7 Differences Between Byte Code and Machine Code

February 8,2021 - 6 min read

A computer program is a collection of specific instructions that intends to perform a specific task. There is a special software such as compilers or interpreters that transforms the program written by developers into a format that is machine readable. This format is known as machine code. There is also something known as bytecode which is a portable code which can be executed directly by a virtual machine.

Software developers often come across the term byte code and machine code in their daily lives. However, only a few understand the correct distinction between both the terms. If you want to be a successful developer, understanding the difference between byte code and machine code is essential.

In this blog, we would dwell into the details of byte code and machine code, however, the main difference between the two is that machine code is a set of instructions in machine binary language while byte code is an intermediate code generated from compiling a source code. The machine code is directly executed by the CPU and the bytecode is executed by a virtual machine.

Before understanding the seven differences between byte code and machine code, let’s understand each of these terms in detail and individually. Let’s get started!

Understanding Machine Code & Byte Code

In this segment, we would explore each of the terms, machine code and byte code, individually and in detail. After comprehending each concept, we would proceed to understand the 7 differences between machine code and byte code. Let’s begin by talking about machine code, its role, importance and utility in the world of computers.

  • Machine Code

    Machine code is basically instructions written in machine language which can be directly executed by the CPU. We know that programmers write a computer program using a high-level programming language. Generally, these languages are C, C++, Java etc. These languages have a syntax similar to English language and it is easier for people to read and understand the code, however, it’s not the same for computers. In order to make the computer understand, the source code has to be converted to a machine understandable format by a compiler or an interpreter. This format is known as machine code.

    As mentioned above, this conversion can be done by either a compiler or an interpreter. The output and input of both compiler or interpreter, however, there is one vital difference in the process. A compiler converts the source code into machine code all at once, while an interpreter treats the source code line by line and then converts it into the equivalent machine code. One can guess that a compiler-based language is fast compared to an interpreter- based language as it treats each and every line. After, the conversion of the source code is done, either by a compiler or an interpreter, the CPU directly executes the machine code and then perform the particular task mentioned in the program.

    Now that we understood machine code in detail, let’s make an effort to understand Bytecode.

  • Bytecode

    After the source code is compiled, the intermediate code produced is Bytecode which is executable by a virtual machine which also converts the bytecode into machine code. Bytecodes are popularly used by Java. Once, you compile a Java source code, the compiler converts the Java source code into a bytecode first which is executable by the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). JVM is actually used to convert the bytecode into machine code.

    We have discussed both machine code and byte code separately and we hope that the concept is clear in your mind. The relation between Machine Code and Bytecode is that a virtual machine converts any bytecode into machine code.

    Now that we have discussed machine code byte code, it’s time to discuss the seven basic differences between source code and byte code.

Differences Between Bytecode and Machine Code

In this segment we understand the difference between Bytecode and machine code under seven broad headings.

  1. Concept

    Machine code is basically a computer programming language of binary instructions to which a computer can directly respond. On the other hand, bytecode is an instruction set designed for efficient execution by a software, commonly this software is a virtual machine. The basic concept of machine code and byte code is actually the first fundamental difference between both these terms.

  2. Basis

    When we talk about machine code, it can be directly executed by a processor or the CPU. On the other hand, the bytecode is created after compiling the source code which is executed by a virtual machine. Execution is very important to the functioning of computers or even software programs and hence, the basis of their execution is also a vital difference between machine code and byte code. This point, along with others that we will discuss or have already discussed, is important in order to understand the role and function of both machine code and byte code.

  3. Type

    A major difference between machine code and bytecode is their type. Machine code is a low-level code while bytecode is an intermediate code. It means that machine code can be directly understood by computers while byte code is produced as intermediate code produced after the source code is compiled.

  4. Contents

    One major difference between machine code and byte code is its contents. Byte code basically consists of instructions like ‘add’, ’subtract’ or anything else in binary, hexadecimal format that is not directly understood by computer. On the other hand, Machine code has binary instructions that are directly understood by the CPU.

  5. Execution

    We discussed the basis of execution earlier; in this point we would understand how each of the code functions inside the computers. A Byte code cannot run as it is generated after the compilation of source code. It is executed by the interpreter. On the other hand, machine code is written in machine language and the CPU can directly execute it. Also, Byte code is less specific towards machine as compared to the machine code.

  6. Process

    Byte code is executed by the virtual machine then the Central Processing Unit. Machine code is not executed by a virtual machine it is directly executed by CPU.Hence, the process associated with Byte code and Machine code is also a basic difference.

  7. Conversion

    It is not compulsory that every source code written by a programmer needs not to be converted into byte code for execution by the CPU. Sometimes, when a programmer writes a source code in a particular high-level language, it is converted into byte code and then the byte code is converted to object code so that it can be executed by the processor or the CPU. The difference between source code and byte code is that the source code needs to compulsorily be converted into machine code before it is executed by the CPU. The conversion of the source code is into byte code is not necessary in all cases.


With this, we come to an end of our discussion on the difference between source code and byte code. We have discussed 7 major differences between both these terms. The crux of the discussion was that the processor of a computer can directly execute the machine code of any particular program. On the other hand, the bytecode is created once the source code is compiled which is efficiently executed by a software such as the virtual machine but is not directly understood by the CPU.

We hope that the difference between machine code and byte code is clear in your minds. We hope that once you become proficient developers, you don’t forget the basics of computer science. This blog was an earnest effort in explaining the difference between source code and byte code in an easy manner. We hope the effort did not go in vain. However, if there are any doubts or queries bothering you, we are always there to help you and make you a holistic developer who is not only prolific in developing advanced applications but is also well versed with the basic concepts of computer science.

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