Skip to content
Dev Discovers

Declarative vs. Imperative Programming: What's the Difference?

concepts4 min read

When it comes to programming, there are two main approaches: declarative and imperative programming. Both have their own benefits and drawbacks, and it's important to understand the differences between them to choose the right approach for your project.

In this article, we'll cover the definition of declarative and imperative programming, programming style and structure, examples, flexibility and ease of use, maintenance and scalability, performance, and best practices.


Declarative programming is a programming paradigm that focuses on describing what a program should accomplish without specifying how to achieve the result. In other words, you declare what you want to happen, and the program figures out the best way to do it.

Imperative programming, on the other hand, is a programming paradigm that focuses on describing how a program should accomplish a task. It involves giving a sequence of commands to the computer to perform a specific task.

Programming Style and Structure

In declarative programming, the focus is on what needs to be done, rather than how to do it. This results in a more concise, easier to understand code that is often more maintainable and reusable. Declarative programming languages are often used in functional programming, where functions are treated as first-class citizens.

In imperative programming, the focus is on the specific steps needed to achieve the desired result. This results in a more detailed, step-by-step code that can be harder to understand, but can also be more flexible and powerful. Imperative programming languages are often used in object-oriented programming, where objects are treated as first-class citizens.


Here's an example of a declarative approach to creating an array of squared numbers using JavaScript:

const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const squaredNumbers = => num * num);
console.log(squaredNumbers); // Output: [1, 4, 9, 16, 25]

In this example, the .map() method is used to create a new array based on the original array. The num parameter represents each element in the array, and the function returns the square of that number. The code is concise and easy to understand.

Here's an example of an imperative approach to creating the same array of squared numbers:

const numbers = [1, 2, 3, 4, 5];
const squaredNumbers = [];
for (let i = 0; i < numbers.length; i++) {
squaredNumbers.push(numbers[i] * numbers[i]);
console.log(squaredNumbers); // Output: [1, 4, 9, 16, 25]

In this example, a for loop is used to iterate over each element in the array and push the squared value into a new array. The code is more detailed and harder to understand.

Flexibility and Ease of Use

Declarative programming can be more flexible and easier to use than imperative programming, especially for smaller projects or when creating user interfaces. Declarative code tends to be more concise, which makes it easier to read, write, and understand. It's also easier to maintain and debug.

Imperative programming can be more powerful and flexible than declarative programming, especially for larger, more complex projects. Imperative code can be more precise and granular, which makes it more suitable for low-level programming or when dealing with complex data structures.

Maintenance and Scalability

As an application grows, so does its complexity. With that, maintenance and scalability become more critical factors to consider. In terms of maintenance, imperative code can be harder to maintain due to its tight coupling of code and its state. In contrast, declarative code can be easier to maintain because the state is managed separately, making it less likely to be affected by changes in other parts of the code.

Scalability is also a crucial aspect to consider when choosing between declarative and imperative programming. Imperative programming can become unwieldy and difficult to scale as the codebase grows, whereas declarative programming can often scale more gracefully.


When it comes to performance, imperative programming can be faster and more efficient in certain situations as it allows for more fine-tuning. On the other hand, declarative programming can be slower in some cases due to abstractions but more concise and expressive.

Best Practices

In general, it is best to use declarative programming when the goal is to define what the program should do without worrying about how it should be done. This approach is especially useful when dealing with complex systems or when dealing with large amounts of data. Examples of declarative programming languages include SQL, HTML, and CSS.

On the other hand, imperative programming is best used when the goal is to define how the program should do something. This approach is useful when dealing with low-level system programming, such as device drivers or operating systems. Examples of imperative programming languages include C, Java, and Python.

One thing to keep in mind is that most general-purpose programming languages today have features that allow for both types of paradigms so it's often up the developers to pick the pattern to adopt.

Final Thoughts

Declarative and imperative programming are two different programming styles that are useful for different types of problems. Declarative programming focuses on what the program should do, while imperative programming focuses on how it should do it. Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and the choice between them depends on the problem being solved (and team politics 🙂).

© 2023 by Dev Discovers. All rights reserved.
Theme by LekoArts