What Is a Data Type in Programming?

by Carson
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data types

Data types are essential elements in any programming language, so you must learn how to use data types efficiently before you start programming. Let’s find out the definition of a data type and examples of common data types in this article.

The Definition of a Data Type

Are data types just methods by that information is being stored in memory? It is close, but it isn’t entirely true. There is only one way that data can be stored anywhere on a computer: binary format. Consequently, information is always made of 0s and 1s. If you define a data type that way, there is only one type of data in any programming language, and that doesn’t fit in the definition within an object-oriented programming language.

Instead, data types are the limitations on how data can be manipulated. For example, even though numbers and strings are still bunches of 1s and 0s, you can add numbers, but you can’t add strings. Likewise, we can iterate over arrays while we can’t do so on numbers. Essentially, each data type has a set of instructions that can change its value and store it in memory. Thus, you cannot perform operations on a variable that has an incompatible type.

Common Data Types

In this section, we’ll talk about the most common data types that are used in programming. Here are these data types in a list:

  1. Numbers
  2. Strings
  3. Arrays
  4. Boolean values
  5. Functions
1. Numbers

If you want to do arithmetic on variables, change them into a data type related to numbers, either integers or floating point values. As the name suggests, the “integer” type is used when you would like to process integers with nothing after the decimal point. In contrast, the “floating point” type can be utilized when you want to calculate values based on decimals and fractions.

2. Strings

If you want to process words and sentences or the contents of files, you must use a data type known as a string. They are useful when the variable doesn’t require arithmetic in the program, for instance, and when it has to act as user input or console output. There are many functions for strings to be normalized, analyzed, and compared against regular expressions to ensure the integrity of input and output messages.

3. Arrays

Arrays are ordered collections of objects that are stored in one variable. Numbers and strings are immutable, requiring a new variable or a redefined variable to be changed. However, arrays can change their values within the runtime with the help of specialized built-in functions. Like strings, arrays are iterable, meaning they can be looped over. However, arrays are often more useful than strings in this regard since strings only accept characters, while arrays accept any data type as part of the collection.

4. Boolean Values

Unlike other data types that accept infinitely many possibilities, boolean values can only take in two options: true and false. Therefore, these values are used when one has to store whether one statement is true so that the program can decide whether to do something or not.

5. Functions

Unlike other data types, which are static variables, functions are collections of instructions that can be executed. They are helpful because you don’t need to repeat the same code multiple times in the program, reducing clutter and incompatibility. Instead, call it in your code when you want to run a piece of code inside the function. The function then returns a value of another data type for you to use in another part of your program.

Misusing Data Types

Data types are meant to be used the way they are designed for. Misusing them might result in an error, an inaccurate output, or even undefined behavior in your program. As a result, learning how to use data types before you start programming is very important.

First, you must ensure that you know the boundaries of different variables. For example, while you can easily add “7” and “3”, a computer can’t do so. This is because the numbers are surrounded by quotation marks, indicating that they are strings instead of numbers. To allow a computer to do arithmetic on strings, you first need to turn them into integers or floating point variables.

That’s where data type conversion comes in. This function is powered by special built-in functions that parse the contents of the input value to verify that it can allow the ways that the user may want to manipulate it. An example is the str() and int() classes in Python, whose initializing function runs the code mentioned above. If the verification is successful, an object of another data type is returned. Otherwise, the program throws an error.

Secondly, you need to learn about handling errors about data types. In Python, the misuse of data types results in a TypeError. When this is detected, the expected and actual type of the variable is often printed onto the console. If you encounter this error, ensure that the problematic variable is of the correct data type. Otherwise, modify your code to change the object’s data type so that the function you call accepts it as input. In C++, using the wrong data type results in a compilation error instead of a runtime error, again pointing out the actual types of the variables involved.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve mentioned the definition of a data type. Also, we have listed a few common data types and discussed how to use them effectively so that your program doesn’t contain related bugs. If we have missed anything that we should have mentioned, please leave them in the comments below so that this article can be improved.

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