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This article is about programming languages in general. For the type of project that simulates a programming language, see Programming Language (project type).

A programming language is a set of rules and functions that let people use computers, cell phones, tablets, and more devices. Programming languages are designed to make it easy for humans to write complex instructions. They function a lot like human languages: they have explicit grammar and primitive vocabulary. Scratch is a programming language.


A programming language is a language for writing instructions for a machine. A programming language is defined by a grammar.

Many programming paradigms, or ways of programming, exist which focus on different design aspects. Imperative languages focus on commands and how to accomplish tasks, declarative languages dictate the rules and conditions of a task and do not specify the process of completing it, and functional languages emphasize functions which do not change state, and are guaranteed to always produce the same output for a given input.

Languages may be designed to support specific paradigms.[1] Paradigms include:

Languages usually have various primitive data types which can be expanded with object-oriented programming:

  • 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 inputs to special forms are not immediately evaluated.

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. The REPEAT UNTIL special form block repeatedly evaluates its Boolean input, then its block, input, until the former input evaluates to true. This contrasts with custom blocks, whose inputs are evaluated prior to their execution.


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

Note Note: Java and JavaScript are two completely different programming languages with different grammars, semantics, creation, and uses.

The steps of a compiler can be separated into the front end and the back end. The front end translates the source language into an intermediate representation and the back end of a compiler translates the intermediate representation into the target language. This way, different compilers can be created by matching different combinations of front ends and back ends.

Language implementations usually consist of the following parts:

Front end

  • A lexer: This converts the program into tokens.
  • A parser: This analyzes the tokens as per the context-free grammar of the language, then converts them into a parse tree that can easily be interpreted.
  • A semantic analyzer: This walks the parse tree and determines the meanings of the nodes.
  • An intermediate code generator: This translates the parse tree into an intermediate representation.

Back end

  • A code optimizer: This improves the program.
  • An interpreter or compiler: The interpreter runs the program and the compiler generates an executable file.

The lexer accepts the program as an input and tokenizes it, or splits it into substrings with semantic meanings. The tokens may be defined by regular expressions. The lexer's output has two parts: the lexemes, which are the different substrings of the program, and the tokens, which are lexemes' classifications. For example, the JavaScript code var x = 0; could be separated into the following tokens:

Lexeme Token
var var
x identifier
= assignment_operator
0 integer_literal
; semicolon

The parser analyzes the tokens and lexemes produced by the lexer program and creates an abstract syntax tree (AST). The parser utilizes a context-free grammar, the specification of the syntax. In a grammar, symbols called nonterminals are defined by productions, sequences of tokens and nonterminals. Algorithms such as LALR or Earley may be used, and the parser may be table-driven or handwritten.

Parsing algorithms are classified into top-bottom parsing, which starts with the root node and constructs the tree to the leaves, and bottom-up parsing, which start with the tokens and work up to the root node. Bottom-up parsing consists of shifts, where the next token may be pushed onto the parse stack, and reduction, where items on the stack are found to match a production, and replaced with it.[2] Lookahead tokens are used when whether to shift or reduce is undecided.[3]

After the parse tree is created, it may be simplified into an abstract syntax tree (AST). Then, the tree is traversed and its nodes are read. Here, the compiler may check that all the variables are declared and the data types match.

Afterwards, a lower-level intermediate representation of the program is created. GCC uses a language called RTL.[4]

Scratch as a Programming Language

Scratch is a block-based imperative, event-driven, dynamically-typed and interpreted programming language.


Scratch is dynamically-typed, meaning that whether data types agree is checked during program execution.[5] Scratch's primitive data types are numbers, strings and Booleans.

Special Forms

Scratch's special forms are blocks which cannot be replicated using custom blocks. These blocks may reevaluate their inputs. For example, the repeat-until loop reevaluates its Boolean input before each iteration to see if the condition's value has changed.[6]


Scratch is an interpreted programming language. Scratch 3.0 uses a virtual machine, which builds an abstract syntax tree.[7]

Programming languages relevant to Scratch


JavaScript (commonly shortened to JS) is a simple programming language based on ECMAScript for web development. It is used to develop Scratch 3.0 and a large part of the Scratch Website. Snap! is also written almost entirely in JavaScript.


Node.js is an environment for JavaScript which allows JavaScript code to run on the server.

It is used on Scratch in many ways including projects, assets, cloud variables and large parts of the community.[8]

Compiling and running the majority of parts of the Scratch source code available on GitHub requires Node.js 12[9] to be installed.


Main article: Python

Python is a simple interpreted scripting language that is used for a part of the back-end (server-side code) of the Scratch Website. The Django coding platform is used on a nginx server.[10] The forums run on DjangoBB, a Python library. Python is also used in many user-created Scratch tools, including Kurt.


SQL (Structured Query Language) is a database query language. This is used to store backend information on the website, such as users and forum data.


MongoDB is a database system that is used to store cloud variables.

GL Shader Language

GLSL is a programming language used in OpenGL and WebGL to process vertices and fragments. It is being used in the Scratch 3.0 renderer.[11]


PHP is a programming language which was used in the Scratch 1.x website's server-side code (ScratchR) and is still used on the Scratch Wiki. PHP stands for "PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor" (a recursive acronym).


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: Smalltalk

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


Java is an object oriented programming language. Java was used to write the Java Player for Scratch.

Markup Languages


HTML is a web-based markup language. It is used for the layout of the Scratch website and to create the HTML5 Player.

Cascading Style Sheets

Cascading Style Sheets (commonly shortened to CSS) is a method of styling HTML documents. It is used to add color and make websites more visually appealing.

See Also

External links


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