Compilation and interpretation are the two primary methods for executing code in the realm of programming. In order for computers to comprehend and execute high-level programming languages, compilers and interpreters are essential tools. Although they have this in common, how they go about achieving it and how it affects program performance are very different. 

To better understand their respective functions in the software development process, this article will examine the main distinctions 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 specialized tool. There are numerous phases of the compilation process that are typical, including lexical analysis, syntactic analysis, semantic analysis, optimization and code creation. A standalone executable file produced 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 runs it immediately without first creating a file of intermediate machine code. The interpreter quickly executes each statement after translating it into machine code or intermediate code, rather than translating the entire program at once. This means that when a program is running, the source code is read and translated in real time.

Comparing compilation and interpretation

Execution process

The execution process is one of the key distinctions between interpreters and compilers. Before running, a compiler converts the complete source code into machine code, creating a standalone executable file. As a result of the conversion being completed beforehand, the built software often runs faster. But the initial compilation procedure can take a while, particularly for big programs.

An interpreter, on the other hand, does not create a standalone executable. Instead, it runs the source code line by line while reading and executing it immediately. As a result, development input may be given more quickly because changes can be tested right away without having to recompile. However, because of the potential cost of the interpretation process, interpreted programs are typically slower than compiled ones.

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Compiled applications are closely tied to a particular operating system and hardware architecture because compilers produce machine code unique to the target platform. A program compiled for one platform may not be able to execute on another without modification or recompilation due to this lack of portability.

Instead of creating machine code files, interpreters immediately execute the source code, making them often platform-neutral. This makes it simpler to port interpreted programs between several systems, provided that the right interpreter is accessible for each target platform.

Error detection

The methods used for error detection in compilation and interpretation are also different. Before producing machine code, a compiler thoroughly examines the entire source code. As a result, it may detect a variety of mistakes during compilation, including logical flaws, type issues and syntax errors. The compiler will produce an error message with a list of all the errors found in the code, making it easier for the developer to find and fix them.

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An interpreter, on the other hand, halts operation when it comes across the first error in the code. As a result, error detection with interpreted languages is quicker. However, because the interpreter only reports the first fault it finds, further problems with the code could go unreported until the initial error has been repaired and the code has been run again.