What Is Computer Programming Anyway?

By: Shamsul

Computer programming in plain language, is giving
instructions to a computer to do something. Technically it
is actually giving instructions to the microprocessor - the
brain of a computer.

If the instructions are only for the microprocessor, why a
computer is so complicated with numerous types of hardware

All the other hardware are to support the function of
feeding the instructions to the microprocessor, and
conveying the result from the microprocessor to its user -
which can be a human or another computer or hardware.

Every time you want a computer to do something you have to
give the instructions. Luckily people are smart enough to
figure out that since we might want the computer to repeat
the same process over and over again, we better store the
instructions into a permanent storage - hard disk, CD, flash
memory etc.

The stored instructions are called COMPUTER PROGRAM or
computer software and the act of arranging the instructions
is called COMPUTER PROGRAMMING and the person that is
responsible to arrange the instructions is called
.....COMPUTER PROGRAMMER ...do you see the pattern here?

On the lowest level, a microprocessor only understands a
limited set of instructions. To a microprocessor the
instruction sets and data are read in “binary" form.

Binary means 2 states – such as in on and off, high and low,
left and right.

To make it easier mathematically, binary
normally is represented by 1 and 0. Electrically, 1
represents high voltage and 0 represents low voltage.

On the hard disk, program instructions look just like a
stream of 1s and 0s. But a microprocessor reads in the
stream one chunk at a time. Among normal chunk sizes are 8,
16, and 32. Chunk size is normally referred to as
instruction size.

One binary data (that can be a 1 or a 0) is called a “bit".
For example a data “1001" is a 4 bit data. Where first bit
is 1, second bit is 0, third bit is another 0 and the fourth
bit is 1.

Bit is the computer terminology for “chunk".

How instructions can be represented by bits?

One bit data can only represent 1 out of 2 possible states –
either 1 or 0. Which in real world can be used to represent
things such as on or off, high or low, black or white – any
2 states condition?

If we increase the instruction size to 2 bits, then we can
represent 4 instructions – 00, or 01, or 10 or 11. If we
increase the size to 3 bits then we can represent 8 possible
instructions – 000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110 and 111

If you notice the trend from the above examples is that
maximum possible number of instructions is the power of 2 of
the bit size. That is 2 bits can represent maximum of 2^2
(which is 4) instructions, and 3 bits can represent maximum
of 2^3 (which is 2x2x2 = 8) instructions.

So 8 bits data can represent maximum of 2^8 (2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2
= 256) instructions (or states) and 32 bits data can
represent 2^32 (4,294,967,296) instructions.

You can actually read a program stream contents using
certain editor – normally called HEX editor. Using these
special text editors you can look at the instructions in
binary, hexadecimal, octal, and decimal format.

I’ll cover the details of what each of the above format
(hex, oct and dec) means in other article.

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