Compiler vs. interpreter: Main difference

Compilation and interpretation are the two main methods of executing code in the world of programming. For computers to understand and execute high-level programming languages, compilers and interpreters are essential tools. Although they have similarities, how they achieve it and how it affects program performance is very different.

In order to better understand their respective functions in the software development process, this article will discuss the main differences between interpreters and compilers.

What are compilers and interpreters?


The complete source code of a program produced in a high-level programming language is simultaneously translated into machine code (binary code) by a compiler, a special tool. There are many phases of a typical compilation process, including lexical analysis, syntax analysis, semantic analysis, optimization, and code generation. A standalone executable file generated by a compiler can be run directly by the operating system.


An interpreter, on the other hand, is a program that reads a program’s source code line by line and executes it immediately without first creating an intermediate machine code file. The translator quickly executes each statement after translating it into machine code or intermediate code, rather than translating the entire program at once. This means that while a program is running, the source code is read and decoded in real time.

Comparing compilation and interpretation

Execution process

Execution process is one of the main differences between interpreter and compiler. Before running, the compiler converts the complete source code into machine code, creating a self-contained executable file. As a result of conversions completed earlier, software that is built often runs faster. But the initial compilation procedure can take a while, especially for large programs.

An interpreter, on the other hand, doesn’t create standalone executables. Instead, it runs the source code line by line while reading and immediately executing it. As a result, development input can be provided more quickly because changes can be immediately tested without having to recompile. However, because of the potential cost of the interpretation process, interpreted programs are usually slower than compiled ones.

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Compiled applications are closely tied to specific operating systems and hardware architectures because the compiler generates machine code that is unique to the target platform. Programs compiled for one platform may not run on another without modification or recompilation due to lack of portability.

Instead of generating machine code files, the interpreter executes the source code immediately, making it often platform neutral. This makes it easier to transfer interpreted programs between multiple systems, provided the proper interpreter is accessible for each target platform.

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Error detection

The methods used to detect errors in compilation and interpretation are also different. Before generating machine code, the compiler checks the entire source code thoroughly. As a result, it can detect various errors during compilation, including logic flaws, type problems, and syntax errors. The compiler will generate an error message with a list of all errors found in the code, making it easier for developers to find and fix them.

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Conversely, an interpreter stops the operation when it encounters the first error in the code. As a result, error detection with interpreted languages ​​is faster. However, because the interpreter only reports the first error it finds, further problems with the code may go unreported until the initial error is corrected and the code is run again.

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