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Table of contents
1.
Introduction
2.
Compiler
2.1.
Working of a Compiler
2.2.
Advantages of Compiler
2.3.
Disadvantages of Compiler
3.
Cross-compiler
3.1.
Working of Cross-Compiler
3.2.
Advantages of Cross-compiler
3.3.
Disadvantages of Cross-compiler
4.
Compiler vs Cross Compiler
5.
Compiler or Cross-compiler?
6.
Frequently Asked Questions
6.1.
What is a compiler?
6.2.
What is a cross-platform compiler?
6.3.
What is the difference between a compiler and a cross-platform compiler?
7.
Conclusion
Last Updated: Mar 27, 2024

Compiler vs Cross Compiler

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Introduction

We know that a compiler converts a high-level language source code to a low-level machine language. There are various types of compilers, such as traditional compilers, interpreters, incremental compilers, converters, etc. But do you know that a cross-compiler is also a type of compiler.

compiler vs cross compiler

Do you know what cross-compiler are and how they work? If not, then don't worry because, in this article, we will discuss about compiler vs cross compiler. We will see their working, advantages and disadvantages. In the end, we will also see a difference table to better understand about a compiler and a cross compiler.

Compiler

A compiler converts a source code of a high-level language to a low-level machine language without modifying the code's definition, and the compiler's end code is optimized for memory space and time. 

Compiler

The compiler accepts a high-level language as its input, and the output is a machine code that is executable for the same platform as the compiler. A compiler uses libraries specific to the platform. It has an easy setup.

Working of a Compiler

The compilation work mainly involves the following phases:

  • Lexical Analysis: It is the starting Phases of Compiler in which modified source code is gathered. A lexical analyzer breaks syntax into a series of tokens by removing white spaces.
     
  • Syntactic analysis: It is the process in which a string of symbols is analyzed either in computer language, data structures, or natural language.
     
  • Intermediate code generation: A compiler generates a middle-level language during the translation of a source program into object code for the target machine. This is known as Intermediate code generation.
     
  • Optimization: It is the process in which any space/memory optimization if needed, are analyzed.
     
  • Code generation: This step includes the final generated code that should have the same meaning as the source code.
     

For different computer architectures, different machine code is produced. This means that a program that is compiled for one type of computer will not necessarily run on a computer with different architecture. A compiler generates an executable file, i.e., .exe. An example of a compiler would be the GCC compiler or Turbo C.

There are various types of compilers, such as traditional compilers, interpreters, cross-compilers, increments compilers, converters, Just-in-time (JIT) Compilers, Single-Pass Compilers, Multi-pass compilers, Ahead-of-Time (AOT) Compilers, etc.

Advantages of Compiler

Let's discuss some of the advantages of a compiler.

  • A compiler analyses the source code and produces a machine code. The machine code produced is specific to that particular computer’s architecture.
     
  • Syntax and logical errors are also identified in the compilation process done by the compiler.
     
  • Compilers are able to perform various optimizations, like function inkling, instruction scheduling, and unrolling.
     
  • They can produce code that is highly optimized and runs quickly on the same system. Therefore a compiler runs faster than a code that is interpreted.
     
  • The compiled code can run on a computer of the same architecture as the one on which it was compiled. This shows that a compiler is portable.

Disadvantages of Compiler

Let's discuss some of the disadvantages of a compiler.

  • Compilers are not suitable for cross-platform development, as cross-platform development requires the ability to compile code for different operating systems and hardware.
     
  • A compiler is platform-dependent as the compiled code can run on a computer of the same architecture as the one on which it was compiled.
     
  • Debugging a compiled code can be a tedious and difficult task compared to the code interpreted by the interpreter.
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Cross-compiler

Cross-compilers run on one machine and make code for another machine. A cross-compiler translates a program for a different platform or machine other than the platform it runs. It is system and OS-independent. For example, a compiler runs on Windows and produces executable code for Linux; this is known as cross-platform.

cross compiler

Cross-complier usually have a complicated setup and require additional libraries and configuration to generate the target platform's code. A cross-complier has a host and target. The host is the computer for which the compilation work is performed for the target machine. Some examples are traditional game consoles and embedded systems.

Working of Cross-Compiler

While discussing cross-compilers, we must be aware of the build and host platforms. A build platform is where the compilation process is performed, and the host platform is on which we want to run our executable result.

To specify them, we mainly use the following configuration setup:

--build=build   //The system where we want to build the package

--host=host    //This refers to where the built programs and libraries are expected to run

During the cross-compilation process, when –host is used, configure searches for the cross-compilation suite for this particular platform. The target architectures are used as a prefix for naming the cross-compilation tools. Usually --host and --built are the only configuration setup we need, but if the package being built is itself a cross-compiler, then we need a third option for specifying the target architecture, i.e., --target=target.

Cross-compilers generate the code for different platforms and require a build environment different from the target platform. They are helpful for developing software for mobile devices and embedded systems, i.e., the platforms with different architectures compared to the computer used for development.

They are useful for scenarios where embedded systems have some constrained computing power. A cross-compiler works in contrast to the source-to-source compiler, which converts the text code of one coding language to another, while a cross-compiler generates machine code for cross-platform.

Embedded systems are a combination of software designed for a particular function and computer hardware. For instance, a microcontroller is also designed to perform a specific task.

Advantages of Cross-compiler

Let's discuss the advantages of cross-platform compilers:

  • Using cross-platform compilers, we can compile code on one computer and generate the executable for another computer. Therefore it is platform-independent and allows us to target multiple platforms independently.
     
  • Cross platforms also optimize code for the target platform and help in improving performance by reducing the required memory for the program.
     
  • Cross-platform compiler also does checks for identifying errors and helps to fix them.

Disadvantages of Cross-compiler

Let's discuss the disadvantages of cross-platform compilers:

  • Debugging the code generated by the cross-platform compiler can be a tedious task compared to a simple compiler. Therefore it can be difficult to fix errors.
     
  • A cross-platform compiler is complex compared to a simple compiler. If we compile codes on different machine and execute them on different machine then it may reduce the performance of the compilation process as the hardware and software optimization's may vary on different machines.

Compiler vs Cross Compiler

Below are some of the major differences between a compiler and a cross-compiler.

Basis Compiler Cross-platform compiler
Platform support

They generate machine code for the same platform, i.e., the one they are running on.

They generate machine code for the different platforms, i.e., not for the one which they are running on.
Performance They produce faster code. They produce slower code than a simple compiler because they must adjust to the differences between the target and source platforms.
Build environment They are built and run on the same platform. A cross-platform’s build environment is different from the target platform.
Dependency A compiler is dependent on a machine and operating system. A cross-compiler is dependent on a machine and operating system.
Input It accepts High-level language as the input. It accepts High-level language as the input.
Output A compiler produces machine code for a specific computer architecture. A cross-compiler produces machine code for another machine.
Advantage

Compilers are able to perform various optimizations, like function inkling, instruction scheduling, and unrolling.

 

Using cross-platform compilers, we can compile code on one computer and generate the executable for another computer. Therefore it is platform-independent and allows us to target multiple platforms independently.
 
Disadvantage

A compiler is platform-dependent as the compiled code can run on a computer of the same architecture as the one on which it was compiled.

 

Debugging the code generated by the cross-platform compiler can be a tedious task compared to a simple compiler. Therefore it can be difficult to fix errors. A cross-platform compiler is complex compared to a simple compiler.

Compiler or Cross-compiler?

If we ever thought that which one is better, compiler or cross-complier? The answer to this question mainly depends on one’s needs. Therefore, a compiler is what we can opt for if we are making a project that we want to develop on the same platform where we want the execution.

But if we want to use the execution on some other platform, then a cross-platform compiler proves to be a  better choice.

Also see,  cousins of compiler 

Also see, Cross Compiler

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a compiler?

A compiler converts a source code of a high-level language to a low-level machine language without modifying the definition of the code and the end code produced by the compiler that is optimized for memory space and time.

What is a cross-platform compiler?

Cross compilers run on one machine and make code for another machine. A cross-compiler translates a program for a different platform or machine other than the platform it runs. It is system and OS-independent. Using cross-platform compilers, we can compile code on one computer and generate the executable for another.

What is the difference between a compiler and a cross-platform compiler?

The major difference between a compiler and a cross-platform compiler is that a compiler takes a high-level language as input and produces the machine code for the computer on which it runs; on the other hand, a cross-platform compiler produces the code for a different platform. 

Conclusion

We hope this article helped you understand Compiler vs Cross Compiler. We have outlined their differences using a table and discussed their advantages and disadvantages. You can read more such articles on our platform, Coding Ninjas Studio.
 

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