. As a start, a good Digital Strategist will have some skills in these areas: Adobe Suite, Microsoft Suite, research and analytical tools, and social media.

Quality Analyst:

A Quality Analyst is primarily responsible for testing, analyzing, and improving software and information systems. They perform different tasks, including but aren’t limited to completing technical studies and audits, managing the life cycle process in systems, and developing procedures to minimize informational security risks.

Some key roles and duties of a Quality Analyst might be:

  • testing existing system processes and providing recommendations for improvements;
  • ensuring product quality throughout the development process;
  • meeting stakeholders to describe and determine business system needs and requirements;
  • conducting and reporting on any technical/business analyses;
  • accessing new software for compatibility with current systems;
  • assisting Junior QA Analysts and managing quality assistance projects as needed, etc.
boy with laptop with python book

Where to learn low-level programming

There are so many options for aspiring developers who wish to learn low-level programming in today’s day and age. The possibilities are available, from online courses to attending coding bootcamps that immerse students in the world of programming.

If you wish to learn to program while optimizing your studies in little time, then consider going straight to JavaScript or Python and skipping the low-level programming studies. However, if you want to spend time learning the latter, then you’ll find a couple of options that’ll help you achieve that. See below:

BootcampLevelFormatCoursesEmployment rate
42 SchoolAllFull-time, part-time, in-personFront End Developer, Full-Stack Developer, Data Science, Mobile App Development99%
MomentumBeginnerFull-time, part-timeWeb Development Basics89%
Bright Star InstituteAllFull-time, part-time, in-person, and online.NET, PythonN/A
Holberton SchoolAllFull-time, part-time, in-personSoftware Development, Computer Science, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Full-Stack Web Development, Low Level & Algorithms, Front-End Web Development, Back-End Web Development78%

42 School: 

42-logo

The 42 School program is unique: it’s 100% free of charge even after a student graduates and lands a job, and it doesn’t employ any instructors. Instead, students get to experience learning from their peers and sharing their knowledge with one another.

Their curriculum allows students to explore the various programming elements, helping them discover what areas they’re most passionate about. To learn more about the courses, programs, application process, and job outcomes, or connect with a team on their end, visit their official website.

Visit 42 School

Momentum: 

momentum

The school offers full-time immersive courses that are available every eight weeks. Their part-time courses are also efficient, and students can finish it off in 24 weeks while still managing their other daily commitments. Graduates from Momentum have successfully landed jobs in companies like Salesforce, Accenture, IBM, and more.

This coding bootcamp also offers a crash course, Web Development Basics, where beginners will learn everything they need about corresponding disciplines and web pages creation.

Visit Momentum

Bright Star Institute: 

brightstarlogo-wide

Bright Star Institute provides online on-demand streaming of lectures for its students with certificate programs in .NET Developer (C#) and Python Programmer. They also offer dedicated lab hardware for students that are made available 24/7 and incorporate personal facilitation done by real instructors.

The school’s Python Programmer certificate program is a 4-course program and costs $4,000, while the .NET Developer (C#) course is an 8-course program that costs $6,000. The courses take place online or via one-on-one facilitation to enable flexibility for their students, depending on their schedule.

Visit Bright Star Institute

Holberton School: 

holberton

With campuses across every continent, Holberton School is truly a global one. Based in California, the bootcamp provides a full-time, intensive program that introduces students to the foundations of computer science, after which they can choose their specialty. The school’s known for facilitating a collaborative, project-based environment for their students, ultimately preparing them for the real world.

Their course offerings consist of a wide range, including Software Development, Foundations of Computer Science & Machine Learning, Foundations of Computer Science & Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, Foundations of Computer Science and Full-Stack Web Development, and more. Check out their official website for information on each course, its curriculum, schedule, paying options, and more.

Visit Holberton School

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is a coding language?

Simply put, coding languages are the tools that programmers use to write instructions for computers to follow — and they allow programmers to translate the 1’s and 0’s into things that humans can understand and write.

Coding languages are a kind of computer language used in computer programming to implement algorithms. A coding language is a language that consists of a set of strings that produce different kinds of results of machine code. Most coding languages comprise instructions created for computers — and some use a set of specific instructions rather than general coding languages.

What is a low level programming language?

There are three different types of computer languages: low-level, middle-level, and high-level languages. A low-level programming language is characterized as a computer’s native language. It is closely related to writing actual machine instructions since it’s associated with a computer’s hardware components and constraints. It’s basically coding written directly for the computer and is often used by those who want to work in Machine Learning or the Internet of Things.

The most common two types of low-level programming languages are assembly language and machine code, and both have a set of different pros and cons associated with each of them.

What is low-level programming?

A low-level programming language is often characterized as a computer’s native language. It’s code written directly for the computer, often used by those who want to work in Machine Learning/the Internet of Things. It is closely related to writing actual machine instructions since it’s associated with a computer’s hardware components and constraints.

If you’re an aspiring coder, the great thing about learning low-level programming languages is that it’ll make you a better developer — since you’ll know the ins and outs of programming. A low-level programming language controls a computer’s operational semantics with the abstraction of programming ideas.

Is Java a low-level coding language?

No, it isn’t. Java is neither an assembly language nor machine code, which are low-level coding languages. Java is a high-level language since it doesn’t deal with CPU registers, addressing modes, directly managing the program stack, etc.

To better understand and differentiate between high-level and low-level coding languages, their main difference is that programmers can easily interpret or compile the high-level coding languages compared with the low-level ones. The same case applies to low-level coding languages, which machines can far more easily understand, interpret, and compile than human beings. Examples of high-level languages are Java, Swift, #C, and Python.

Is C++ a low-level language?

The definition of what a low-level coding language entails has actually evolved quite a bit since the beginning of Computer Science. In the past, C and C++ were considered high-level coding languages. However, they’re both considered low-level coding languages in today’s day and age since they consist of zero automatic memory management. That said, the only existing low-level coding languages are assembly language and machine code. That is because, for instance, assembly language is the closest thing possible to what a CPU can execute since it’s a translation of the binary code — which the CPU perfectly comprehends.

Why use a low level programming language?

The primary use of low-level programming is to utilize high-level languages like PHP, C#, and Swift to build software programs and scripts that operate, manage, and modify the computer’s hardware and instruction’s set architecture. The low level code can then be created and edited by a developer in a high-level language, with the assistance of using a primary text editor/programming IDE. Despite this, the CPU can’t actually recognize the code directly — and before this step, the code is then compiled into a low-level language. Website development, mobile apps, databases, software, or more is done using AI algorithms via high-level languages.

What programming language should I learn?

It depends on your level of interest and expertise in coding, along with the types of projects that you envision yourself working on and who you want to work for. If you’re a beginner in the field, consider starting with Python, a high-level programming language. Python is fun and easy to start with because it reads like English and is thus quite simple for a programming newbie to understand and process. If you start with Python, you’ll obtain the basics of coding practices without getting into the minor technicalities that other coding languages entail.

What jobs can I get with low-level languages?

  • Junior Web Developer, where you’d be expected to write well-designed, testable, and efficient code and create website layout/user interfaces through HTML/CSS practices.
  • C Analyst, where you’ll be responsible for designing, building, and maintaining efficient, reusable, and reliable C mode.
  • Software Engineer, where you’ll be primarily responsible for creating, maintaining, auditing, and improving systems in order to meet specific needs.
  • Digital Strategist, where you’ll work with an organization to identify any unmet needs, goals, opportunities, and challenges of all of its business departments.
  • Quality Analyst, where you’ll be responsible for testing, analyzing, improving software and information systems, and more.

How much can I earn with low-level coding?

In the U.S, you can expect to earn on average between $74,393 and $95,617, pursuing a career in low-level coding. The salaries will vary depending on your education, certifications, skills, and the number of years you’ve compiled as a programmer with a specialty in low-level coding. Schools covering low-level coding are 42 School, Momentum, Bright Star Institute, and Holberton School, among others. If you’re a beginner looking to enter the field or have some experience in low-level coding, you can choose this field to further develop your skills by attending coding bootcamp, which will help you advance and earn more.

Is it worth learning a low-level programming language?

It all depends on what you wish to pursue out of your coding career. Suppose you want to build existing and innovative software. In that case, low-level programming is probably not for you — since low-level languages require a more profound knowledge of machine learning, with limited creativity. But if, let’s say, you want to optimize machine performance or maintain and fix some code that has been previously embedded in the machine, then low-level programming may be for you. But please remember that once you step foot into the world of low-level coding, your chances to become a high pro in the field will grow.

Final words

If you wish to learn low-level programming, then consider applying to one of the schools we’ve included in this article. Each offers a different take on integrating low-level coding into their programs, with varying learning options to accommodate your schedule. And the question of whether or not low-level coding is the right specialty for you depends on many things like your interest, level of expertise, as well as the type of work you wish to pursue. If you’re entirely new to coding, consider starting with a high-level programming language like Python since it’s very relatable to English.

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