Is Lisp a scripting language?

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Scripts or scripting languages are command series that can be executed without the need for compilation. So a scripting language is an interpreted programming language – it’s translated into machine code when the running code is opposed to beforehand. If you want short scripts instead of a complete program, scripting languages are the best option.

All scripting languages are programming languages; however, not all programming languages can be classed as scripting languages. All scripting languages utilize an interpreter, which translates commands directly at the source code. This is different from other programming languages that may require compiling using a program, the compiler, which translates the commands into machine code before its execution. Commonly known scripting languages are JavaScript, Python, PHP, Perl, and Ruby.
A scripting language is a unique language and gives instructions to other software like a server web browser or a standalone application. Due to their importance, many coding languages are scripting languages. Creating scripts is much faster and more straightforward – that’s why they are widely used in web development. Nevertheless, they are also popular in developing operating systems, office apps, statistical software analysis, game engines, etc.

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So, is Lisp a scripting language?
Lisp can be compiled or interpreted – and both processes can run at the same time. Lisp compilation, however, would be over a virtual machine such as Java. Otherwise, Lisp is a general-purpose, high-level programming language.

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Lisp is an acceptable scripting language, which you can put to various uses –  such as static site generators, game engines, dynamic web applications, package managers, etc. But the catch is; you can develop scripts too. With Lisp, you can perform type development via live coding – a unique feature to LISP only.
There are different LISP dialects, and Emacs Lisp is an example. This domain-specific scripting language is specific for GNU Emacs text editor, and it uses the LISt Processor.

Is CSS part of HTML?
Is CSS part of HTML?

What kind of language is Lisp?

Lisp is a general-purpose, high-level language developed by John McCarthy in 1958, making it the second oldest programming language after FORTRAN. Lisp boasts a massive language standard including multiple inbuilt macros, functions, data types, and other language elements, plus an object system, i.e., Common Lisp Object System. 

Lisp represents a family of programming languages with a distinctive, fully parenthesized prefix notation. Since its early days, Lisp has changed tremendously but retaining most of its dialects. Today, the most used dialects are Racket, Scheme, Common Lisp, and Clojure.

The original intention for creating Lisp was to be a practical mathematical notation for computer programs. Lisp pioneered many ideas in computer science, and scientists in the field of artificial intelligence favored Lisp. Its pioneer ideas included tree data structure, dynamic typing, automatic storage management, high order functions, conditionals, self-hosting compiler, recursion, and the read–eval–print loop.

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Lisp is mighty for artificial intelligence programs because it can process symbolic information efficiently. Note that programs created in common Lisp lack dependence for machine-specific characteristics like length.  

Lisp is a functional language but has features of an imperative language. Lisp’s overall language style is organized around functions and expressions instead of subroutines and statements – every expression in Lisp returns a value.  

Common Lisp has reader functionality that converts all symbol characters (unescaped) to upper case – this operation is the default. That makes typical Lips a case-sensitive programming language and is defined in a Common Lisp standard. Also, predefined common Lisp symbols are internally all uppercase. 

Other Liisp features are:

  • Easy extensibility and it uses iterative design methodology 
  • Offers advanced object-oriented programming and condition system 
  • Allows dynamic program updates 
  • Offers high level debugging 
  • It has a powerful and convenient macro system 

Lisp features a wide range of data types such as objects, structures, vectors, and:

  • lists, hash-tables, adjustable arrays, and symbols
  • Has a complete I/O library,
  • It is expression-based.

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Is Common Lisp a scripting language?

Lisp hasn’t been the same language since the 1970s. What remains common is its fully parenthesized Polish prefix notation similar to Pascal, Python, Ruby, and Perl, which are just variations of ALGOL. Common LISP is a standard – though a general-purpose scripting language; Common LISP has batteries included. This is different from Scheme, which is a minimalistic language. 

Lisp has specialized dialects used as embedded languages – for instance, Emacs, mainly used as an editor in Unix. And because of this, its Lisp elisp is the most used lisp language. In common Lisp implementation, to make scripts using the standard #!-notation as an executable and run it as an application. Common Lisp lets you dump images – this will be a Common Lisp binary, and the code will already be compiled. 

Common Lisp is versatile and allows the development of scripts. Ideally, it has a default installation – SBCL, which is available for CGI scripting right away. Remember that SBCL has its processing command-line argument (CLA), access pipes, and processes. However, this comes with a shortcoming of low portability between the various Lisp dialects. Else, you are good to go. 

Scripting languages are unique; though they are termed high-level languages, they are typically written in low-level programming languages. Here is the thing; a scripting language is created in a low-level programming language, but it exposes its API at a high level to the programmer – this works both ways (beneficial and disadvantageous).

Common Lisp implements everything in LISP, just like C++ and Java. This is different from languages like Python, JavaScript, or Ruby, with highly optimized libraries that deal with common tasks. Thus, common Lisp has a lot less complicated strings than JavaScript. Besides, they are just simple character arrays in Common Lisp, but they are special trees called ropes in JavaScript. 

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Is Lisp a procedural language?

A procedural programming language specifies a series of structured steps within its programming context to create a program. These computer programming languages have systematic statement orders, commands, and functions to complete a program or computational tasks. These languages are also called imperative programming languages.

As the name implies, a procedural language relies on predefined and well-organized functions, procedures, or subroutines within the architecture of a program by specifying all the necessary steps that must be taken to reach the desired output. 

Therefore, a procedural language segregates a program within functions, variables, conditional operators, and statements. Functions/procedures implementation is in the variable and data to perform tasks. All the procedures can be called anywhere between the program hierarchy as well as other procedures. So, a program created in a procedural programming language has one or more procedures. Common examples are C/C++, ColdFusion, Java, and PASCAL.

LISP is a representation of the functional programming language paradigm. It differs from procedural languages and objected-oriented (OOP) languages in terms of the functioning of the theoretical model. Ideally, Lisp’s theoretical, computational model is based on the Lambda calculus created by Alonzo Church, while procedural and OOP languages are based on the Turing machine.

So, Lisp is not a procedural language. In OOP languages, objects enclose data and code and interact with one another; in procedural languages, the codes act on the data, while in functional programming languages, data flows through various functions but lacks its own separate existence, i.e., it’s tied. That implies that data is passive in procedural languages, active in an object-oriented language, and ephemeral in pure functional languages. 

However, most functional languages, including Lisp, lend a mechanism for keeping specific data in existence even when the data isn’t flowing via functions. This makes for special variables in Common Lisp or global variables in other programming languages. Keep in mind that Lisp is not a pure functional language. 

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What is Lisp used for?

The primary intent of Lisp was to allow easy manipulation of data strings. Lisp represented list processing and was designed for artificial intelligence (AI) programming. By now, you know that all computations in Lisp are in the form of functions of at least one object, and objects can be data items, other functions, or data structures. What makes Lisp convenient for artificial intelligence is the ability of Lisp to compute with symbolic expressions as opposed to numbers. 

You can use common Lisp to meet the below goals:

  • Portability: Common Lisp doesn’t have features that can prove challenging to implement on a broad machine class. Instead, features that are difficult to express on hardware are provided in the abstract and implementable form. 
  • Consistency: the majority of Lisp implementations are inconsistent internally; by default, the compiler and interpreter assign different semantics to correct programs. The difference in the semantics stem is because the interpreter may assume that all variables are dynamically scoped. On the other hand, the compiler may assume that all variables are local unless explicitly directed. 
  • Efficiency: Lisp has features to promote high quality compiled code in implementations 
  • Expressiveness: Common Lisp has the most understandable and useful constructs from MacLisp, Interlisp, and other Lisp dialects.

With these features, you can use Lisp for various functions. The common applications include animation and graphics, artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, E-Commerce, B2B, and data mining. Besides, there is extensive use of Lisp in web authoring, electronic design automation (EDA) and semiconductor applications, intelligent agents, expert systems, finance, and knowledge management.

Scientists can use LISP to customize mechanical computer-aided design (CAD), risk analysis, research, modelling and simulation, and natural language.

Different dialects of Lisp can be put to various uses – that is why Lisp has many applications. For instance, AutoLISP makes it easy to write macros and also automates multiple steps. 

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What is a scripting language?

Scripting languages are used to create scripts. Typically, these languages have an interpreted series of commands – the interpretation is usually stepwise and at runtime, contrary to programming languages. 

As earlier indicated, all scripting languages are programming languages, only that they do not require a compilation step, making them interpreted. These languages inject new functions into applications as well as glue complex systems together. Their design allows integration and communication with a host of other programming languages.

Interpreted vs. compiled languages 

Interpreted languages execute source codes directly without needing to compile them into machine instructions. An interpreter, therefore, executes programs by translating statements into a series of sub-routines and then into another language like machine code. 

On the other hand, a compiled language uses a compiler to translate source high-level programming codes into low-level language codes so that a program can understand and execute them. So, these languages are compiled first before being run. 

Where can we use scripting languages?

There are various areas where developers and programmers can use scripting languages – on and off the web. Beyond the client-side and server-side, developers have other wide-ranging applications thanks to the massive number of scripting languages. 

Common applications include: 

Scripting languages and web applications: scripting languages are essential on both the client and server sides. On the server-side, crucial scripting languages you can use include JavaScript, Perl, PHP, etc. Conversely, on the client-side, common scripting languages include JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, etc.

Scripting languages and system administration: system administrators can use scripting languages such as Shell, Python, Perl scripts, etc., to create stellar systems. 

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Games application and multimedia and scripting languages: scripting languages are versatile and allow developers to curate their game applications or multimedia projects. For instance, Minecraft mods utilize Java to allow the creation of a wide range of items and worlds. 

Plugins and extensions creations: scripting languages can be used to create extensions and plugins for existing apps. 

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Types of scripting language

Two types of scripting languages exist – server-side scripting languages and client-side scripting languages. The significant difference between these languages is that server script scripting languages run on the server for processing. 

So, server-side scripting languages create scripts, which run on the server – this minimizes the browser’s workload. Website functionalities are written in languages that use a scripting paradigm. 

The server usually responds by sending content through HTTP when clients send a request. 

By contrast, client-side scripting languages create scripts that run on the client’s side, i.e., your browser. Client-side scripts are beneficial in that they can tremendously reduce the demand on the server, allowing the web pages to load much faster. Essentially, client-side scripting has a focus on functionality and user interface. In contrast, server-side scripts aren’t viewable by the public and focus on access to data, resolving errors, and faster processing.

Examples of client-side scripting languages you may use are: 

  • HTML – this is a solid foundation for web development. Websites rely on HTML. 
  • CSS – this scripting language is essential in improving the appearance and graphics on web browser pages
  • JavaScript – it can be used for both client-side and server-side

Examples of server-side scripting languages you may use are:

  • PHP – a popular option for web developers –powers many websites.
  • ASP.NET – developed by Microsoft 

Advantages and disadvantages of scripting languages

Scripting languages have many benefits over programming languages in the following senses:

  • They are open-source; so, many people can access them worldwide
  • Portable – developers can quickly transfer between operating systems
  • Easy to learn – doesn’t require much web technology 
  • Allows faster editing

Shortcomings of these languages include:

  • Server-side scripts are not available to everyone – so some companies use them when they don’t want people to read their scripts. 
  • It’s a hassle to install an interpreter program 
  • Scripts are slower than programs 

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Examples of scripting languages

By now, you know a lot about scripting languages. Typically, these languages may occur in two ways:

Introduction of a scripting language by the runtime environment – for instance, Bash for GNU OS or VBA for MS Office apps.

A runtime environment adopting an existing scripting language, e.g., MongoDB’s mongo shell, is developed around JavaScript.

Sometimes, the scripting languages exist first; thus, giving birth to a parent platform as in the case of Node.js, a backend runtime environment created for web developers to use JavaScript for both frontend and backend.

There are many examples of scripting languages:

Bash: this scripting language works in the Linux interface. It’s easier to use when you need scripts as it outlines tools to use and codes. Besides, it creates reusable scripts and conserves documentation.

Node js: This is a framework used to write network applications using JavaScript. Users are IBM, LinkedIn, PayPal, Microsoft, Netflix and Yahoo for real-time web applications.

Ruby: It offers much flexibility to allow developers to create innovative software – it’s excellent for web development. 

Python: an open-source, free scripting language that supports procedure-oriented and object-oriented programming. It has dynamic semantics and vast lines of code.

Perl: This scripting language packs innovative features making it different and popular – you’ll get it on all Windows and Linux servers. It aids in text manipulation tasks.

JavaScript: This is an ECMA-262 standard implementation that defines ECMAScript (ES) general-purpose scripting language. JavaScript has first-class functions (variables) and supports prototype-based object-oriented programming.

PHP: this is an open-source general-purpose scripting language popular for backend web development. It was first developed to add dynamic functionalities to static HTML pages.

Ruby: this open-source, general-purpose language has a compact and easy-to-read syntax and follows object-oriented programming principles. It’s easy to develop logical and clean codes as everything is an object. 

Groovy: This is a flexible scripting language created for Java Virtual Machine (JVM) for both programming and scripting. 


Characteristics of scripting languages

Scripting languages deal with giving scripts to perform specific types. That makes them a sub-category of programming languages to offer guidance to other programming languages/control other programs. A scripting language can connect languages; thus, it doesn’t work as a standalone. 

The main characteristics of scripting languages include:

Both batch and interactive use: some languages execute a line as soon as it’s read while some, e.g., Python, and Ruby accept commands from the key. Conversely, Perl uses the JIT compiler to read the whole program before it executes it. 

Economy of expression: scripting languages require minimal boilerplate code to support interactive use and rapid development. Besides, they read the file word by word. 

Integrated compile and run: scripting languages are termed as interpreted languages – oversimplification. Ideally, they operate on an immediate execution without issuing separate commands to compile the program. 

Enhanced functionality: scripting languages feature enhanced functionalities in particular areas – for instance, string manipulation based on regular expression usage. However, other languages offer easy access to low-level operating system facilities. 

Efficiency is not an issue: usually, easy use in a programming language comes at the expense of efficiency. 

But efficiency isn’t a big deal in the applications in which scripting languages are created. 

A scripting language is interpreted from source code/bytecode, but their writing environment is a compiled language environment and thus distributed in machine code. 

Scripting languages use abstraction: abstractions are a form of information hiding that spares the users details of an internal variable type, memory management, and data storage. 

Scripts are modifiable: apart from creating the scripts, a coder can modify them before executing them. Still, the scripts can be distributed – for instance, in circumstances when writing a considerable portion of games in a scripting language. 

Ease of use: a scripting language lacks an explicit compile-link-load sequence, making it extremely easy to use.

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Scripting language vs. programming language

Scripting and programming languages don’t mean the same thing. Sadly, people use these terms interchangeably. While all scripting languages are classed as programming languages, scripting languages take only a programming language section. 

Programming languages came before scripting languages and developed applications like Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, MS word, etc. However, these created proved limited due to arising needs. There was a need to add functionalities as well as offer an enhanced user interface, giving rise to scripting languages. 

The significant difference between programming languages and scripting languages is the mode of execution. While programming languages use a compiler to convert the high-level languages into machine-readable instructions, scripting languages use an interpreter. Remember, a compiler will compile a code in a complete chunk; however, an interpreter compiles source code line by line. 

Here are the details:

Interpretation: programming languages are more compact. Their compilation doesn’t require performance by another application or language. On the other hand, scripting languages are written in one language, and interpretation is made in a different language. For instance, JavaScript is incorporated into HTML, and then the Internet server interprets it.

Design: the design of a programming language is to facilitate software development and full-fledged code. Conversely, scripting languages are designed to simplify the coding process and make it much faster.

Development: to write codes in a programming language entails many lines of code for one function, making it somewhat tricky. Developing a code function requires a few short but specific lines in scripting languages. Developing a fully-fledged program in a programming language is demanding and takes longer than a scripting language.

Speed: compiled programs are much faster than interpreted programs because compilers read and assess the code once and report errors. Conversely, an interpreter reads and assesses codes line-wise. If it detects a mistake, it stops addressing the errors one by one. 

Luis Gillman
Luis Gillman

Hi, I Am Luis Gillman CA (SA), ACMA
I am a Chartered Accountant (SA) and CIMA (SA) and author of Due Diligence: A strategic and Financial Approach.

The book was published by Lexis Nexis on 2001. In 2010, I wrote the second edition. Much of this website is derived from these two books.

In addition I have published an article entitled the Link Between Due Diligence and Valautions.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information published on this website is accurate, the author and owners of this website take no responsibility  for any loss or damage suffered as a result of relience upon the information contained therein.  Furthermore the bulk of the information is derived from information in 2018 and use therefore is at your on risk. In addition you should consult professional advice if required.