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Compiler vs Interpreter in Programming

by Snehal Naik
Compiler vs Interpreter in Programming
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Computer programs are usually written in high-level languages, and programmers need tools to convert these languages into machinereadable code. Compilers and Interpreters are fundamental tools that help translate programming languages into code that a machine can read and understand. Based on this, programming languages can be broadly categorized into Compiled and Interpreted. In this blog, we’ll understand what compilers and interpreters are and know the difference between the two.

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Compiled and Interpreted Programming Languages

Compiling and interpreting

Compiled programming languages are those where the source code is compiled into machine code before it is executed through a compiler. These languages offer optimized performance. Here are a few well-known compiled programming languages: 

  • C++ 
  • C  
  • C# 
  • Java  
  • Fortran  
  • Visual Basic  
  • Objective-C   

On the other hand, interpreted programming languages are the ones that execute the source code directly. Interpreted languages are executed line by line through an interpreter, allowing for greater flexibility and ease of debugging.  

Here are a few interpreted programming languages: 

  • Python 
  • Ruby  
  • JavaScript 
  • Perl  
  • Lisp  
  • REXX  
  • BASIC 
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What is a Compiler?

A compiler converts the entire program into object code, which is then stored in a file. The object code, also called binary code, can be directly executed by the machine after linking. The source code of a compiled language is not useful for running the code once a program is compiled.  

How Compiler Works

Here is an example of a code compiled in C language. 

include stdio


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What is an Interpreter?

Instructions written in a programming or scripting language are directly executed by an interpreter without the need to convert them into an object code or machine code. For programs that use interpreted languages, the source code is required to run the program every time.  

How Interpreter Works

Here is an example of an interpreted Python code. 


Compilers and interpreters are two fundamental tools that play an important role in translating and executing code. You can think of them as tools that help translate high-level languages into low-level codes that computers can understand. 

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Compilers vs. Interpreters: Types

Types of Compilers

Single-Pass and Multi-Pass Compilers 

Single-pass compilers generate code in a single pass, processing source code sequentially. On the other hand, multi-pass compilers need multiple phases that allow advanced optimizations but consume more memory time.  

Source-to-Source Compilers 

The code is translated from one high-level programming language to another. It helps with cross-platform compatibility and language migration.  

Cross Compilers 

These compilers allow code generation for a target architecture or platform different than the one on which the compilation is done.  

Dynamic Translators 

These convert code from one architecture into another and are used in emulators and virtual machines. Dynamic translators make it possible to run software on different hardware.  

Native Compilers 

These help in optimal performance. Here, the machine code produced can be directly executed by the host system’s hardware. 

Ahead-of-Time (AOT) Compilers 

These compilers help in converting the whole program into machine code before execution. It results in consistent performance owing to faster startup times. 

Just-In-Time (JIT) Compilers 

These are used by machines with Java or .NET. These compilers translate code at runtime into machine code for immediate execution. JIT compilers offer the benefits of interpretation and compilation.  

Optimizing Compilers 

Optimizers analyze the code so that different optimization techniques, such as loop unrolling, constant folding, and inline expansion, can be applied. This helps in enhancing the speed and efficiency of the compiled program. 

Incremental Compilers 

These are only used to recompile portions of the revised codebase. It reduces compilation time during development. 

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Types of Interpreters

Types of Interpreters

Interactive Interpreters 

Interactive interpreters make it possible to feed and execute code interactively and receive immediate feedback.  

Sequential Interpreters 

These interpreters execute source code in the order it’s written, line by line.  

Batch Interpreters 

These are used for running scripts or automating tasks, and they execute the instructions or a program all at once. 

Concurrent Interpreters 

Multiple parts of a program are executed at the same time by these interpreters. This allows for improved parallelism and better utilization of multi-core processors.  

Bytecode Interpreters 

Source code is translated into an intermediate bytecode representation before execution using these interpreters.  

Just-In-Time (JIT) Interpreters 

JIT interpreters translate parts of the code into machine code dynamically. JIT interpreters have the features of interpreters and compilers. 

Tree-Walk Interpreters 

These interpreters use the source code to create an abstract syntax tree from the source code. The source tree is then traversed to execute the program.  

Emulators and Virtual Machine Interpreters 

These interpreters help in running software designed for a different hardware or software environment.  

Source-to-Source Interpreters 

When using these, the convert source code is converted from one high-level language to another.  

Hardware Interpreters 

These interpreters come with specialized instructions that help in the interpretation of certain high-level language constructs.  

Dynamic Translators 

These interpreters translate code from one architecture to another in real-time. This allows software compatibility across platforms. 

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Compiler vs Interpreter: Advantages and Disadvantages

Performance: Running a compiled program is time-consuming. However, compiled code runs faster, as compilers take the entire program and analyze the source code. On the other hand, interpreters take the code line by line, which takes less analysis time. However, interpreted code runs slower. 

Error Display: All errors in a compiled program are displayed after compilation. So, if the code has any error, it won’t show until the end. However, interpreted code shows errors line by line, and it is possible to check for them.  

Privacy: Compilers don’t need the source code for execution, which provides a layer of privacy and intellectual property protection. However, interpreters need source code for execution, which might raise privacy concerns. 

Debugging: With compiled code, the correlation between source code and machine code is not always straightforward. This can make debugging a challenging process. In contrast, debugging an interpreted code is simpler, as errors are reported in terms of the original source code. 

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Difference Between Compiler and Interpreter

Compiler Interpreter
Machine language is saved as machine code on disks Machine language is not saved
Compiled codes run faster than Interpreter Interpreted codes run slower than Compiler
The basic working model is the Linking-Loading Model. The basic working model is the Interpretation Model.
Output is generated in the form of (.exe). No output generated
Change in source program after compilation requires recompiling the entire code Change in source program during translation does not require recompiling
Errors displayed together at the current time Errors displayed in every single line
Optimization is faster as the code can be seen upfront and run faster. Optimization is a little slower as the code is run line by line.
Source code not required for later execution Source code required for later execution
Program executed only after compilation of the whole program Program executed after checking every line
Compilers consume more time to analyze source code Interpreters take less time to analyze source code
More CPU utilized Less CPU utilized
Compilers are used in Production Environment. Interpreters are used in Programming and Development Environments
Object code is permanently saved for future use. No object code is saved for future use.
Examples: C, C++, C#, etc. Examples: Python, Ruby, Perl, SNOBOL, MATLAB, etc.
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The Bottomline

Programmers and developers seeking to improve their coding skills must attain a good understanding of fundamental programming tools. Compilers and Interpreters are software tools that help machines read and understand high-level programming languages. A good understanding of compilers and interpreters with regard to what they mean, how they function, their pros and cons and how they affect the performance of a program helps in determining which programming language one should utilize to optimize a project or a task.  

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Compiled programming languages are said to be better as they are faster than interpreted languages. However, each type of programming language has its strengths and features built to cater to specific tasks and projects.  

PHP is an interpreted language, but you can use the PHP Compiler or the PHP To EXE Compiler to convert PHP code into an executable file.

Golang, commonly known as Go, is a high-level, statically typed, compiled programming language.  

It depends on the OS. However, many popular operating systems do not come with compilers or interpreters and might need to be installed externally.

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