In-depth

What is pseudocode?

We take a closer look at the descriptive take on programming languages

Pseudocode spelt out in wooden blocks in front of code text

Programming, or coding, is the practice of writing instructions that we, in turn, feed into computers to follow, and is used largely for writing software or programming devices. Learning a coding language, however, is far easier said than done, and it can be difficult for those not versed in languages such as Python or JavaScript to keep track of lines upon lines of complex code. For most people, code looks more like a mish-mash of letters and numbers, but how we can communicate with computers, and feed them vital instructions.

With many companies undergoing digital transformation journeys, however, programming skills are becoming far more desirable. More roles across various industries are also starting to require individuals to have a basic understanding of the principles of coding. Mastering a programming language is far from an easy task, however, and requires a great deal of time investment.

This is where pseudocode comes in as a way of writing programmes without actually needing to learn a new language. Pseudocode provides people with easy-to-consume guidance on how to outline the very basics of the programme they’d like to write, instead of relying on them nailing the intricacies of an entire script.

With pseudocode, you can put together a quick skeleton of what you’d like the programme to do specifically at each stage, before it’s taken and converted into a functional language. This framework, by definition, is light on the detail, but more importantly, it doesn’t include the complicated terms and structure that’s difficult to understand for so many. In this way, pseudocode succeeds in encouraging people who aren’t technically-minded to get to grips with the principles of programming, offering enough detail to get started without overcomplicating things.  

It’s important to note, however, that pseudocode isn’t designed to be fed into computers like conventional code is. Instead, it was developed for people to examine and try to understand how a programme would work. Aspects such as system-specific code or subroutines of a programme, app or algorithm are left out, but the formatting and norms are kept.

There are no formal standards, or necessarily a style', for pseudocode because it's by-design only written to be understood by whoever comprises its audience. In many cases, the writer may borrow some structure or terminology from a conventional programming language but it's not necessary.

In this case, you could see pseudocode as effectively a more talkative and descriptive take on traditional programming languages, which helps make it easier to understand for people who might only be familiar with a select number of languages.

With some pseudocode, it's possible to create a programme that can convert the language into its associated programming language.

Why is pseudocode code used?

Two people looking at code on a computer monitor

This form of coding is often used to map out or pre-plan how a programme will work before then translating it into a real language.

It's another way of planning, in that it could replace a series of flowcharts and unified modelling language charts that show how an algorithm or system works, as well as its key aims. This is especially useful for people who'd ideally want to ensure the core code is foolproof, and that whatever it is eventually translated into has a fixed point of reference in relatively plain English.

Pseudocode can also help to spot any potential flaws in the code before an app or algorithm is written out in full, which lends itself to a far more efficient process in the longer-term. When it comes to patching any errors in future, for example, the process could be much smoother.

Beyond the practical benefits of pseudocode, programmers often use pseudocode as a point of reference to translate a piece of code from one language to another, as it documents the underlying functions and aims of a programme; almost like a translatory aid. But it can also be helpful to add any additional functions, in terms of visualising where these may fit into the overall programme.

So where are you likely to see it? Pseudocode is often found in scientific publications or textbooks where it can be used to help outline specifically how certain algorithms can be deployed in certain tasks and use cases. Overall it's useful for straightening out how a function would work for any users who aren't necessarily versed in a particular language they're working with at any given time.

Examples of pseudocode

As we've already mentioned, it's important to remember that pseudocode can't be fed into a computer, and is therefore only designed for other people to read. Below we've included an example of how we can potentially use pseudocode to write the 'FizzBuzz Algorithm' alongside how it's written in Python.

Pseudocode Python 

num : 1
FOR num -> 1 to 20
   IF num MOD 15 ===0
      PRINT “FizzBuzz”
   ELSE IF num MOD 3 ===0
      PRINT “Fizz”
   ELSE IF num MOD 5===0
      PRINT “Buzz”
   ELSE
      PRINT num
   ENDIF
ENDFOR

for num in range(1, 21):
   if num % 15 ==0:   
      print("FizzBuzz")   
   elif num %3 ==0:        
      print("Fizz")   
   elif num %5==0:       
      print("Buzz")   
   else:       
      print(num) 

Pseudocode can, however, be even more stripped back than the above example. Here's another example of pseudocode in action, again, versus its equivalent in Python.

Pseudocode Python 

Num : INTEGER

Num

Num = int(input("Please enter a number: ))

for Number in range (1,11):     

   print(Num*Number

In all cases, however, programmers advise that you use proper naming conventions, that you use indentation and white spaces, and that you keep it simple and concise. You shouldn't, on the flip side, make it too abstract or too generalised. 

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