This article is about programming languages in general. For the project type, see Programming Language (Project Type).

A programming language is a set of rules and functions that let us use a computer. Programming languages are designed to make it easy for humans to write complex instructions. They function a lot like human languages: they have explicit grammars and a primitive vocabulary. Scratch is a programming language.

Syntax and grammar

Programming languages are generally either interpreted or compiled, which means they are either executed directly, or translated into another language. For example, C and Java are compiled while Python and JavaScript are interpreted.

Note Note: Java and JavaScript are two completely different programming languages with no relation whatsoever in grammar, semantics, creation, or uses.

Languages usually consist of the following parts:

  • A parser: this converts a string of text into a data structure (Array or Object) that can easily be interpreted.
  • An interpreter or compiler: this "understands" the data structure and interprets it.
  • Primitives: these are built-in functions and values.

Languages usually have various primitive data types which can be expanded with OOP:

  • Numbers, which are parsed as numbers
    • Some languages consider integers, floating-point numbers, and doubles to be different data types.
  • Strings, which are parsed as text
  • Arrays, which are lists of elements
  • Objects, which are dictionaries of key-value pairs.
  • Functions, which are pieces of code which can be executed with Arguments.

In essence, a programming language just provides a framework where a function can be executed with arguments—the rest can be worked around. Usually, the grammar of a language consists of "statements", which are either:

  • Assignments: binding some value to a name (variable)
  • Procedure calls
  • Special forms: certain specialized procedures which cannot be created using the language itself, for example, IF/ELSE.

The syntax of a programming language gives rules about how to do each of the above. For example:

  • Assignments:
    • Squeak: var _ val
    • JavaScript: var = val
    • Scheme: (SET! var val)
  • Procedure calls
    • Squeak: obj proc: arg
    • JavaScript: proc(arg);
    • Scheme: (proc arg)
  • Special forms (if, in this case)
    • Squeak: bool ifTrue: [something] ifFalse: [something].
    • JavaScript: if (bool) {something;} else {something;}
    • Scheme: (if bool something something)

Scratch simplifies programming a lot by hiding all of this in blocks: all blocks are equal, there are no special forms. Of course, in reality, certain blocks are programmed completely differently as special cases. For example, the IF block needs special programming to execute the C block contents, and the WAIT UNTIL block needs special programming to escape the atomic loop. Assignment is just another block.

Programming languages relevant to Scratch


Main article: Squeak

Squeak was used to program the 1.x series of Scratch. It is a simple language designed to be human-readable and concise. See Squeak Tutorial for a simple introduction.


Adobe Flash is a programming suite by Adobe, which was used to create Scratch 2.0. Flash programming is done in ActionScript, a language based on ECMAScript.


Main article: Python

Python is a simple interpreted scripting language that is used in the Scratch 2.0 back-end (server-side code). The forums run on DjangoBB, a Python library. Python is also used in many Scratch add-ons, including Kurt.


PHP is a programming language which was used in the Scratch Website server-side code (ScratchR). It stands for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor.


JavaScript (commonly shortened to JS) is a simple programming language based on ECMAScript for web development. Snap! is written entirely in JavaScript, and the Scratch website uses JavaScript for interactive elements. These include commenting, tagging, and editing Project Notes. In the 2.0 site, it is also used to automatically check for new messages, load What's Happening? and Scratch News, and quote posts in the forums.

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