The computer understands the instructions in a different language than we do. That’s why we have computer language that allows us to communicate with devices. Broadly speaking, computer languages are divided into three types: machine language, assembly language, and high-level language. In machine language, the instructions are given in the binary form, i.e., in digits 0 and 1. It is undoubtedly easy for the central processing unit (CPU) to understand the command, but unfortunately, complex for us. This is when the assembly language was developed, which comes with its set of advantages and disadvantages.
Instead of numbers, assembly language uses words. Moreover, the operations are performed quickly. In contrast, high-level language is programmer-friendly, so we can understand it easily. However, not everything is rosy—there are negative aspects of assembly languages as well. In this analysis, we cover both sides in detail.
What is Assembly Language?
The assembly language, as described by Wikipedia, is a computer programming language dedicated to a processor’s architecture and instructions. It is a low-level language that corresponds between the instructions given and the coding of the machine. Commonly known as ASM, it operates on a 1:1 ratio, meaning only a single statement per instruction, however, it does support other constants, comments, directives, memory locations, and registries.
Assembly language is first believed to have been used in Kathleen and Andrew Donald Booth’s Coding for ARC, in which it was used to give executable instructions to a machine. To expand on the topic, first, we have to understand that any computer has a microprocessor responsible for its arithmetical, logical, and other control operations.
Thus, there are several types of microprocessors used in different types of computers. Each group of microprocessors has its own unique set of instructions. These instructions are what we call machine language instructions. A processor is only capable of understanding and executing machine language instructions, which are basically strings of 0s and 1s, incomprehensible to a human. That is where assembly language comes in.
Having said that, in recent times, it has become somewhat obscure, as not many developers tend to master or even learn its basics. Here is a video that talks about why it is still important to learn assembly language.
Types of Assembly Language
Technically, assembly language can be categorized into four distinct types, which are:
- RISC (Reduced Instruction-Set Computer)
- Uses constant guidance sets and is easier to kill.
- Excels at making executable activities quick.
- Has storage load or directions for the storage register.
- Examples are MIPS, HP-PA, and PowerPC.
- DSP (Digital Signal Processor)
- Utilizes computerized gestures
- Sporadic design that spares force
- Has considerable guidance-level abilities
- Examples are Analog, Motorola 56000, and TI 320
- CISC (Complex Instruction-Set Computer)
- Created by composing low-level constructs
- Utilizes the x86 architecture and engineering
- Frequently, specific directions can have numerous impacts
- Examples are Intel x86, 68000, and PDP-11I
- VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word)
- Requires separate guidance levels
- Handles parallelism
- Can use a larger number of semiconductors
- Examples are Itanium and the TI 320C600
Assembly Language VS High-Level Language
|Feature||Assembly Language||High-Level Language|
|Definition||It is a low-level machine-dependent language used to create a set of instructions with alphanumeric codes.||A language that is not dependent on the computer’s architecture, is user-friendly, and uses variables and functions|
|Restriction||It is restricted to a particular processor.||It can run on a group of processors.|
|Execution||Program is executed much faster.||It takes time to execute a program.|
|Application||It is used to write hardware programs.||It is used to write software applications.|
|Comprehension||Less comprehensive, as it uses mnemonics and low-level operations.||Much more human-friendly as it applies syntax and other natural language elements.|
|Development||Takes time, as it requires manual management for registries and memory allocation.||Faster as it focuses on high-level logic.|
|Popularity||Less popular because it is used mostly in specialized fields.||Very popular due to its ease of use and user-friendliness.|
|Conversion||Relies on an assembler to convert assembly language into machine language.||It requires a compiler to first convert the high-level language into assembly language and then to machine level.|
|Performance||Better than High Level||Typically, worse than Assembly Language|
|Debugging||Very hard to understand||Much easier|
|Example||MIPS, x86, ARM, Z80||C, C++, JAVA, Python|
Advantages of assembly language
Assembly language was developed in the 1940s and quickly became the most widely used programming language. The assembly code includes mnemonics and operands, but since the machine can only understand binary code, we use an assembler. It translates the assembly language into the language understood by the machine. This improves the overall performance significantly. The following are other advantages of assembly language:
1. Simple execution
The execution of the program is simple using assembly language. It makes the code human-readable and at the same time almost corresponds to the machine code. It uses the assembler that scans the assembly program and maps its instructions to the equivalent machine code, generating the instructions for the machine. You can even run complex jobs simply. The number of operations in this language is small, making it a transparent language. The other benefit is that it makes debugging easier. This ultimately reduces the operational cost.
2. Runs faster
If you want to optimize the speed and get great performance, assembly language can be your go-to. The programmers write codes in assembly language that are smaller yet still readable. Thus, written programs run quicker and take less time to execute. The other reason for quick execution is the optimal use of resources. It utilizes only those resources that are required for the execution of the specific job. Compare this to its counterpart, high-level languages, where more resources are used, affecting execution speed.
3. Better control on hardware
Programmers use assembly language to control precisely what the computer does. This programming language allows you to manipulate the hardware directly, hence giving you better control. You get the perk of directly accessing the hardware as the CPU understands this language. With this, it can be said assembly language is hardware-oriented.
4. Memory efficient
When you write code in assembly language, the commands are understood directly by the processor of the system. This allows the program to take less memory space. Also, most instructions in assembly language deal with registers, which are used to store the data. These registers allow you to retrieve data easily, which makes assembly language memory efficient.
5. Used in critical jobs
Some jobs are critical and hence require high processing speed. The assembly language ensures that codes remain smaller and faster to fulfill the needs of such situations. Additionally, this computer language allows the programmers to select the best-suited instructions for each situation.
Disadvantages of assembly language
You might be wondering, “If assembly language has this many benefits, why isn’t it used widely?” The reason lies in the alternatives such as high-level languages that are comparatively easy to use. With that in mind, it’s time to present the downsides of assembly language.
We know high-level languages are programmer-friendly so writing a simple code such as “Hello World!” is straightforward. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for assembly language. In this case, codes are divided into four segments: data, code, stack, and the extra segment. Programmers cannot simply write the codes without understanding the hardware they are working with. They should know the internal structure of the microprocessors to begin with.
As mentioned earlier, assembly language gives more control over the hardware. However, this also means programmers need to write precise code to achieve the desired result. This is to say, they need to define the complete program including specifying the memory locations. Therefore, unless you are ready to take that extra step involved in the process, assembly language is not for you. In short, the complexity of this programming language may leave you baffled.
2. Difficult syntax
In the programming world, syntax represents the rules based on which the language is structured. The easier the syntax, the easier it is to write code. Unfortunately, the syntax of the assembly language is complex, which makes the language difficult to learn. Also, the statements in assembly language include four fields: label, operation, operand, and comment. With that in mind, code can get lengthy even for small operations. Furthermore, running long programs in assembly language results in difficulties while executing and sometimes gives negative results.
After discussing complexity and difficult syntax, negative traits such as tedious and labor-intensive come as no surprise. Alongside a lot of time, you need to invest a lot of effort. You need to be meticulous about writing code in the assembly language. That’s because the CPU makes the hardware do the job you want based on the instructions you provide. Also, not every hardware is compatible with high-level languages. In such cases, you have no other option but to invest your time and learn the assembly language.
4. Lack of portability
The major drawback of assembly language is its lack of portability. As mentioned above, we use an assembler to compile the code. Each assembler has its assembly language. Consequently, programmers must design assembly language for specific computer architecture. Hence, this type of computer programming language is not portable. Since the assembly language is not movable, you will have to rewrite the code if you want to run it on other machines. Even worse, you may have to write it from scratch.