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Why is learning assembly language still important?

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Q:

Why is learning assembly language still important?

A:

An assembly language, also known as an assembler language, is a low-level programming language. Assembly language has a very strong correspondence with the architecture’s machine code instruction and is specific only to that machine. Therefore, different machines have different assembly languages. This type of language makes use of symbols to represent an operation or instruction. Hence, it is also often known as symbolic machine code.

Despite the prevalence of high-level languages that are mainly used for the development of applications and software programs, the importance of assembly language in today’s world cannot be understated. A programmer can still gain a lot if he/she can learn to code in assembly language and implement it. These days, assembly language makes it possible to manipulate hardware directly, address critical issues concerning performance and also provide access to special instructions for processors. Uses of assembly language include coding device drivers, real-time systems, low-level embedded systems, boot codes, reverse engineering and more.

The following are some of the reasons why learning assembly language is still important and relevant.

Complete control over a system’s resources

As a programmer, the closest you can come to the processor of a machine is by using assembly language. Here, you can write code to access the registers and even deal with memory addresses directly for retrieving values and pointers. So, if you are writing a program that has a great algorithm, you are going to benefit greatly. This is mainly because assembly language is the gateway to optimization in speed, thereby offering great efficiency and performance.

Understanding processor and memory function

If you are writing a program that is meant to be a compiler or a device driver, then a complete understanding of the processor’s function is a big plus. So, in this case the best option is to write some code in assembly language and see how the processor and the memory work. However, one thing to keep in mind is that assembly language is symbolic, so it may appear cryptic. Furthermore, the source code in assembly language is always larger than that of a high-level language. However, putting in time and effort to master it can benefit one greatly in terms of understanding.

Direct access to hardware

Assembly language is the only language that speaks to the computer/machine directly. It is the language that a certain CPU recognizes and different CPUs recognize different types of them. However, since every section of binary caters to a certain meaning, it can be somewhat easy to comprehend.

Assembly language is transparent

When compared to high-level languages, which are mostly in the form of abstract data types, assembly language is bare and transparent. This is largely since it has a small number of operations. So, this is very helpful for algorithm analysis, consisting of semantics and flow of control. It also makes it easier for debugging, as it is less complex. Overall, there is less overhead as compared to high-level languages.

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Written by Kaushik Pal

Kaushik is a technical architect with 15 years of experience in enterprise applications and product development. He has expertise in Web technologies, architecture/design, Java/J2EE, open source and Hadoop/big data technologies.

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