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What Is Syntax in Programming?

Programming language and its syntax

Much like how every human language has its own set of rules for grammar and vocabulary, every programming language has its own set of rules and structure that define how we use the language. That’s what basically a syntax is. And just like proper grammar and vocabulary are necessary for forming effective sentences to communicate with others, proper syntax is essential for writing accurate and executable code to communicate effectively with computers. Thus, knowing the specific syntax of a programming language allows us to use the language appropriately. If you want to gain a thorough understanding of what is syntax in programming, its importance, and its types, keep reading!

What is Syntax?

What Is Syntax in Programming - Java code and its syntax

Syntax is essentially a programming term that defines the rules for the correct usage and arrangement of symbols, expressions, and keywords to create a valid statement in a programming language. In other words, syntax allows us to create a correctly structured program in a computer language. 

Programmers interact with computers using a programming language’s well-constructed syntax, semantics, and grammar. Syntax specifies how to join a language’s variables and characters to form strings. Grammar turns characters into tokens or character strings, whereas semantics adds meaning to the concatenated strings.

If you don’t use the proper syntax of a language, a compiler won’t be able to compile your code. Compilers basically convert your code written in a programming language like C++, Python, or Java into binary code so that a computer can understand it. Likewise, with incorrect syntax, your code won’t execute at the runtime. Thus, every developer or programmer must learn and understand the syntax of the language they are using and fix syntax errors to write high-quality executable code or a program.

What is Syntax in Programming: Deep Dive

To better understand syntax, think of it as a set of keywords and characters with a meaning that a computer can understand and then perform. 

Entering these keywords and symbols into a file correctly and putting it into the browser is referred to as programming or coding.  The browser then evaluates that information, and if it’s in the correct order, it executes the command that it was asked to run. 

Consider syntax as a drive-through window at a burger cafe.  You need to do a few things in a particular order to get the burger you are looking for.  You have to give your order first, drive to the first window, pay, and then drive through to the final window to get your food. 

It has to be done in that order.  This structure also allows you to acquire what you want more quickly with less discussion.

You can pull up and say, “Can you please give me the gourmet burger with fries and a soft drink,” and expect to get precisely what you want. This is because you know how a drive-through operates. The same goes for Syntax, as it brings order to things in a programming language.  Functions with structure perform more smoothly.  That’s one of the advantages of using pre-defined syntax.

What is Syntax in Programming: Examples

As aforementioned, every programming language has its own syntax. However, some languages may have a similar syntax with slight differences. Here, we’ll explain syntax further using different syntax examples for three different programming languages: Python, JavaScript, and Java.

Variable Declaration

What Is Syntax in Programming examples

In Python, we declare variables without explicitly specifying their types and variable assignments are done using the = operator. In JavaScript, we can declare variables using ‘let, const, or var’. Java requires explicit declaration of variable types. For example, we’ve used ‘int’ in the above code to specify that x is an integer.

Conditional Statements

What is syntax and example

Python uses indentation to denote blocks of code, and the if and else keywords are used for conditional branching. JavaScript uses curly braces {} to denote blocks of code, and conditions are enclosed within parentheses (). Java follows a similar syntax to JavaScript for conditional statements, using parentheses for conditions and curly braces for blocks of code.

Similarly, these programming languages have different syntaxes for defining functions and classes, loops, etc.

Why Do We Need Syntax?

Syntax is essential in programming language as it allows us to write executable code or a program that a computer can understand. It defines the rules and conventions for writing code in a programming language. Without proper syntax, computers cannot interpret and execute instructions accurately.

Syntax also helps us write understandable and maintainable code. It improves the readability of code. It enforces the four C’s of coding:

  • Code Integration 
  • Communication 
  • Consistency 
  • Clarity

Moreover, syntax rules help us detect and prevent errors in code. Programming languages have compilers or interpreters that enforce syntax rules. Syntax errors, such as misspelled keywords or incorrect punctuation, are flagged by the compiler or interpreter, enabling programmers to correct them before execution.

A programmer’s syntax is the way they express themselves algorithmically.  The integrity of syntax makes or breaks code.  Syntax can make code straightforward or more complex to read. 

The readability, ease of writing, and skillset of the programmer are all intimately tied to the syntax of a computer language.  Unfortunately, different programming languages have different syntaxes. Because of their complexity and use of diverse symbols in their syntax, some languages are pretty challenging to master.

How to Use Syntax?

Conventions

Conventions help code speak for itself. If code is self-explanatory, programmers can emphasize program design and improvement rather than focusing on understanding it.

When you write code to uniform standards, it is foreseeable and searchable by other programmers.

When code goes against the norms, it becomes disorganized and difficult to read.  As a result, programmers call it “spaghetti code”.

The term has a negative connotation. It implies that the programmer lacked the necessary abilities or experience to produce understandable code.

Statements

Statements are the fundamental building blocks of programming.  For example, a statement can set the variable value, perform a single operation, regulate the execution of other statements, and so on. 

Here’s an example of a statement:

This print command, when run, outputs the text ‘Hello world!’ to the screen, as you might anticipate.

Variables

Strings, numerals, boolean values, collections, arrays, and other data types can be stored in variables.  For example, here’s how you can use a string variable:

Variable names can be anything. However, they can’t begin with a number because the initial portion of the variable would be mistaken with an integer.  Consider the following code:

‘Hello world!’ will be printed as the value of the variable ‘mytext.’

Keywords

Programming languages also use Keywords.  A keyword is a term in a programming language with a specific meaning.  The command ‘print’ in the earlier example, for instance, is a keyword. 

As you might expect, this term prints whatever comes after it to the screen.  Another example of a keyword is ‘import,’ which you can use to import something into the program. Keywords are “reserved,” which means they can’t be used for anything else. You can’t make a variable like ‘import,’ for example, because that would be incredibly confusing.

Conclusion

Syntax in computer programming defines the rules for the correct usage and arrangement of symbols, expressions, and keywords to create a valid statement. We can communicate clearly with a computer because of this order and rigid structure. 

Grammar is to English or any other language what syntax is to code.  However, one significant difference is that computers are quite picky about how humans build grammar or syntax.  To get the computer to execute our instructions, each programming language uses distinct terms in a different arrangement. 

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the most common languages web developers use.  Using correct syntax, you can develop web pages that any browser in the world can view in these languages.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is syntax in programming?

Programming language syntax is a collection of rules that govern what different symbol combinations mean. This instructs a computer how to interpret code.  When we give a computer commands, syntax refers to creating code that deals with a highly specific string of words and their arrangement. 

What is syntax error in programming?

Programming syntax errors occur when the code doesn’t follow the rules or conventions of the programming language’s syntax. These errors prevent the program from being compiled or interpreted correctly. Depending on the programming language, examples of syntax errors include misspelled keywords, missing parentheses or brackets, and missing semicolons.

What is syntax in C program?

The C programming language’s syntax is a set of rules defining the arrangement of symbols, expressions, and keywords for writing code in C.

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