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Asked On2019-08-02 06:50:18 by:Gaganpreet-Gandhi

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I was chatting with an author who writes programming books for young pre-K children (hook em in early!) - should we use the word “program” or “algorithm” more? How do you clearly delineate between the two? When are they interchangeable?

The general consensus among Computer Scientists is that an algorithm generally refers to a mathematical abstraction of a program (i.e. with memory storage + computational substrate whose physical details are “abstracted” away. All that remains are data structures like linked lists / arrays, and maybe a whiteboard :)

The “program” would be the physical implementation of that program - i.e. the python interpreter + a script that describes the algorithm + all the dynamic libraries provided by the operating system to support the execution of this program.

In practice though, things are a little blurry - some algorithms are extremely specific to the environment they are run in and it does not make sense to “abstract” away these details. The Operating System features that provide program data structures compatible with your “abstract” algorithm (e.g. C++ STL arrays vs. abstract algorithm linked list) are themselves implemented using other algorithms, which are backed by more abstracted programming structures, which are themselves algorithms. So it’s algorithms all the way down. Or at the end of the day, everything is just a program and algorithms are just a mathematical structure we use to reason about programs conveniently without sweating the details.

A script is a kind of program that is usually interpreted rather than compiled (but it’s not colloquially unreasonable to “script”, or “automate” or “customize” some software like a Game Engine by writing small snippets of C++ code that are compiled). And modern distinction between interpreted and compiled programs are a bit blurry anyway, so I don’t think it’s important to draw a line between scripts and programs (or scripting and programming).

Answerd on:2019-08-06 Answerd By:bigboxer850


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