Interpreted vs Compiled Programming Languages – What’s The Difference?

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Interpreted and compiled programming languages are two different approaches to converting human-readable code into machine-executable instructions. The primary difference between the two lies in when the code is translated:

Interpreted languages are translated and executed line-by-line during runtime. Compiled languages are translated into machine code before runtime, creating an executable file.

In this article, we will delve into the key differences between interpreted and compiled languages, examine their respective advantages and disadvantages, and explore some examples to provide a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Compilation and Interpretation Process

To better understand the differences between interpreted and compiled programming languages, let’s take a closer look at their respective processes:

  • Compilation
    • The entire source code is translated into machine code by a compiler.
    • An executable file is created, which can be run independently.
    • Compilation is typically a one-time process unless the source code is modified.
    • Errors are detected during the compilation process.
  • Interpretation
    • The source code is translated line-by-line during runtime by an interpreter.
    • No separate executable file is created.
    • Each time the program runs, the interpreter retranslates the source code.
    • Errors are detected during runtime.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Each approach comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks:

  • Interpreted Languages
    • Advantages:
      • Easier to debug, as errors are found during runtime.
      • Highly portable, as they do not require platform-specific compilation.
      • Faster development cycle due to no compilation step.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Slower execution speed, as the code is translated during runtime.
      • Require an interpreter to be installed on the target system.
      • May consume more system resources.
  • Compiled Languages
    • Advantages:
      • Faster execution speed, as the code is already translated into machine code.
      • No need for an interpreter on the target system.
      • Can have lower system resource consumption.
    • Disadvantages:
      • Longer development cycle due to the compilation step.
      • Less portable, as compiled code is platform-specific.
      • Debugging can be more challenging, as errors are detected during compilation.

Examples of Interpreted and Compiled Languages

Various programming languages fall into either the interpreted or compiled category:

  • Interpreted Languages
    • Python
    • JavaScript
    • Ruby
    • PHP
  • Compiled Languages
    • C
    • C++
    • Java (compiled to bytecode, then interpreted by the Java Virtual Machine)
    • Swift

Hybrid Approaches

Some programming languages adopt a hybrid approach, blending elements of both interpreted and compiled languages. These languages are often compiled into an intermediate form, which is then interpreted during runtime. Examples of such languages include:

  • Java: Compiles source code into bytecode, which is then executed by the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).
  • C#: Compiles source code into Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), which is then executed by the .NET runtime.

Choosing the Right Approach

Selecting the appropriate language and approach depends on several factors, such as project requirements, performance needs, and platform compatibility. By understanding the differences between interpreted and compiled programming languages, developers can make informed decisions about which approach best suits their needs.

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