Beginning Programming For Dummies, 4th Edition


by Wallace Wang





About the Author

Wallace Wang is one of many carbon-based life forms currently populating the planet Earth. He began his working career by going to college and getting a “good” job — only to find that a college education never guaranteed you a “good” job and most “good” jobs actually stink.

So faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his waking life in a caffeine-induced stupor coupled with shots of alcohol and gambling to dull the frustration of a dead-end job, he decided to pursue one of many dreams by becoming a writer. First starting out writing magazine articles for a local San Diego computer magazine, he soon graduated to writing for national publications and book publishers as well.

After nearly 20 years of writing full-time, he’s still pursuing a variety of different dreams besides continuing book and magazine writing. He’s still bouncing around comedy clubs around Michigan, Las Vegas, and San Diego, performing stand-up comedy to anyone sober enough to listen.

He’s also branched away from computer books by teaming up with coauthors to write non-computer related books, most notably Breaking Into Acting For Dummies with Larry Garrison. (Thanks go to Ben Affleck for carrying around a copy and getting his picture taken with the book, which appeared in many major magazines including People Magazine and The New York Post.)

In his latest mad venture to avoid having to work in an ordinary 9–5 job, he’s also teamed up with three other comedians (Rick Gene, Wes Sample, and Justin Davis) to create, produce, and host a radio show called “Keeping It Weird,” currently (at least at the time of this writing) airing on 103.7 Free FM in San Diego.

By the time you read this, the author may be off pursuing something entirely different. Whatever he may be doing at the time, it should at least make for interesting stories to tell his grandchildren about one day.



This book is dedicated to all the wonderful people I’ve met along the path of life, including . . .

Cassandra (my wife), Jordan (my son), and Bo, Scraps, Tasha, and Nuit (our cats).

Lily Carnie, the only person I know who can truly see both sides of the story.

All the friendly folks I’ve met while performing at the Riviera Comedy Club, located at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas: Steve Schirripa (who also appears on the HBO show, The Sopranos, which you can read about at, Don Learned, Bob Zany, Gerry Bednob, Bruce Clark, Darrell Joyce, and Kip Addotta. The next time you’re visiting Las Vegas, drop by the Riviera and watch a comedy show. Then dump some money in a slot machine on the way out to ensure that the Riviera Hotel & Casino continues making enough money to keep its comedy club open.

Thanks also go to Roger Feeny at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Russ Rivas at Laff’s in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Pat Wilson at Mesquite, Nevada; and Joe Jarred at Primm and Pahrump, Nevada for running some of the friendliest comedy clubs around the country.

Final thanks must also go to Leo (the man, the myth, the legend) Fontaine, Chris (the Zooman) Clobber, Rick Gene, Wes Sample, Justin Davis, and Dante (who gets excited just to see his name in a book).


Author’s Acknowledgments

If it wasn’t for Bill Gladstone at Waterside Productions, I might still be staring off into space in a cubicle somewhere, working in a dead-end job, wondering what could have been.

Additional thanks go to Allen Wyatt for making sure that everything in this book is accurate, along with Rebecca Senninger and Virginia Sanders for making the process of writing a book always painless, easy, and often fun.

Final acknowledgements go to Cassandra (my wife) for putting up with multiple computers that (from her point of view) seem to spontaneously appear and disappear around the house at random. Each time a computer disappears, a more advanced model appears that promises more speed and hard drive space, but still never seems to have more speed or as much room as the previous computer model that it replaced.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Rebecca Senninger

(Previous Edition: Andrea C. Boucher)

Acquisitions Editor: Katie Feltman

Copy Editor: Virginia Sanders

Technical Editor: Allen Wyatt

Editorial Manager: Leah Cameron

Media Development Specialists: Angela Denny, Kate Jenkins, Steven Kudirka, Kit Malone

Media Development Coordinator: Laura Atkinson

Media Project Supervisor: Laura Moss

Media Development Manager: Laura VanWinkle

Editorial Assistant: Amanda Foxworth

Sr. Editorial Assistant: Cherie Case

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Michael Kruzil

Layout and Graphics: Claudia Bell, Carl Byers, Brooke Graczyk, Denny Hager, Joyce Haughey, Stephanie D. Jumper, Barbara Moore, Barry Offringa, Laura Pence, Alicia South

Proofreaders: Laura Albert, Techbooks

Indexer: Steve Rath

Anniversary Logo Design: Richard Pacifico

Publishing and Editorial for Technology Dummies

Richard Swadley, Vice President and Executive Group Publisher

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher

Mary Bednarek, Executive Acquisitions Director

Mary C. Corder, Editorial Director

Publishing for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




Who Should Buy This Book

How This Book Is Organized

How to Use This Book

Part I : Programming a Computer

Chapter 1: Learning Computer Programming for the First Time

Why Learn Computer Programming?

How Does a Computer Program Work?

What Do I Need to Know to Program a Computer?

Chapter 2: All about Programming Languages

Why So Many Different Programming Languages?

So What’s the Best Programming Language to Learn?

Chapter 3: How to Write a Program

Before You Write Your Program

The Technical Details of Writing a Program

The Life Cycle of a Typical Program

Chapter 4: The Tools of a Computer Programmer

Writing Programs in an Editor

Using a Compiler or an Interpreter

Squashing Bugs with a Debugger

Writing a Help File

Creating an Installation Program

Part II : The Building Blocks of Programming

Chapter 5: Getting Started

Learning BASIC

Learning C++

Learning Revolution

Chapter 6: The Structure of a Computer Program

Designing a Program

Dividing and Conquering with Subprograms

Chapter 7: Variables, Constants, and Comments

Creating Variables

Using Constants

Commenting Your Code

Chapter 8: Crunching Numbers and Playing with Strings

Adding, Subtracting, Dividing, and Multiplying

Using Built-In Math Functions

Manipulating Strings

Converting Strings into Numbers (And Vice Versa)

Chapter 9: Making Decisions with Branching Statements

Using Boolean Expressions

Exploring IF-THEN Statements

Using IF-THEN-ELSE Statements

Working with SELECT CASE Statements

Chapter 10: Repeating Yourself with Loops

Creating Loops

Looping a Fixed Number of Times

Using a WHILE Loop

The UNTIL Loop Variation

Watching Out for Endless Loops

Chapter 11: Dividing a Program into Subprograms

Creating a Subprogram

Running Subprograms

Using Functions

Chapter 12: Storing Stuff in Arrays

Creating an Array

Creating Dynamic Arrays

Creating a Multi-Dimensional Array

Chapter 13: Playing with Object-Oriented Programming

Encapsulation: Isolating Data

Inheritance: Reusing Code

Polymorphism: Rewriting Code

Part III : Advanced Programming Topics

Chapter 14: Sorting and Searching Algorithms

Insertion Sort

Bubble Sort

Shell Sort


Choosing a Sorting Algorithm

Using a Built-In Sorting Algorithm

Searching Algorithms

Chapter 15: Debugging Programs

Anatomy of a Computer Bug

Syntax Errors

Run-Time Errors

Fun with Logic Errors

Chapter 16: Optimizing Your Code

Choosing the Right Data Structure

Choosing the Right Algorithm

Fine-Tuning the Source Code

Using a Faster Language

Optimizing Your Compiler

Chapter 17: Creating a User Interface

Designing a Window

Putting Pull-Down Menus in a Window

Displaying Controls

Part IV : Internet Programming

Chapter 18: Playing with HTML

Grasping the Basics of HTML

Defining Text with Tags

Using Tag Attributes

Making a List

Creating Hyperlinks

Displaying Graphics

Creating a User Interface on a Form

Chapter 19: Making Interactive Web Pages with JavaScript

Understanding the Basics of JavaScript

Playing with Functions

Opening and Closing a Window

Chapter 20: Using Java Applets on Web Pages

How Java Applets Work

Adding a Java Applet to a Web Page

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 21: Ten Additional Programming Resources

Developing Windows Programs

Developing Macintosh Programs

Developing Linux Programs

Using a Database Language

Shopping by Mail Order

Getting Your Hands on Source Code

Joining a Local User Group

Frequenting Usenet Newsgroups

Playing Core Wars

Programming a Battling Robot

Toying with Lego Mindstorms

Chapter 22: Ten Cool Programming Careers

Programming Computer Games for Fun and Profit

Creating Computer Animation

Making (And Breaking) Encryption

Internet Programming

Fighting Malware

Hacking for Hire

Participating in an Open-Source Project

Niche-Market Programming

Teaching Others about Computers

Selling Your Own Software

Appendix A: Common Loop and Branching Structures

Common Loop Structures

Common Branching Structures

Appendix B: Free Language Compilers and Interpreters

Appendix C: Common Programming Terms

Appendix D: Installing the CD Compilers

System Requirements

Using the CD

If You Have Problems (Of the CD Kind)

: Wiley Publishing, Inc. End-User License Agreement


A nyone can learn to program a computer. Computer programming doesn’t require a high IQ or an innate proficiency in advanced mathematics. Computer programming just requires a desire to learn and the patience never to give up.

Programming is a skill like rock climbing, tap dancing, and pole vaulting. Some people are naturally better than others, but anyone can get better with regular practice. That’s why so many kids become programming wizards at such an early age. These kids aren’t necessarily brilliant; they’re just willing to put in the time to learn a new skill, and they’re not afraid of failing because they know that failure is nothing more than a part of learning.

If you ever dreamed about writing your own programs, rest assured that you can. Programming can be lots of fun, but it can also be frustrating, annoying, and time-consuming. That’s why Wiley publishes this particular book — to help you discover how to program a computer with minimum inconvenience and maximum enjoyment.

Whether you want to pick up computer programming for fun, to start a new career, or to help make your current job easier, consider this book your personal guide through the sometimes scary — and initially intimidating — world of computer programming.

Although this book won’t turn you into a programming wizard overnight, it can teach you enough about programming to help you understand how programming works, what the strengths and weaknesses of different programming languages are, and how you can get started writing programs all by yourself.

Who Should Buy This Book

You should buy this book if you want to learn how computer programming works without getting bogged down in the technical details of a particular programming language. When you understand how computer programming works, you’ll better understand how to use a specific programming language with cryptic names like C++ or Java. But you should buy this book if you especially want to know any of the following:

bullet How computer programs work

bullet The common parts of every computer programming language

bullet How to write programs for multiple platforms such as Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux

bullet Whether to write your next computer program by using Visual Basic, C++, Perl, SmallTalk, C#, or some other programming language

Like any skill, you can learn programming only by practicing it. To help you get hands-on experience, the CD enclosed with this book includes trial versions of four language compilers so you can practice writing programs on any computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

The three main languages you learn in this book are BASIC, C++, and a scripting language called Revolution.

BASIC is specially designed to introduce beginners to programming, so you can practice writing BASIC programs in two programming languages: Liberty BASIC and REALbasic.

Liberty BASIC represents the BASIC language in its purest and simplest form so you can understand the concepts of programming without getting lost in the technical details. When you understand how BASIC works, you can study REALbasic to see a version of the BASIC language that includes advanced programming features similar to more powerful languages such as C++.

This book also provides examples in C++, which is the most popular programming language in use today. If you want to write programs professionally, you must at least become familiar with the way C++ works.

You also learn a nontraditional programming language called Revolution, which uses English-like sentences to control your computer. Scripting languages like Revolution are designed to be easy to write and understand. They also provide commands capable of solving complicated problems more easily than traditional programming languages like BASIC or C++.

In addition, the Revolution programming language is based on AppleScript, which is a programming language used to automate a Mac OS X computer, so after you’re familiar with Revolution, you also know most of the AppleScript programming language.

By learning BASIC, C++, and Revolution, you’re exposed to three different programming languages, styles, and approaches to solving problems so you can better understand the advantages and limitations of any programming language. Then you can choose the best programming language for your needs.

How This Book Is Organized

To help you find what you need quickly, this book consists of five parts, and each part covers a certain topic about computer programming. Whenever you need help, just flip through the book, find the part that covers the topic you’re looking for, and then keep the book at your side as you get back to work.

Part I: Programming a Computer

If computer programming seems a mysterious arcane science, relax. This part of the book demystifies all the common myths about computer programming, shows you exactly how computer programs work, and explains why programming isn’t as difficult as many people think.

This part also shows you how programming has evolved, why so many different programming languages exist, and how programming follows easy-to-remember principles so you can start programming your own computer right away.

Part II: The Building Blocks of Programming

Although literally thousands of different programming languages are available for you to learn, every programming language tends to work in similar ways. So in this part of the book, you learn the basic building blocks of writing and creating a program regardless of the particular programming language you use.

To help you understand the building blocks of programming, each chapter provides plenty of examples in different programming languages so you can see how they accomplish the same task. You can also try out the examples on your own computer.

Part III: Advanced Programming Topics

After you master the basics of writing a program, you need to worry about making your program work efficiently, eliminating problems, and designing a user interface so other people will know how to use it. In this part of the book, you learn how programmers fine-tune their software (and what the consequences might be if they don’t).

Part IV: Internet Programming

The Internet is fast becoming an integral part of the computer world, so this part of the book introduces you to the basics of various Internet languages, including HTML (which designs the appearance of Web pages), JavaScript, and Java.

In this part, you also see how other people create cool Web pages that look good and can display forms and respond to users. You can use this information to create Web sites that interact with users.

Part V: The Part of Tens

To help gently guide you toward writing your own programs for money, this part of the book provides information about programming jobs you might want to pursue and how to find more tools and source code to help you learn more about programming all by yourself.

How to Use This Book

This book is meant to show you the basics of computer programming without bogging you down with the technical details of any particular programming language. Typed code often looks like chicken scratches or the random characters that a monkey might type if left alone with a keyboard. So you can use this book as a tutorial (to show you how programming works) and as a reference (to help refresh your memory for understanding different programming techniques).

Ideally, you want to use this book along with your computer. Read some of the book and then try what you just read on your computer so that you can see with your own eyes how programming works.

Foolish assumptions

To get the most out of this book, you need access to a computer (because trying to understand computer programming without a computer is like trying to learn to drive without a car). To take full advantage of this book, you need a computer running Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.

Icons used in this book

Icons highlight useful tips, important information to remember, or technical explanations that can amuse you for a moment before you forget all about them. Keep an eye open for the following icons throughout the book:


This icon highlights useful information that can save you time (as long as you remember it, of course).


This icon reminds you to do something or emphasizes an important point that you don’t want to forget.


Watch out! This icon tells you how to avoid potential headaches and trouble.


This icon identifies the name of a particular file on the CD that contains a sample program printed in the book. By loading the sample program off the CD, you don’t have to type the program yourself.


This icon highlights information that’s nice to know but which you can safely ignore if you choose. (If you want to become a real programmer, however, you need to cram your brain with as much technical information as possible so that you can fit in with the rest of the programmers in the world.)

Part I

Programming a Computer

In this part . . .

F iguring out how to program a computer may seem intimidating, so this part of the book gently guides you through the wonderful world of computer programming. First, you see exactly what programs do and how professionals write programs.

Next, you discover why so many different programming languages exist and why some are more popular than others. You get to know the different tools that programmers use to create, edit, and distribute a program from start to finish.

Finally, this part shows you what to consider if you decide to write a program. You see the pros and cons of using different programming languages. You also find out how people can write programs even if they possess very little programming experience.

By the time that you finish this part of the book, you’ll have a better idea of how to write a program, what steps to follow, and how to convert your idea for a program into an actual working product that you can sell or give away for others to use. Who knows? With a little bit of imagination and a lot of persistence, you may create the next program that makes so much money that you can start your own software company and make a million bucks.