Chapter II.1. How Programs Work

Programming is nothing more than problem-solving. Every program is designed to solve a specific problem, such as taking the trouble out of editing text (a word processor), calculating rows and columns of numbers (spreadsheets), or searching and sorting information (a database).

Before you write any program, you must first know what problem you want the computer to solve. Computers are best at solving repetitive tasks, such as calculating rows and columns of numbers in a spreadsheet. Anyone can do similar calculations by hand, but computers make the task much faster and accurate.

After you know what problem to solve, the next step is figuring out how to solve that problem. Many problems may have multiple solutions. For example, how can someone get from the airport to your house? One way might be to take the highway, which may be the simplest route although not necessarily the fastest. Another way may take you through winding roads that can be harder to navigate.

In general, every problem has multiple solutions with each solution having its pros and cons. Should you tell someone to take the shortest way to your house (which might be harder to follow) or the easiest way to your house (which might take longer to get there)?

Computer programs face this same dilemma in choosing the "best" solution. One solution might be slow, but require less memory to run. Another solution might be fast, but require gobs of memory. When deciding on a solution, you always have ...

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