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What Is a Free-Form Language?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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A free-form language is a computer language in which coding can be positioned on any line and still be valid. This means that a code can start on one line, end several lines down and still be a valid command. Positioning sometimes is somewhat important with grouped elements, because the programming needs to be within the group, but it still can be positioned on any line. There are a few programming languages that use free-form language elements, but they are not fully free-form. The advantage to this type of programming is that programmers have a much easier time typing in code without having to worry about line breaks, and both security and troubleshooting usually are better.

In some programming languages, positioning is very important. For example, if half a command is on one line and the other half is on another line, then the command will not initiate, because it is invalid. With a free-form language, there can be an infinite number of line breaks, and the command still will be valid. At the same time, while positioning is not important, syntax is, so some commands have to come after others to work as intended.

Depending on the free-form language itself, many programming languages have grouped elements in which the beginning and end of the group is surrounded by parentheses or similar characters. Positioning usually is slightly more important in a grouped atmosphere, because the commands have to be within the group to be valid. At the same time, as long as they are in the group, it does not matter if all the commands are on a single line or if they have multiple line breaks.

Most programming languages are either free-form or not, but there are a few exceptions in which a programming language may combine both. In this instance, it is like a free-form language in that some elements, such as tables or certain groups, may be free-form, but the other elements must be properly positioned. These languages normally only have a few free-form elements.

The advantages of a free-form language may not seem that big, because this just enables the programmer to place the coding on any line and have it work, but there are some big advantages. For one, the programmer does not have to spend time checking for proper positioning, so troubleshooting incorrect code normally is easier. If the programmer wants to increase safety, then he can place all the code on one long horizontal line. This is difficult to read, making it harder for people to steal.

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Discussion Comments
By anon359566 — On Dec 18, 2013

Putting your code on one line would only make it "difficult to steal" for someone looking over your shoulder, and equally difficult for you to understand yourself as you wrote it.

Someone who stole your code would simply run a search and replace on whatever character is used to separate statements.

A better use of free-form code is to add line breaks and indentation in a way that makes the code easy for you to read and grasp.

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