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Table of contents
1.
Introduction
2.
Comparison Between Compiler, Interpreter, and Assembler
3.
What is a Compiler?
3.1.
Features of Compiler
3.1.1.
Lexical Analysis
3.1.2.
Syntax Parsing
3.1.3.
Semantic Analysis
3.1.4.
Optimization
3.2.
Advantages of Compiler
3.3.
Disadvantages of Compiler
4.
What is an Interpreter?
4.1.
Features of Interpreter
4.2.
Advantages of Interpreter
4.3.
Disadvantages of Compiler
5.
What is Assembler?
5.1.
Features of Assembler
5.2.
Advantages of Assembler
5.3.
Disadvantages of Assembler
6.
Difference between Compiler and Interpreter
7.
Difference between Assembler and Compiler
8.
Why is a Compiler better than Assembler and Interpreter?
9.
Frequently Asked Questions
9.1.
What is the difference between language processor and operating system?
9.2.
What are the types of language processor?
9.3.
Which is better: Compiler, Interpreter or Assembler?
9.4.
What is assembler, compiler, and interpreter?
9.5.
What are the three types of translators?
10.
Conclusion
Last Updated: May 17, 2024
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Difference Between Compiler, Interpreter and Assembler

Author Dhruv Rawat
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Data structures & algorithms (Beginner to Intermediate)
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Introduction

Compilers and Interpreters tools act as a bridge between the code written by the programmer and its execution by the computer to convert High-Level languages whereas an Assembler is used to convert Low-Level language.

What is Compiler, Interpreter and Assembler

In this blog, we will take a deep dive into What is CompilerInterpreter and Assembler, their advantages, disadvantages and features in the software development process.

Comparison Between Compiler, Interpreter, and Assembler

FeatureCompilerInterpreterAssembler
DefinitionTranslates entire high-level code into machine code before execution.Translates high-level code into machine code line-by-line during execution.Translates assembly language code into machine code.
ExecutionExecutes the translated code after the entire program is compiled.Executes the code directly line-by-line.Executes the translated machine code immediately.
OutputGenerates an executable file.No separate executable file generated; runs directly.Generates an object file or machine code.
PerformanceGenerally faster execution since the entire code is precompiled.Slower execution due to line-by-line translation.Fast execution as it translates low-level code directly to machine code.
Error DetectionDetects errors during compilation; provides a list of errors at once.Detects errors at runtime; stops at the first error encountered.Detects errors in assembly code syntax.
Use CaseSuitable for large programs where execution speed is critical.Suitable for scripting and small programs where ease of debugging is important.Used for low-level hardware programming and system development.
LanguagesExamples include C, C++, and Java.Examples include Python, Ruby, and JavaScript.Examples include assembly languages like NASM, MASM.
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What is a Compiler?

A compiler works like a translator. Let's say we have a book in Spanish and want to convert it into a book in Hindi. So, The book in Spanish is the source code, and the book in Hindi is the compiled code. 

The compiler reads the source code and translates it into a series of instructions that the computer can understand. After that, these instructions are stored in a file called an executable file; the computer executes the instruction after executing the executable file.

The compiler first breaks the Spanish sentence down into its individual words. Then, look up the translation of each word in a dictionary. Finally, the translated words are put together in the correct order to form the Hindi sentence.

Features of Compiler

Let's understand the key features of the compiler:

Lexical Analysis

It breaks down the source code into smaller units called tokens. Tokens can be keywords, identifiers, operators, and literals and are the building blocks of programming language.

Phases of Lexical Analysis are:

  • Tokenization: breaking the source code into tokens
     
  • Classification: classifying the tokens into different categories, like keywords, identifiers and operators
     
  • Formatting: tokens are formatted into a readable format

Syntax Parsing

This feature takes care of the arrangement of tokens whether they are following the rules of the programming language's grammar or not. If it does, the compiler builds a parse tree. A Parse tree is a visual representation of the source code.

Phases of Syntax parsing are:

  • Parsing: parse tree is generated from the source code
     
  • Error detection: detects any errors in the source code
     
  • Error recovery: recovers from any errors that are detected in the source code

Semantic Analysis

This feature analyzes the meaning of the code by performing checks for type compatibility, variable usage, and other semantic constraints.

Phases of Semantic Analysis are:

  • Type checking: checks the compatibility of the types of expressions in the source code
     
  • Scope analysis: determines the scope of variables in the source code
     
  • Name analysis: verifies the names of variables and functions in the source code 

Optimization

The code is optimised by the compiler by using different techniques such as loop unrolling, constant propagation, and dead code elimination. It is done to make the code run faster.

Techniques of Optimisation are:

  • Loop unrolling: defining multiple line instructions to single line instructions, resulting in the same output
     
  • Constant propagation: replacing the variables with the constant values if the variable’s value is not changing in the program
     
  • Dead code elimination: removing the code that is never executed during the execution of the program

Advantages of Compiler

  • Compilers typically produce faster code than interpreters
     
  • Compilers optimise the code resulting in faster execution speed
     
  • Compilers detect errors in the source code at compile time, which saves time

Disadvantages of Compiler

  • Compiling code can take a long time, especially for large programs
     
  • Compilers can be more difficult to write than interpreters
     
  • Compilers may not be able to run code that is written in a dynamic language

What is an Interpreter?

An interpreter is like a translator that translates each line of code. Let's say we have a book in Spanish and want to convert it into a book in English. The interpreter works by reading the code line by line and then translating it into machine instructions, then immediately executing those instructions.

This means the interpreter will not take the whole code or, in our case, the book in Spanish instead, will take line by line from the Spanish book and convert it on the go.

Features of Interpreter

Key features of the Interpreter are described below:

  • Read and Execute: Interpreters read the code line by line and execute it immediately after translation, an instant execution facility
     
  • Dynamic Typing: Many interpreters perform dynamic type checking, which means allowing the variables to change data types during runtime
     
  • Debugging: Interpreters provide real-time feedback about the code's behaviour during execution, making it easy to debug the code
     
  • Portability: Since interpreters work directly with the source code, the same code can be executed on different platforms without modification

Advantages of Interpreter

  • Interpreters run code quickly because they do not need to compile the code into machine language
     
  • Interpreters are easier to write than compilers
     
  • Interpreters can run code that is written in a dynamic language which makes them flexible

Disadvantages of Compiler

  • Interpreters are slower in processing the code
     
  • Interpreters cannot perform code optimization 
     
  • Interpreters cannot catch errors in the source code at compile time which leads to runtime errors

What is Assembler?

Assembler is a tool that deals with the lowest level of programming, i.e. assembly language. Assembly language is a human-readable representation of machine code instructions. 
For example, Imagine we are writing a letter to a friend in English, and then your friend will translate it into their language.

In this analogy, Assemblers are like the translators. They take the assembly language code that we write and translate it into machine language that the computer can understand.

Features of Assembler

Key features of the assembler are described below:

  • Symbolic Representation: Assembly language uses mnemonic codes to represent machine instructions. These mnemonics are easier for humans to understand than raw binary code
     
  • Direct Mapping: Assemblers provide a direct mapping between assembly language instructions and the corresponding machine code instructions
     
  • Macro Processing: Assemblers often support macros, which allow programmers to define reusable code templates. These macros can be expanded to generate repetitive code segments
     
  • Low-Level Control: Assemblers provide fine-grained control over the hardware, making them suitable for tasks that require specific memory access or hardware manipulation

Advantages of Assembler

  • Assemblers produce the most efficient code because they are closer to machine language
  • Assemblers are easy to write
  • Assemblers can be used to control the hardware of a computer 

Disadvantages of Assembler

  • Assemblers are low-level languages, which means that they are more difficult to learn and use than high-level languages
  • Assemblers cannot be used to write all types of programs

Difference between Compiler and Interpreter

Below is the table that shows the key differences between compiler and interpreter:

Feature

Compiler

Interpreter

PurposeTranslates high-level language into machine codeTranslates high-level language into machine code line by line
InputHigh-level language source codeHigh-level language source code
OutputMachine codeMachine code
SpeedFasterSlower
AccuracyMore accurateLess accurate
FlexibilityLess flexibleMore flexible
Error handlingErrors are detected before the program is executedErrors are detected when the program is running

 

Difference between Assembler and Compiler

Below is the table that shows the key differences between compiler and assembler:

Feature

Assembler

Compiler

PurposeTranslates assembly language into machine codeTranslates high-level language into machine code
InputAssembly language source codeHigh-level language source code
OutputMachine codeMachine code
PlatformSpecific hardware platformIt can be used on multiple hardware platforms
SpeedFastSlow
AccuracyHighLow
FlexibilityLowHigh

Why is a Compiler better than Assembler and Interpreter?

A compiler is often considered better than an assembler and an interpreter for several reasons:

  • Efficiency: Compilers translate the entire source code into machine code or an intermediate form in one pass. This results in optimized and efficient code. Compilation happens before execution, eliminating the need for repetitive translation during runtime. On the other hand, assemblers and interpreters work with the code line by line during execution, potentially leading to slower performance.
  • Performance: Compiled code is often faster than interpreted code as it is directly executed by the machine, benefiting from optimizations performed by the compiler. On the other hand, assemblers generate machine code, but interpretation may introduce overhead, affecting performance.
  • Portability: Compiled code is generally platform-specific, requiring recompilation for different architectures. On the other hand, assembly languages and interpreted languages are often more portable since the same code can run on different platforms without modification.
  • Debugging: Debugging compiled code may be more challenging due to the lack of a direct correspondence between the source code and machine code. On the other hand, debugging is often easier in assemblers and interpreters because they work with the source code directly.
  • Security: Compiled code can be more secure as the source code is not directly accessible, and the compiled binary is what is executed. On the other hand, interpreted languages, the source code is typically visible, potentially exposing vulnerabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between language processor and operating system?

Language processor translates high-level code to machine code. On the other hand, an operating system manages hardware and provides a platform for software execution.

What are the types of language processor?

There are three types: Compiler, Interpreter, and Assembler, each with distinct functions in code translation and execution.

Which is better: Compiler, Interpreter or Assembler?

The choice depends on factors like performance, portability, and ease of debugging. Compilers often offer better performance, while interpreters provide easier debugging.

What is assembler, compiler, and interpreter?

An assembler translates assembly language into machine code. A compiler translates high-level programming languages into machine code before execution. An interpreter translates and executes high-level code line-by-line during runtime, without generating an executable file.

What are the three types of translators?

The three types of translators are assemblers, compilers, and interpreters. Assemblers convert assembly language to machine code, compilers translate high-level languages to machine code, and interpreters execute high-level language code line-by-line.

Conclusion

Understanding the differences between compilers, interpreters, and assemblers is vital for any programmer. While each serves a distinct role in code translation, their impact on performance, debugging, and portability highlights the significance of choosing the right language processor based on specific development requirements. Some differences between them have also been observed. Finally, some frequently asked questions are discussed.

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