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<State Machines - Basics of Computer Science ⁄ >

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Computer science is what enables programming, but it is possible to do a lot of programming without understanding the computer science concepts underlying the process of computation. This isn't always a bad thing. When we program we work at a much higher level of abstraction. When we drive a car, we only concern ourselves with two or three pedals, a gearshift and a steering wheel. You can safely operate a car without having any clear idea of how it works. However, if you want to operate a car at the very limits of its capabilities, you need to know a lot more about automobiles than just the three pedals, gearshift and steering wheel.

The same is true of programming. Much mundane everyday work that can be accomplished with little or no understanding of computer science. You don't need to understand computational theory to build a "contact us" form in PHP. However, if you plan to write code that requires serious computation, you are going to need to understand a bit more about how computation works under the hood.

The purpose of this article is to provide some fundamental background for computation. If there is interest I may follow up with some more advanced topics, but right now I want to look at the logic behind one of the simplest abstract computational devices-a finite state machine.

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