What is scripting language and what are its features?

16/02/2024 | Santander Universidades

Did you know that, according to the Online Historical Encyclopaedia of Programming Languages (HOPL), there are 8,945 different programming languages? This means that, at present, there are fewer spoken languages―around 7,100― than computer coding languages. That’s a mighty impressive sum, especially taking into account the fact they have only been around for 100 years. 

As such, of all of the languages in existence, the TIOBE index reports that a third of the top most used languages are catalogued as some type of scripting, which allows us to develop programs in an agile, versatile manner. They facilitate working with data as well as the automation of tasks in all sorts of systems and IT applications. 

Want to learn more about scripting language? In this article, we explain what it is, what it is used for, and the main features, as well as outlining the top scripting languages used today.  

What is scripting language and what exactly does the term refer to?

To understand exactly what a scripting language is, it’s vital to first understand the term "script". In IT, a "script" means a sequence of commands that tell a computer which instructions to carry out. It is often compared to the instructions found in a recipe, since it likewise sets out the steps to be followed one by one to achieve the desired results. 

At first, scripts were programmed using machine language, a complex code that was difficult for humans to understand. However, over the years, scripting languages have emerged which are similar to English and allow instructions to be given in a simpler way. 

From JavaScript or PHP to Ruby and Python, the different types of scripting language are "interpreted", in other words, during their execution, the code is translated and interpreted into machine language. Scripting languages allow programs to be designed and run to automate tasks in different environments.


Features of scripting language

Scripting languages are high-level programming languages with various special features. However, these give them a great potential to perform certain IT tasks, since they behave better than other language types. 

Some of the features of scripting languages are: 

  • Interpreted: scripting languages are interpreted rather than compiled. This means that the source code is translated in real time once it has been executed, making it more flexible and easier to write.

  • Objective: they are designed for very specific tasks e.g., web programming, artificial intelligence or task automation in operating systems.

  • Syntax: their syntax is very similar to English, and as such they are easier to read, write and maintain than low-level or machine languages. 

  • Variable declaration: scripting languages use what is known as dynamic typing. This means that data variables can be declared more flexibly throughout the code, without the need to do so at a specific part of the document. 

  • Server-side vs client-side: scripts designed with these languages can run on both a web server and in a browser on the user's device. The former are used to handle functions and internal data, while the latter are used to create interfaces and functions dedicated to the users. 

  • Memory: the memory employed in running a script is managed automatically by whichever interpreter is used. Programmers should avoid writing code dedicated to managing memory. 

  • Cross-platform: Scripting languages integrate extremely well into all system types and even with other language types. They are usually combined with other runtime environments thanks to the broad availability of connectors. 

  • Versatility: there is a wide variety of languages allowing us to design all sorts of applications, from web and mobile to the administration of operating systems or databases. 


Differences between scripting and other programming languages

Scripting languages feature major differences compared to other languages, in particular high-level compiled languages, given that these need to be packaged before being executed. As such, if there are any errors, they will be unable to run. Meanwhile, interpreted languages can be executed even with errors, since each line is interpreted one by one, in real time. 

Similarly, scripting languages tend to have freer and more flexible syntax, while with compiled ones, everything is much stricter, including memory management and variable declaration. Execution of the program is also more restrictive in compiled languages, while interpreted languages can be run on different systems. 

Top 10 scripting languages

Over the years, scripting languages have gained more traction thanks to the many advantages they offer. Among all of the languages available, there are several that have become standard in software development, in large part thanks to the excellent performance they offer, their wide community and their being constantly updated.

Bearing all this in mind, the top scripting languages are: 

  1. JavaScript: the most widely used scripting language for software development in web environments. Running on the user's device via a browser, it adds dynamism and interactivity to website components.

  2. Python: although released back in 1991, it is only in recent years that this has become one of the most popular scripting languages. This is thanks to its ability to deal with large volumes of data, facilitating the simple design of Big Data applications and artificial intelligence

  3. PHP: another of the most widely used languages in web development, it offers great versatility and a broad library of functions. Moreover, it can be easily integrated into other languages, such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript. It also offers various options when it comes to connecting to databases. 

  4. Ruby: invented in 1990 by Japanese computer scientist Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto, Ruby is a very simple and elegant object-oriented scripting language. It's normally used in a wide range of applications, including mobile apps and task automation. 

  5. Perl: used in particular for applications that require heavy manipulation and word processing, since it also has an excellent ability for regular expression, analysing data and working with user interfaces. 

  6. Bash: this is the language used to interact with the Linux command console, through which any detail of said operating system can be controlled. Likewise, it can also be used to create scripts and automate or program tasks. 

  7. R: this scripting language is extremely popular in the scientific field, as it offers extensive maths-oriented functionalities. That makes it perfect for working with statistics, analytics and data visualisation.

  8. VBA or Visual Basic Applications: an interpreted language developed by Microsoft. Integrating into well-known applications such as Excel and Word, it allows users to easily create their own scripts, as well as automate tasks in Windows. 

  9. PowerShell: is another scripting language designed by Microsoft that is intended to interact with the Windows command line, although it is also available for other platforms. It was designed for task automation and managing operating system settings.

  10. Groovy: a flexible language for the Java virtual machine. Groovy is extremely versatile, and can be used both as an interpreted and compiled language. It is object-oriented and works especially well with Java applications.

Scripting languages are increasingly found in all fields, and while sometimes they may seem invisible, the reality is that their importance is only growing. The digital transformation underway in all sectors, together with the prominence of data, means that greater numbers of professionals need to have IT skills and in particular, knowledge of programming languages. 

Adapting to the times as well as to technological progress is the key to remaining up to date in the labour market, where the demand for multidisciplinary staff profiles is only set to continue growing in the future, meaning that reactivating or acquiring new knowledge in this sector will be essential to improve employability. 

Well aware of this need and with the aim of promoting employability in this professional field, Banco Santander is backing three key concepts: lifelong learning, reskilling and upskilling. To this end, it has developed Santander Open Academy, a unique and pioneering global programme.

Do you want to develop professional skills that will help you access better job opportunities? Discover Santander Open Academy, the training space you need to keep growing.

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