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Compiler vs Interpreter: Difference Between Compiler and Interpreter

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23rd Jun, 2023
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Compiler vs Interpreter: Difference Between Compiler and Interpreter

Just as translations are essential to understanding different languages, machines require compatible languages to comprehend and execute programs. Compiler and interpreter are software that acts as language translators for machines. The main objective of compiler and interpreter is to interpret high-level programming language into machine language. However, the computers’ inability to access assembly language and high-level languages make it difficult to assess programs, requiring interaction with other platforms extending data translation.  

Most of the programs written to structure a complex data layout are assembly or high-level languages such as JAVA, C++ or Python. These languages include mnemonics to provide simple interpretation and application of the data type by programmers, such as using ‘ADD’ instead of Addition or ‘BAL’ for Branch and Link. On the other hand, computing devices are only capable of performing understanding binary digits 1 and 0. This computing drawback creates a need for language translators to process programming languages into machine codes. 

Compiler and interpreter are two machine language translators converting programs written in the high-level programming language to machine language for a successful run and functionality on a computing device. Thus, machine language coding is the only way for a computer to understand the inserted instructions, making language translators extremely significant.

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To understand the difference between compiler and interpreter, one must comprehend these two language translators’ basic functionality and behaviour. So, let’s dive in!


The compiler is a special language translating program that converts high-level programming language into comprehensible machine code. The program translates the source program to machine code entirely at once, including all the statements and expressions. The compiler implements conversion before executing the source program and turns it into object code. As the compiler delivers resultant errors, it is essential to fix them before running the program. It is impossible to move ahead with program execution if the errors are not solved. Programming languages such as C and C++ are the most common ones to use compilers for implementation.


The interpreter is also a language converting program, providing machines with translated codes rather than high-level language. Opposing the compiler program, the interpreter converts the source program into machine code separately. It processes data line-by-line for in-depth precision, making the resultant time to conclude processing considerably higher than the compiler.

Despite maintaining a fast scanning speed, the execution process is slow. Line by line converting process projects errors one at a time, so one has to solve the error before proceeding to the next. Programming languages such as Python, Pearl, PHP etc., use interpreter programs for implementation.

Compiler and Interpreter Difference 

Compiler and interpreter are closely related as both tackle the same problem. However, their key functionalities differ significantly. Following are the major differences between the two translators:

1. Execution format

The execution process of a compiler program aims to translate the complete source file at once, to later deliver any available errors for programmers to resolve. This method postpones the execution process towards the end of the entire analysing and conversion process. 

An interpreter program follows line by line interpretation of the source program while simultaneously running it. It is important to solve any emerging errors in the way or the program stops proceeding further. 

2. Time consumption

Compiler executes programs rapidly. However, the speed also depends on the type of language used. 

Contrarily, an interpreter takes a longer implementation time as the program scans each statement thoroughly. Scanning is comparatively faster, yet the overall process is slower.

3. Error detection

Error detection turns complex in the compiler as the program sends a lengthy list of errors at the end of the execution process. Finding the exact error can be time-consuming.

Interpreter interacts with error comparatively better than compiler as it projects any possible error with each translating statement. 

4. Memory consumption

The compiler’s memory requirement is more as the program and processing create object code through the execution.

Interpreter consumes less memory as it does not create any intermediate machine code during the program’s execution. 

5. Source program languages

Source high-level program languages for the compiler program are C, JAVA, C++, SCALA, C#, etc.

Source high-level program languages for the interpreter program are Ruby, Perl, PHP, Python, etc.


Besides compiler and interpreter being the leading program language translators, another program named assembler provides machine code interpretation. The assembler works with a different programming language called assembly language. Assembly language lies between the high-level language and machine language, as a low-level language that is not entirely comprehensible to machines but humans. An assembler helps convert assembly language to object codes. One example of an assembly language program is the DOS operating system.

Compiler vs Interpreter: Advantages 

Compilers vs interpreter are two of the most common tools used in computer programming. Understanding their differences is essential for any programmer looking to create software applications. When you want to differentiate between an interpreter and a compiler, it helps to understand the main advantages of each.

Advantages of Compilers

  • Speed: Since compilers translate the source code into an executable before running it, they usually execute faster than interpreters. This is because once compiled, programs are stored in a ready-to-run format.
  • Debugging/Testing: Compilers make debugging and testing much easier as they provide detailed error messages with line numbers whenever errors occur. This makes it much simpler for programmers to find and fix any issues with their code quickly.
  • Memory Efficiency: Compiled programs require less memory since only the machine code must be stored to run. On the other hand, interpreters must store both the source code and the compiled program in memory.

Advantages of Interpreters

  • Portability: Interpreters are much more portable than compilers, as they don’t need to be recompiled for every target platform. This makes them ideal and suitable for applications that need to run on multiple platforms with minimal effort from the programmer.
  • Flexibility: Interpreters offer more flexibility when making changes or experimenting with code since they can execute commands one at a time. This allows for quick and swift changes to existing programs without recompilation.

Additionally, there are a few benefits to using an assembler instead of either a compiler or interpreter. Assemblers are used to directly translate assembly language instructions into machine code, allowing for more precise control over the generated code.

Ultimately, it is up to each programmer to decide which tool is best and most apt for their project. Depending on the needs of the program, an interpreter may be the better choice if portability and flexibility are necessary. At the same time, a compiler may be preferable if speed and memory efficiency are important. Similarly, an assembler may be ideal for programs that require tight control over the generated code. 

Difference Between Compiler, Interpreter and Assembler

All three of the mentioned programs are meant to convert incompatible programming language to machine code that a computing device can understand. However, their intrinsic differences make them unique, the most basic one being the translated language type. 

Contrary to compiler and interpreter, an assembler program does not work with high-level languages. It is compatible to work with a low-level language called assembly language. It explains instructions to any machine more clearly than high-level languages yet uses words instead of numbers.  

Compared to the other two program language translators, the processing speed of an assembler program is the fastest as it compiles simple tasks that the machine can solve immediately, rather than complex data structure like the other two languages. 

The compiler’s key task is to convert the source program into machine code, and the interpreter converts the source and executes it at the exact time. On the other hand, the assembler is made of mnemonic codes and translates the same into machine language.

Comparison between Compiler Interpreter and Assembler

When you want to compare compiler vs interpreter and assembler, there are several key differences that you should keep in mind.

  • Compilers convert high-level language code into machine instructions that the computer can execute. In contrast, interpreters directly execute the source code line by line without any prior compilation. Assemblers are used to translate assembly language instructions into machine code, allowing for more precise control of the generated code.
  • Compilers are faster than interpreters since they generate optimized executable programs before running them. In contrast, interpreters typically execute much slower as they need to parse and interpret each line of code every time it runs. Assemblers also tend to perform better due to their ability to generate optimized machine code.
  • Compilers and interpreters are more portable than assemblers as they don’t need to be recompiled for each target platform. On the other hand, an assembler must be tailored to the specific target architecture to generate optimized machine code.

Overall, understanding the differences between compiler vs interpreter vs assembler is important for any programmer looking to create software applications. Whether it’s a compiler, an interpreter or an assembler – having a solid understanding of their relative advantages vs disadvantages will help you make an informed decisions when it comes time to coding.

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Data being the building block of any programming layout, must be inserted in the right format to receive efficiency and accuracy. Machine language is the only format computation processes accept to create complex data structures, yet understanding it is nearly impossible for humans. Therefore the usage of high-level languages is prominent to index varying data types. High-level languages alone cannot form a programming structure. Hence the role of a programming language translator is essential.

Compiler, interpreter, and assembler simplify finding errors in a program, which significantly enhances the accuracy of any programming project. Moreover, rapidly functioning language translators are necessary to speed up the competitive process of ML and AI in the market, which are soon to take over the tech industry with their dynamic service production. 


Pavan Vadapalli

Blog Author
Director of Engineering @ upGrad. Motivated to leverage technology to solve problems. Seasoned leader for startups and fast moving orgs. Working on solving problems of scale and long term technology strategy.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What are low-level languages?

Low-level languages are machine-oriented languages closely related to a computer program’s actual set of instructions, making it known as the computer's native language as well. Low level language is designed to operate on hardware and other computing components. They are memory efficient as they do not require a translator to convert statements into machine code.

2Which programming language does not require a programming language translator?

The only type of language that does not need any programming language translator is machine language. Being extremely complicated with a plethora of data makes it difficult for people to program directly in machine language. Therefore, high-level languages are used to create source programs.

3What is the significance of using a programming language translator?

The major objective of any programming language translator is to simplify the source language for computing devices to process and put it into use. In addition to this major aspect, language translators help find errors in programming languages for a smooth process.

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