How to Create Your Own Programming Language

Posted on June 22, 2022 | Updated on June 12, 2023

At some point in your career as a developer, you may find the current programming languages simply don’t meet your expectations. The next step might lead to creating your own, but even experienced programmers may feel uncertain about where to start. 

One of the best ways to create your own programming language is to just start. You’ll make mistakes along the way, but you’ll learn from them and perfect the process. The first language you write may take you months or even years. However, the next one or updates will be much faster. 

How Do I Create My Own Programming Language?

How familiar are you with other programming languages? The better you understand the form and function of Python, PHP, C++ and others, the easier it will be to create a unique version to suit your needs.

At a minimum, you should understand the most popular ones. For example, Python is the number one programming language with a rating of 12.20%, but C is within a stone’s throw of stealing the top position. 

Making your own programming language requires some specific steps. 

1. Create a Big Picture

The first phase to coming up with a unique programming language is looking at the big picture. What do you want the new platform to do? What can you learn from current languages to implement within your own? 

For example, Richard Feldman created Roc programming language to be an Elm-like option but to cover things Elm couldn’t do. 

2. Choose One of Two Types

There are essentially two types of programming languages–interpreted and compiled. With compiled, you’ll work with machine code. Commands might be saved and executed in the future. With interpreted, the program goes through the source code one line at a time and completes tasks along the way.

There isn’t a best type, it just depends on what you want the program to do. Interpreted code can be a bit more flexible. However, compiled code can have better performance and an improved user experience (UX). 

It’s vital to decide early in the development process if you want to use interpreted or compiled, as it’s difficult to go back and change. 

3. Choose a Compiler

The compiler you select converts your code into something usable by the computer. Examples of compilers are C++ or Swift. The compiler is what takes your language and turns it into something usable, so the format you choose matters tremendously. 

4. Go Back to Basics

The longer you work as a developer, the more steps you start skipping. You learn the shortcuts that make your work more efficient. However, when you’re writing a brand new programming language, it suddenly becomes vital to not miss any of the basics.

You have to learn to look at code with new eyes. Remember how it was when you first learned C or Java. You might even want to review kids’ courses on coding. Many experts believe the best age to learn coding is five to seven so consider what a newbie would learn.

Once you review the basic steps to coding, you’ll be ready to start without missing the vital building blocks of a new language. 

5. Choose Your Semantics

You have to set a few rules for your new language. Will you allow pointer access? How will your language handle other existing ones and their libraries? How will the two function together? 

Spend a lot of time asking what happens if a user tries this. Figure out how the machine responds based on your programming syntax. 

6. Pay Attention to Lexer and Tokens

For those just getting started in programming, figuring out the definition of terms such as “lexer” and “tokens” may seem overwhelming. However, the process is fairly simple. You have some text, the lexer converts it into tokens–a language the machine understands and acts on. Text equals behavior with the help of tokens.

The professional programming association ACCU defines a lexer as what takes in source code and transforms it. The lexer will spit out tokens as pairs–a type and a value. The type explains the kind of token and the value is the contents and can include a number, variable or string of text. Essentially, the lexer makes your source code more attractive. 

7. Validate the Tree

Once you have the basic language, tokens and everything looks clean and aesthetically pleasing, it’s time to figure out if everything is working as it should. 

You have to make sure there aren’t any errors throwing the whole language off and creating issues. The best way to figure this out is by generating some machine code. Work up something the machine can execute and see if it functions as you want. 

8. Get Beta Testers

Once you feel your language is ready to release into the world, it’s vital to seek out some experienced developers to serve as beta testers. They can try out your code and see what works and what doesn’t.

Ask for their feedback as they’ll likely have ideas on how to refine and improve your new programming language and make it even better than you can alone. 

Just Get Started

If you’re fairly new to software development or coding, all of this might seem a bit overwhelming. Even experienced developers can feel that coming up with something from scratch is more than they’re capable of. 

However, the best way to learn coding and writing a new language is just to jump in and get started. If you get stuck along the way, there are many people who can help you move on to the next phase of your journey. Just get started and before you know it you’ll have written your own programming language and improved your coding confidence. 

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

2 Comments

  1. Rachelle on June 25, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Eleanor,

    Great info, thank you! What about for someone for me, who is a stay-at-home mom that wants to create my own language learning program, but have no experience or education in developing, coding, or programming, etc. What advice could you give me?

    • Eleanor Hecks on July 8, 2022 at 12:02 pm

      Hi Rachelle,

      Thanks for your excellent question. Since programming is a language, you have to first learn the basics just as you would to learn to speak French or German. Start by looking at examples of coding snippets, so you can see how things are put together and just get an overall feel for coding. You should consider some coding for kids to grasp the bare basics before moving into beginner coding courses. We have an excellent article on resources you can tap into called Top Ideas for Teaching Kids to Code.

      It’s best to start with one language and get to know it before adding others. Popular ones include C++ and Python. Fortunately, many coding languages share similarities, so once you learn one, it will become easier to pick up additional ones.

      Learn the fundamentals inside and out. If you jump right to coding and don’t fully understand how different elements work together, you may run into a lot of errors with your code.

      If possible, find a mentor who knows coding and can review your work and offer tips. It is possible to teach yourself to code by reading articles and viewing online videos and courses, but you’ll have to put in a lot of practice. I know you can do it, though! Check back and let us know how it’s going.

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