Compiled vs Interpreted Programming Languages

Welcome back to another issue of The Tome of Zeal!

This time, we're taking a look into the fascinating world of compiled and interpreted programming languages, two distinct approaches to translating human-readable code into machine code (computer-executable instructions).

Let’s start by clearly defining human-readable code and machine code.

Human-Readable Code vs Machine Code

Before we dive into the differences between compiled and interpreted programming languages. Lets cover some basics that will make this subject easier to understand.

A key concept to understand when learning about compilation and interpretation is the differences between what is known as human-readable code and machine code.

Human-Readable Code

As you may have guessed, human-readable code is designed to be read by humans. When you look at well-structured human-readable code, it's akin to reading a clear set of instructions. It follows logical patterns, uses meaningful names for variables and functions, and is often accompanied by comments to provide context.

Here is an overly simplified example of what a program might look like in human-readable code that prints a simple message to the screen when executed:

// This is a comment to help humans understand
// that running this program prints text to the screen!

print "hello world"

It is not too hard for a human, even one with zero programming experience, to figure out what the above code will do when executed on a machine. However, in its human-readable form, this code is useless for machines! That is because it is not written in their language.

Lets convert the above human-readable example into machine code to see what it looks like.

Machine Code

As mentioned above, machines cannot execute human-readable code (unless they are special programs called interpreters…more on that later). Machine code is composed of binary digits—0s and 1s. This language is devoid of any human-friendly structure or narrative. Machine code is the raw material of computation, understood by processors but entirely opaque to human understanding. For us humans, reading it is like trying to decipher a complex, ancient script without a translation guide.

Remember that simple human-readable program from the section above? Let’s see what it looks like after it is translated or compiled into machine code.

00101111 00101111 00100000 01010100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01101101 01100101 01101110 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01101000 01100101 01101100 01110000 00100000 01101000 01110101 01101101 01100001 01101110 01110011 00100000 01110101 01101110 01100100 01100101 01110010 01110011 01110100 01100001 01101110 01100100 00001010 00101111 00101111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01100111 01110010 01100001 01101101 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101001 01101110 01110100 01110011 00100000 01110100 01100101 01111000 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110011 01100011 01110010 01100101 01100101 01101110 00100001 00001010 00001010 01110000 01110010 01101001 01101110 01110100 00100000 00100010 01101000 01100101 01101100 01101100 01101111 00100000 01110111 01101111 01110010 01101100 01100100 00100010

As you can see, we can no longer easily read the program. To us humans, it is just a bunch of 0s and 1s.

Programming as Translation

This brings us to an important concept: the art of programming lies in the translation, taking human-readable code and transforming it into machine code that computers can execute.

This act of translation can happen through various methods, primarily through either compilation or interpretation.

Compiled Languages: The Builders

Compiled languages are like master architects who meticulously plan and construct a building before you step inside. In the world of programming, these languages are translated into machine code, a low-level language that a computer's CPU can directly understand. The process of converting the human-readable source code into machine code is known as compilation.

Examples of Compiled Languages:

  1. C and C++: Classic examples of compiled languages. Code written in these languages is transformed into machine code through a compiler before execution.
  2. Rust: Known for its emphasis on safety and performance, Rust is another compiled language that has gained popularity in recent years.
  3. Go (Golang): Developed by Google, Go is known for its simplicity and efficiency. It's often used for backend web development and building scalable network applications.

Pros of Compiled Languages:

  • Speed: Programs written in compiled languages tend to be faster because the code is optimized during compilation.
  • Static Typing: Many compiled languages enforce strong typing, catching errors at compile-time rather than runtime.
  • Performance Control: Compilers allow fine-grained control over memory management and system resources.

Cons of Compiled Languages:

  • Compilation Overhead: The need to compile code before execution can slow down development.
  • Platform Dependency: Compiled code is often platform-specific, requiring recompilation for different platforms.

Interpreted Languages: The Magicians

Interpreted languages are like magicians who perform tricks on the spot. They don't need a compiler; instead, an interpreter reads the source code line by line and executes it immediately. This process is known as interpretation.

Examples of Interpreted Languages:

  1. Python: A popular interpreted language known for its readability and versatility.
  2. JavaScript: Widely used for web development, JavaScript is primarily interpreted by web browsers.

Pros of Interpreted Languages:

  • Ease of Use: Interpreted languages are often easier to learn and use, making them great for beginners.
  • Platform Independence: Code can run on any platform with the corresponding interpreter.
  • Rapid Development: No compilation step means faster development cycles.

Cons of Interpreted Languages:

  • Performance: Interpreted code tends to be slower than compiled code because it's not optimized beforehand.
  • Runtime Errors: Errors are often detected during execution, potentially leading to unexpected crashes.

Just-In-Time Compilation (JIT): The Hybrid Approach

Now, let's introduce a fascinating hybrid approach: Just-In-Time Compilation (JIT). It's like having a construction crew ready to make changes while you're inside the building.

JIT combines aspects of both compiled and interpreted languages. Instead of translating the entire source code into machine code beforehand, JIT compilers translate code into machine code as it's needed during execution. This can lead to significant performance improvements for interpreted languages. A well-known example is the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which uses JIT compilation to execute Java code.

Pros of JIT Compilation:

  • Improved Performance: JIT compilers can optimize code based on runtime data, resulting in better performance than pure interpretation.
  • Cross-Platform: Like interpreted languages, JIT-compiled code can run on multiple platforms with the appropriate runtime environment.

Cons of JIT Compilation:

  • Overhead: JIT compilation introduces some initial overhead, as it needs to analyze and compile code on-the-fly.
  • Complexity: Implementing JIT compilers can be complex and may require more memory.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, the choice between compiled and interpreted languages depends on your project's requirements. Compiled languages offer speed and fine-grained control, while interpreted languages provide rapid development and platform independence. JIT compilation adds a fascinating twist to the mix, optimizing the benefits of both worlds.

That’s it for today’s issue. Stay tuned for more.

Happy coding!