This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.Find sources: "General-purpose programming language" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2021)

In computer software, a general-purpose programming language is a programming language designed to be used for building software in a wide variety of application domains. The opposite of a general-purpose programming language is a domain-specific programming language, which is designed to be used within a specific area, for example, querying databases.


Early programming languages were designed either for scientific computing (numerical calculations) or commercial data processing, as was computer hardware. Scientific languages such as Fortran and Algol supported floating-point calculations and multidimensional arrays, while business languages such as COBOL supported fixed-field file formats and data records. Much less widely used were specialized languages such as IPL-V and LISP for symbolic list processing; COMIT for string manipulation; APT for numerically controlled machines. Systems programming requiring pointer manipulation was typically done in assembly language, though JOVIAL was used for some military applications.[1]

IBM's System/360, announced in 1964, was designed as a unified hardware architecture supporting both scientific and commercial applications, and IBM developed PL/I for it as a single, general-purpose language that supported scientific, commercial, and systems programming. Indeed, PL/I was used as the standard systems programming language for the Multics operating system.

Since PL/I, the distinction between scientific and commercial programming languages has diminished, with most languages supporting the basic features required by both, and much of the special file format handling delegated to specialized database management systems.

Many specialized languages were also developed starting in the 1960s: GPSS and Simula for discrete event simulation; MAD, BASIC, Logo, and Pascal for teaching programming; C for systems programming; JOSS and APL\360 for interactive programming.[1]


Main article: List of programming languages

The following are some general-purpose programming languages:


  1. ^ a b Jean E. Sammet, "Programming Languages: History and Future", Communications of the ACM 15:7:601-610 (July 1972) doi:10.1145/361454.361485

See also