TrueType is an outline font standard originally developed by Apple Computer in the late 1980s as a competitor to Adobe's Type 1 fonts used in PostScript. The primary strength of TrueType was originally that it offered font developers a high degree of control over precisely how their fonts are displayed, right down to particular pixels, at various font heights. (With widely varying rendering technologies in use today, pixel-level control is no longer certain.)
TrueType systems include a virtual machine that executes programs inside the font, processing the "hints" of the glyphs. These distort the control points which define the outline, with the intention that the rasterizer produces fewer undesirable features on the glyph. Each glyph's hinting program takes account of the size (in pixels) at which the glyph is to be displayed, as well as other less important factors of the display environment.
Although incapable of receiving input and producing output as normally understood in programming, the TrueType hinting language does offer the other prerequisites of programming languages: conditional branching (IF statements), looping an arbitrary number of times (FOR- and WHILE-type statements), variables (although these are simply numbered slots in an area of memory reserved by the font), and encapsulation of code into functions. Special instructions called delta hints are the lowest level control, moving a control point at just one pixel size.
Good TrueType glyph programming techniques are meant to do as much as possible using variables defined just once in the whole font (e.g., stem widths, cap height, x-height). This means avoiding delta instructions as much as possible. This helps the font developer to make major changes (e.g., the point at which the entire font's main stems jump from 1 to 2 pixels wide) most of the way through development.
Making a very well-hinted TrueType font remains a significant amount of work, despite the increased user-friendliness of programs for adding hints to fonts compared with the early 1990s. Many TrueType fonts therefore have only rudimentary hints, or have hinting automatically applied by the font editor, with variable end results.