- "Scripting" redirects here. For other uses, see script.
A scripting language, script language or extension language, is a programming language that controls a software application. "Scripts" are often treated as distinct from "programs", which execute independently from any other application. At the same time they are distinct from the core code of the application, which is usually written in a different language, and by being accessible to the end user they enable the behavior of the application to be adapted to the user's needs. Scripts are often, but not always, interpreted from the source code or "semi-compiled" to bytecode which is interpreted, unlike the applications they are associated with, which are traditionally compiled to native machine code for the system on which they run. Scripting languages are nearly always embedded in the application with which they are associated.
The name "script" is derived from the written script of the performing arts, in which dialogue is set down to be spoken by human actors. Early script languages were often called batch languages or job control languages. Such early scripting languages were created to shorten the traditional edit-compile-link-run process.
The first interactive shells
were developed in the 1960s to enable remote operation of the first time-sharing
systems, and these generated a demand for scripting, to relieve the human operator of the tedium of re-entering sequences of commands at a computer terminal
keyboard, so from there were developed simple macro commands, files containing sequences of commands, which eventually developed into shellscripts
. In a parallel development, the larger and more complex applications developed embedded scripting facilities, at first very rudimentary, to facilitate batch mode
operation where a human operator would not be present to guide the program. Thus part of the program was devoted to interpreting instructions written by the user in a (usually quite specialised) instruction language — a computer program within a computer program.
In traditional environments there was a clear distinction between "real" high speed programs written in languages such as C, and simple, slow interpreted programs written in safer scripting languages such as Bourne Shell or Awk. Writing in C is much more difficult than writing in the scripting languages. However, by the 1980s the Lisp community had built systems that were both easy and safe to use yet could compile code that ran as fast as C programs. Java is a type safe language created by Lisp experts, and by the mid 2000s also had compilers that could produce fast code, which introduced the concept to the mainstream. .Net can now also produce efficient code.
This blurs the distinction between scripting and conventional languages. The core distinction today seems to be that scripting languages do not have statically declared data types, and do not need a visible compilation step. So Java and .Net are not generally considered to be Scripting languages.
Scripting languages are also often small, lightweight and suitable for embedding in C programs. For example, Emacs has most of the editing functionality written in Emacs Lisp (a simplified Lisp), around a core written in C.
Languages such as Tcl and Lua, were specifically designed as general purpose scripting languages that could be embedded in any application or used on their own. Other systems such as Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) provided strong integration with the automation facilities of an underlying system. Embedding of such general purpose scripting languages instead of developing a new language for each application also had obvious benefits, relieving the application developer of the need to code a language translator from scratch and allowing the user to apply skills learned elsewhere.
Early web servers used scripting languages via the Common Gateway Interface, ASP, or PHP. But most larger applications are now written in Java (JSP), PHP or .Net.
Types of scripting languages
Job control languages and shells
A major class of scripting languages has grown out of the automation of job control, which relates to starting and controlling the behavior of system programs. (In this sense, one might think of shells as being descendants of IBM's JCL, or Job Control Language, which was used for exactly this purpose.) Many of these languages' interpreters double as command line interfaces such as the Unix shell or the MS-DOS
COMMAND.COM. Others, such as AppleScript, add scripting capability to computing environments lacking a command-line interface.
With the advent of graphical user interfaces
came a specialized kind of scripting language for controlling a computer. These languages interact with the same graphic windows, menus, buttons, and so on that a system generates. These languages are typically used to automate repetitive actions or configure a standard state. In principle they could be used to control any application running on a GUI-based computer; but, in practice, the support for such languages depend on the application and operating system
. Such languages are also called "macros
" when control is through simulated keypresses or mouse clicks.
Many large application programs include an idiomatic scripting language tailored to the needs of the application user. Likewise, many computer game
systems use a custom scripting language to express the programmed actions of non-player characters
and the game environment. Languages of this sort are designed for a single application; and, while they may superficially resemble a specific general-purpose language (e.g. QuakeC
, modeled after C), they have custom features that distinguish them. Emacs Lisp
, while a fully formed and capable dialect of Lisp
, contains many special features that make it most useful for extending the editing functions of Emacs. An application-specific scripting language can be viewed as a domain-specific programming language
specialized to a single application.
Web browsers are typically used to render HTML
, but in time a host of special-purpose languages has developed to control their operation. These include ECMAScript
, a very versatile procedural scripting language superficially resembling Java
, Cascading style sheets
, which enable style metadata to be abstracted from content, XML
which can be used for content in conjunction with style metadata, as an alternative to HTML
, and XSLT
. The Document Object Model
The Mozilla project has developed its own system for extending the user interface of the browser itself, called XUL.
On the server side of the HTTP link, application servers
and other dynamic content servers such as Web content management systems
provide content through a large variety of techniques and technologies typified by the scripting approach. Particularly prominent in this area are PHP
, and ASP
, but other developments such as Ruby on Rails
have carved out a niche.
Text processing languages
The processing of text-based records is one of the oldest uses of scripting languages. Many, such as Unix
, and grep
were originally designed to aid programmers in automating tasks that involved Unix text-based configuration and log files. Of primary importance here is the regular expression
, a language developed for the formal description of the lexical structure of text, and used by all of these tools.
Perl was originally designed to overcome the limitations of these tools, but has grown to be one of the most widespread general purpose scripting languages.
General-purpose dynamic languages
Some languages, such as Perl, began as scripting languages but were developed into programming languages suitable for broader purposes. Other similar languages – frequently interpreted, memory-managed, or dynamic
– have been described as "scripting languages" for these similarities, even if they are more commonly used for applications programming. They are usually not
called "scripting languages" by their own users.
A number of languages have been designed for the purpose of replacing application-specific scripting languages by being embeddable in application programs. The application programmer (working in C or another systems language) includes "hooks" where the scripting language can control the application. These languages serve the same purpose as application-specific extension languages but with the advantage of allowing some transfer of skills from application to application.
; however, the standardization of the language as ECMAScript
has made it popular as a general purpose embeddable language. In particular, the Mozilla
is embedded in several environments such as the Yahoo! Widget Engine
. Other applications embedding ECMAScript implementations include the Adobe
products Adobe Flash
) and Adobe Acrobat
(for scripting PDF
Tcl was created as an extension language but has come to be used more frequently as a general purpose language in roles similar to Python, Perl, and Ruby.
. The second most popular is PHP
is the third most popular scripting language, but in North America
it enjoys significantly more popularity.