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What is Procedural Programming?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated May 16, 2024
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Procedural programming is a term used to denote the way in which a computer programmer writes a program. This method of developing software, which also is called an application, revolves around keeping code as concise as possible. It also focuses on a very specific end result to be achieved. Imperative programming is another term used to signify this type of development. When it is mandatory that a program complete certain steps to achieve specific results, the code is said to have been written according to procedural programming.

Software developers who program according to this concept usually write a preliminary plan in plain language prior to actually writing code. Procedural programming often is taught to beginner students of computer science because of the logic behind it. They are encouraged to think in terms of a series of necessary steps that must be taken to accomplish a goal.

For example, the professor might encourage the class to write down a set of required actions to take to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pretending not to know how to make the sandwich, each students attempts to follow, step by step, the instructions. They learn that if anything is left out, they will not end up with the final product that they wanted, so they learn the importance of precise instructions. This realization serves to help the student when he or she begins to write actual code.

Procedural programming is not always the preferred method of coding applications. Software that is highly complex can require literally thousands of lines of code, making it somewhat more difficult for a team of people to work with it. Some programmers hold the opinion that extremely large applications can become difficult to maintain by one developer.

Some people wrongly believe that it is impossible to write very large or complex software in a procedural programming language. Certain programs might be more easily written using Object Oriented Programming (OOP), but this does not mean that they cannot be developed procedurally. The Linux kernel, which is the core of an open-source operating system, is written using procedural programming. Other major applications such as the Apache server, the Drupal content management system and Samba, are all written in this manner. These applications are large and are considered to be complex by the overwhelming majority of programmers.

Among the procedural programming languages in existence are C, Fortran and Python. Many important applications and utilities have been coded in such languages. For example, Anaconda, the installer for Fedora Linux, is written in Python, as are various software managements tools.

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Discussion Comments
By samarth — On Jul 22, 2013

Why is procedural language particularly interesting for adaptations, explanations, based on rules?

By anon335724 — On May 22, 2013

What are the principles, characteristics and features of procedural programming?

By anon334884 — On May 16, 2013

What are the principles, characteristics and features of procedural programming?

By anon327684 — On Mar 29, 2013

What are the principles, characteristics and features of procedural programming?

By anon322213 — On Feb 26, 2013

How about the suitability of using procedural programming in GUI based apps? As mainly OOP is used, I think?

By anon317869 — On Feb 04, 2013

Can you explain the principles, characteristics and features of procedural programming?

By anon300323 — On Oct 29, 2012

Procedural programming is better for general programming, is easier to learn and as has been stated, can be used to build anything. It has no limits, except the programmers ability and will.

OOP is good only for interacting with screen objects (checkboxes, buttons, textboxes etc). With procedural, there is less code to write and its more more readable. Procedural code libraries can do everything that object libraries can do. There is some crap about procedural being harder to maintain, but if you write in a structured way and keep your functions in libraries, then it's no problem.

In the beginning was procedural, and once this OOP fad fades, it will be in the future.

By anon244597 — On Feb 02, 2012

Thanks for this. It's helped me explain procedural programming in my coursework!

By anon139635 — On Jan 05, 2011

This is very helpful, and thanks very much, but can you explain the key features of procedural programs in full please? Also explain procedures, functions, variables and

structures. Thank you.

By WaterHopper — On Sep 27, 2010

Thanks for a very informative article!

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