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Engineering LibreTexts

1.1: Compiled and interpreted languages

  • Page ID
    40627
  • People often describe programming languages as either compiled or interpreted. “Compiled” means that programs are translated into machine language and then executed by hardware; “interpreted” means that programs are read and executed by a software interpreter. Usually C is considered a compiled language and Python is considered an interpreted language. But the distinction is not always clear-cut.

    First, many languages can be either compiled or interpreted. For example, there are C interpreters and Python compilers. Second, there are languages like Java that use a hybrid approach, compiling programs into an intermediate language and then running the translated program in an interpreter. Java uses an intermediate language called Java bytecode, which is similar to machine language, but it is executed by a software interpreter, the Java virtual machine (JVM).

    So being compiled or interpreted is not an intrinsic characteristic of a language; nevertheless, there are some general differences between compiled and interpreted languages.

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