The Most Valuable Programming Languages to Learn for IoT

The Most Valuable Programming Languages to Learn for IoT

By Abhishek Rungta December 26, 2016 - 4,969 views

With more objects becoming ‘smart’ and with more products being able to communicate with users with the help of Internet, it is becoming increasingly clear that programming for things is a new reality. Internet of Things, or IoT as it is popularly known, is spurring a new set of demands and targets for programmers. Developers are often left mystified about the nature of programming that is required for IoT and also the languages that are specifically required to program IoT applications. In the coming future, more objects and products will be connected to the internet to make interaction with users and data seamless and easy.

With this in mind, it makes sense to look at some of the most important and useful programming languages that may help developers to develop applications and software for smart objects. What we need to remember is that while Internet of Things is a reality, it is still in a nascent stage. Most objects do not have the processing capacity that regular computers do. The computers or chips that are installed in these objects are quite basic, and they need very basic programming skills.

What is C?

C is a structured and procedural programming language widely used by programmers. C was originally developed by Dennis Ritchie between 1969 and 1973 at Bell Labs. It was first used to develop UNIX operating system. Today, it is used for developing operating system, compiler, network devices, assemblers, application software like database/ spreadsheets; computer and mobile games etc.

Why C for IoT?

Many IoT devices are embedded and have limitations like low computing power, low RAM and storage. Most embedded operating systems like Contiki, mbed, TinyOS etc support C.  C is highly efficient and you can tweak every part of the code to get the best performance out from an underpowered device. Therefore, it remains the first choice for constrained IoT devices and can be used to write the lowest layer of software, the layer closest to the hardware.

It is simpler to complete complex tasks in C.  Moreover, many popular programming languages use C syntax. Finding developers with extensive experience in C is easy. The only limitation of C is its inadequate support to Graphical User Interface.  Nonetheless, its proximity to machine language makes it impressively fast.


Difficulty level

C is a basic programming language and has been a reference point for many other languages. It is easy to learn, can create efficient programs, handle low-level activities and can be compiled on a variety of computer platforms.



What is C++?

C++ is an enhanced version of C language typically used for object-oriented programming.  It was designed to run large-scale applications, a limitation in C. C++ is widely used in embedded systems, GUI based applications, web browsers, operating systems with application across industries like healthcare, finance, defense etc.

Why C++ for IoT?

If IoT devices are expected to do complex tasks, C++ is chosen over C.  C++ comes with added abilities like data abstraction, classes and objects. C++ creates compact and faster runtime code. Line of code can be compiled into a couple of instructions leading to high runtime speeds and low energy consumption and is therefore suitable for writing IoT and embedded system code.

According to C++ developer, Bjarne Stroustrup, there is still no other language that makes it better than C++ when it comes to specialized hardware to be used for Internet of Things. C++ is designed to handle both hardware and complexity simultaneously. It has apparent advantage of running seamlessly with systems with a few hundred kilobytes of memory. And there are not many languages that can work within such a framework.

Difficulty level

C++ is a relatively complex language to learn because it is designed to accomplish big and complex tasks. It may take years to master it. If you transition from learning C to C++, adaptability is faster.



What is Java?

Java is a powerful programming language that enforces object-oriented programming model. It was developed by Sun Microsystems on the same lines as C/ C++, however it is simpler to run than C++. It can used to create applications run on single computer or distributed among servers. Java has wide-ranging applications including development of Android apps, server-side apps, Java web applications, software tools, trading applications, J2ME apps, big data technologies etc.

Why Java for IoT?

Java codes are portable and it is easy to move them to the smallest devices with the help of Java Virtual Machine. There is a lot of focus on Java SE Embedded today where classes can be eliminated leading to computing resource savings. Consequently, all communication goes through the network.

Apart from that, Java has in-built capabilities like hardware support libraries thereby requiring bare minimum hardware dependency. Therefore, it is easy to control a device with a Java-written code. Java has huge potential for consumer IoT as well as industrial IoT.  It is not surprising that many experts consider Java to be the best language for IoT devices.


Difficulty level

Java is one of the easiest languages to learn and is good for beginners. Once you understand its syntax, packages and frameworks, it is swift to learn.



What is Python?

Python is a high level, object-oriented programming language. A general purpose language, Python works perfectly for backend web development, data analysis, artificial intelligence and scientific computing.  Developers also use it to build productivity tools, games and desktop apps. It is one of the fastest growing languages for embedded computing.


Why Python for IoT?

Python is well-known for its writability, error reduction and readability. It is easily decipherable and its design is in line with today’s agile environment. With embedded algorithms becoming complex with the use of neural network and other heavily-involved processes, Python is just the right language for IoT projects.  

Python can easily aggregate data coming from microcontrollers like Adruino, pass on commands, and display/log results in IoT projects. It is being used to interface with high-performance libraries in a user-friendly manner. And it significantly helps to increase the productivity of programmers. Moreover, Python is gradually finding acceptance for use in small devices with good memory and computing power.


Difficulty level

Python is the most popular introductory level language in undergraduate courses. It has a clean and easy-to-use syntax ideal for beginners.  Apart from being easy to learn and code with, it is supported by a large and helpful community.



What is C#?

C# pronounced as “C Sharp” is a Microsoft programming language designed to compete with Java. C#, a hybrid of C & C++, is an object-oriented language that aims to combine the computing power of C++ with the programming simplicity of Visual Basic.

C# allows developers to build a number of secure and robust applications that run on the .Net Framework. It has widespread applications to create Windows client applications, XML Web services, distributed components, client-server applications, database applications and more.


Why C# for IoT?

C# is a programming language whereas .NET is the framework that the language is built on.  .NET Micro Framework is developed for low memory devices with limited amount of resources. It could be run on devices with 64kb memory ideal for cheap and small devices. Therefore, C# is ideal for embedded IoT devices.

C# can be easily used with popular microcontroller boards like Netdino and Raspberry PI.  Use Visual Studio to create application based on special templates for Netdino boards. Visual Studio supports debugging and deployment of applications to Netdino.

Though Raspberry does not support Visual Studio or any special tools for Windows developers, it is designed for full version of Linux operating system. There are many different Linux editions for Raspberry. Because there is open-source version of .NET Framework called Mono also available, you can use C# and .NET features there too.


Difficulty level

C# is not a very difficult language to grasp provided you are familiar with object oriented style of programming. It has a clean syntax. And if you know C, C++ or Java, it should not be a problem to learn C#.



What is Swift?

Swift is a new programming language, developed by Apple Inc, specifically for programming iOS and OS X systems. It is designed to work with Apple’s Cocoa and Cocoa Touch frameworks and Objective-C code (Swift’s predecessor) written for Apple products. A general-purpose, multi-paradigm and compiled programming language, Swift is built using modern approach to safety, performance, and software design patterns.


Why Swift for IoT?

Swift is an open-source language, a great choice for development of powerful Homekit solutions. Homekit is a framework by Apple Inc for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a user’s home. Swift is going to be available for Cloudkit as well. Cloudkit is a JS that keeps your apps connected and up to date across iOS and macOS.

Swift being a powerful, open-source, platform-compatible development solution capable of running applications both on the device and in the cloud, makes it an evident choice for IoT products.  Apple is even creating libraries and infrastructure as an underlying support for Homekit platform. Thus, Apple is clearly seen giving a strong push to consumer IoT. Apart from that, IBM is already using Swift with its own enterprise and big data projects.


Difficulty level

Swift is an easy language to learn even easier than Objective-C. It has been designed in a way to make it absolutely easy for beginners to learn.  It is an elegant language with clean syntax and is much more readable than many other languages.



What is PHP?

PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is an open-source, interpreted, object-oriented, server side scripting language. It is widely used to develop web applications. PHP script can execute faster than scripts written in other languages. It is cross-platform which means that a PHP app developed in one OS can be easily executed in other OS. Apart from that, PHP code can be easily embedded within HTML tags and script.


Why PHP for IoT?

PHP is an ideal language for developers interested in developing IoT applications because there is there is apt hardware and software support available. Some of the hardware useful in IoT includes Arduino, Onion IoT, electronic components, gas sensors, Intel Developer Zone Hardware. Software like Firmata, MakeyMakey, UnoJoy, Arduino + Serial PHP Communication aid in developing PHP-based IoT apps.

PHP is affordable and flexible.  You can even make a PHP app using an IoT device. PHP and IoT together can bring about a revolutionary change.  Developers have a great chance to develop IoT applications using PHP and make many consumer-based IoT devices. Morever, it is easy to develop PHP apps for IoT with IBM Watson IoT Platform, Bluemix and MQTT.

Difficulty level

PHP is not a hard language to understand. However, it is bit difficult than HTML and CSS. PHP being a logical language with logic-based commands and statements takes time to master. It is recommended to learn PHP after HTML/CSS and JavaScript.


IoT’s vast potential entails knowledge of multiple programming languages

At the same, we cannot stress enough that knowing multiple programming languages is extremely important to develop applications for Internet of Things. We need to remember that IoT may be simple in its technology for the lack of complex processors, yet the nature of the communication and interface is truly complex and heterogeneous, which necessitates developers to use multiple languages. For example, embedded devices are quite different when it comes to development as compared to middleware or API development.

On a similar note, developing for Front End is much more different even in Internet of Things. Keeping all these things in mind is very important. It is not possible for a programmer to be a specialist in all programming languages. A better solution is to be part of a team in which different individual developers are specialists in different multiple language combinations, making polyglot programming possible in a single entity. This is particularly important in Internet of Things, as the kind of devices, interfaces and API development involved are all very heterogeneous and complex.

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