What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (2024)

/ #Compilers
What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (1)
Tiago Monteiro
What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (2)

Did you know that it is thanks to compilers that software exists?

Exactly – compilers are very important, and some form of a compiler exists in all programming languages.

But, what is a compiler? What do they do exactly?

This article will teach you:

  1. What a compiler is with an analogy.
  2. The basic history of C compilers.

Don’t worry, you don’t need programming experience to understand what a compiler is.

You just need to understand the concept first, and then if you want, you can go for the technical definition.

1. What is a Compiler? An Analogy

What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (3)

Imagine that you are learning a language (French, Spanish, or Portuguese) and you want to know the meaning of a word or sentence.

To do that, you are going to use Google Translate.

The first step is knowing what you will type into Google Translate and checking if it is typed correctly.

The second step is choosing the language you want to convert. For many readers, it will be English.

The third and final step is just getting to know what that sentence means in English.

Essentially, you just typed in Google Translate a sentence or word you did not understand. Google Translate translated that sentence into English.

What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (4)

The same thing happens in programming.

In this case, we are using the C language.

The first step you must take is to know what you will type in the .c file and if it is typed correctly.

In this example, the file is called main.c.

#include <stdio.h>int main(){printf("Hello World"); return 0;}
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The second step is to compile it. It will be compiled according to the compiler you have.

gcc -o main main.c -Wall
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The third and final step is simply getting to know the output of the program – to make sure it is running like we want.

Quick note: if you want to know what each word in the command line terminal means, please check out the “More…” section in this article!

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You can see in the image below a visual explanation of the compiling process:

What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (8)

How C Compilers Work

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Over the years, tech has evolved at an incredible pace. The same applies to compilers.

The C compiler has, over time, evolved into many versions.

Just like PlayStation – there is the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and so on.

The same is true for C compilers. Once it was standardized, many versions were created:

  • C89/90, a version of C once standardized,
  • C99 replaced C89 and C90 in 1999.
  • C11 replaced C99 in 2011.
  • C17 replaced C11 in 2018.
  • C2X will replace C17 in 2023.

Just like with a PlayStation, each new version has new features.

Some people prefer just playing on their PlayStation2.

It’s the same with programmers. For a variety of reasons, programmers may prefer to write and debug C code with the C99 or C11.

More About Compilers

What exactly does “gcc -o main main.c -Wall” mean, that we saw in the code above? Let's break it down piece by piece.

gcc is the command that invokes the compilation process (preprocessing, compilation, assembly, and linking).

-o main indicates that the name of the executable file created by the compilation of "main.c" is going to be called "main".

main.c is the name of the file to be compiled.

The -Wall option enables compiler warnings. Compiler warnings let you know that something in your code isn't quite right.

This is similar to Grammarly. If Grammarly suggests changing a sentence, you should in most cases change it to make it clearer and more correct.

Otherwise, if you try to change something in a phrase that's already right, it can become illegible.

In the same way, if you ignore warnings in code, it can ultimately cause major bugs and your project might even fail.

What does "Standardized" mean?

So you might be wondering, what does “standardized mean that we saw above?

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Let's look at it through another analogy. There are many ways to build a house. But there is a certain way that is generally both the most efficient and the safest.

Because of this, people and organizations must agree that there is a standard way of building a house.

The process of creating that standard is called standardization.

When a set of rules becomes a standard, the set of rules becomes standardized.

This set of rules can be a law, a certificate, or just a basic convention used by workers in a certain field.

The same applies to C compilers.

It is standardization that helps people agree on how things should be done, whether it is C compilers, car components, or anything else.

Standardization can also help people agree on which version of C to use. C compilers are an example.

The C compiler has long been considered a fundamental component of software development.

As a result of the C compiler standard, developers can compile and run other people's code without worrying that their compilers will not work.

In order to create such an important building block of the industry, there must be an organization that is responsible for establishing standards

Many organizations create and manage standards. In the case of C compilers, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) manages the standards.

As long as the ISO manages future C compiler standards, programmers and companies can develop reliable software.

Wrapping Up

Thanks for reading! Now you understand:

  • What a compiler is
  • The basic history of C compilers
  • What standardization means

Here is the GitHub repository with the code and image files I created.








What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (11)
Tiago Monteiro

3º year electrical and computer engineering student at Nova School of Science and Technology in Portugal | Vice Chair of IEEE NOVA SB | IEEE NOVA SB represents IEEE | https://www.ieee.org/

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What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners (2024)


What is a Compiler? Compilers in C Explained for Beginners? ›

At its core, a compiler is a program that translates code written in a high-level programming language (like C, Java, or Python) into a low-level language (like assembly language or machine code) that can be directly executed by a computer's hardware.

What is compiler in C simple? ›

A compiler is a software that converts the source code to the object code. In other words, we can say that it converts the high-level language to machine/binary language. Moreover, it is necessary to perform this step to make the program executable. This is because the computer understands only binary language.

Which C compiler for beginner? ›

What is the best C compiler for beginners? Turbo C is one of the best C Compilers. It is a perfect tool for beginners to learn and start practicing codes. This does not suggest the keywords or mistakes in code while writing, which can be helpful for the new coder to grasp more.

What is a compiler in your own words? ›

A compiler is a program that translates programming languages into machine-readable code that can be executed by a computer.

What is a compiler simple? ›

In computing, a compiler is a computer program that translates computer code written in one programming language (the source language) into another language (the target language).

What is the purpose of the C compiler? ›

What is a C Compiler. A C Compiler is an essential tool used in programming that translates the high-level C language code into a machine-readable format required by computers to execute the code efficiently.

What is the purpose of a compiler? ›

A compiler translates code written in a high-level programming language into machine code that a computer can understand. In more detail, a compiler is a special type of software that serves as a translator between the programmer and the computer.

What is the best compiler for beginners? ›

Top 10 Best Java Compiler
  • Coding Ninjas.
  • Eclipse.
  • NetBeans.
  • IntelliJ IDEA. 2.5.
  • JDeveloper. 2.6.
  • BlueJ. 2.7.
  • JCreater. 2.8.
  • Android Studio. 2.9.
Mar 27, 2024

Is C hard for beginners? ›

C is a powerful and versatile programming language that is still widely used today. It is a good choice for beginners because it is relatively easy to learn and it teaches you the fundamentals of programming.

Is there a free C compiler? ›

Pelles C is a free development kit for Windows and Windows Mobile containing an optimizing C compiler, a macro assembler, a linker, a resource compiler, a message compiler, a make utility and installs builders for both Windows and Windows Mobile.

What is a compiler example? ›

A compiler is similar to an interpreter. However, a compiler is faster than an interpreter and translates the entire file at once. An interpreter reads the source program line by line and, therefore, is a slower process. TurboC++ and Keil are two specific examples of commonly used compilers.

What is the difference between a compiler and a language? ›

Compilers and interpreters take human-readable code and convert it to computer-readable machine code. In a compiled language, the target machine directly translates the program. In an interpreted language, the source code is not directly translated by the target machine.

Is a compiler an app? ›

All compilers are application software. Many times, compiler required many system libs for compile your software. System software is a type of computer program designed to run hardware and software programs on a computer.

What is the compiler in C with an example? ›

The compiler translates the preprocessed C source code into an intermediate representation, typically assembly language or an intermediate machine-independent code. The translation process involves analyzing the code for syntax errors and generating corresponding machine-level instructions.

What is the main function of a compiler? ›

The primary and main function of a Compiler is to translate source code from a high-level programming language to a lower-level language like object code. A compiler creates a machine code that runs on a processor with a specific Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), which is processor-dependent.

How does a compiler work step by step? ›

A compiler is a computer program that transforms source code written in a high-level programming language into a lower-level language. Basically, a compiler consists of the following phases: Lexical Analysis, Syntax Analysis, Semantic Analysis, IR Generation, IR Optimization, Code Generation, Optimization.

What is compiler process in C? ›

The C compilation process converts the input source code into object code or machine code. Pre-processing, Compiling, Assembling, and Linking are the four phases in the compilation process. C source files are typically named with . c extension.

What is compiler and interpreter in C? ›

A compiler translates code written in a high-level programming language into a lower-level language like assembly language, object code and machine code (binary 1 and 0 bits). It converts the code ahead of time before the program runs. An interpreter translates the code line-by-line when the program is running.

What is the basic of compiler? ›

Compilers are translators that produce object code (machine-runnable version) from source code (human- readable version). Interpreters are translators that translate only as much as is necessary to run the next statement of the program. The implementation language for compilers used to be assembly language.

What is compiler language example? ›

A compiled language is a programming language that is converted into machine code so that the processor can execute it. The compiled languages are usually compiled, not interpreted. For better understanding you can go through the types of compiled language – CLEO, COBOL, C, C++, C#, etc.


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