How many CNC programming languages are there?

CNC Machines are some of the best ways to manufacture parts accurately, and quickly. But, did you know there is a way to make the manufacturing process even more efficient?

In this article, we will discuss the programming languages used to direct CNC Machines, and the G-code meaning.

What is a CNC machine and what does it do? 

CNC machines are computer-controlled precision power tools that operate metal, wood or plastic workpieces in an automated process. They are used in the manufacturing of parts to make them more efficient for products ranging from cars, railroad boxcars to roll cages on race cars. CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control, which means it is automatically controlled by a computer.

CNC Programming

How many programming languages are there for CNC machines?

There are two standard CNC programming languages. One is called G-code, which was developed by MIT/General Motors in 1966. The other is called RS-274, which was jointly developed by the Air Force and IBM. Both are still widely used today because of their wide usage since they were developed many years ago. These two languages have large programming libraries that support a wide variety of functions.

G-code meaning:

G-codes are the standard programming language for CNC machining. The language was developed in 1966 by MIT/General Motors and was originally intended for numerical control (NC) machines, such as lathes or milling machines.

Are there any other programming languages?

If you look at the CNC language code, you will see numbers and letters in all caps. It looks very similar to Basic or Pascal language codes, which are common computer languages used for programming computers. This is closely related to how CNC code is written, but the actual language used to program these machines is very different from computer programming languages. There are actually many more types of machine codes that are specific to each machine type.

Few examples of other machine code languages include:

3-axis milling controller

5-axis Machining Language (AML)

AFCAM: a complex language for 5-axis contouring

TP code: used in the Swiss and gantry type of machine tools.

While some CNC machines can be programmed using computer programming languages such as Basic or Pascal, there are many more programming languages that are specific to just one type of machine. So when you are looking to purchase a new CNC machine or upgrade an older one, check out what software packages are available in your programming language.

What are the most common ones that people use?

The most common CNC programming languages are G and M codes. While both of these types of code can be used to program any type of machine, they are typically used on 5-axis milling machines such as the Mori Seiki MV100 (shown below).

Are there any major differences between them?

G-code is best suited for 2.5D milling, which is cutting out shapes without having to move the machine table around very much. That’s why it’s typically used on small machines that can only cut in the X and Y axis. G-code programming is easier to read because of its simple language structure.

M-code is best suited for 5-axis milling with lots of 3D motion, which is why it’s typically used in large CNC mills. M-code programming is harder to read because of its complex language structure.

What do you need to learn one of these languages yourself?

You can find free G-code programming software online. For M-code, you’ll obviously need a complete CAM solution which you can buy from Autodesk or HSMWorks for example.

Are they difficult to learn?

G-code programming is easier to learn, but M-code offers more milling features.

What are the most popular CNC machining languages?

With G-code, you can only do 2.5D (XY) milling, so you’re limited to flat surfaces with no 3D depth. The advantage of this simple language structure is that you can program your machine quickly.

With M-code, you can do 3D milling (XYZ) and use all the advanced features like tool paths for steep slopes or pockets. It’s harder to learn but offers much more functionality than G-code.

How will learning these languages help?

Learning G-code and/or M-code will help you in several ways. First of all, the more efficient you are with your software tools, the better-paid job offers you can expect to receive.

Second, if you work for a company that uses automation, then learning these languages will allow you to get hands-on experience with industrial machines.

And last but not least, even if you’re just doing an internship, learning these languages will help you get more out of your experience.


So that’s it! With these programming languages, you can rest assured your manufactured products will have almost zero human error.

Ready, steady… go!

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