Difference Between Source Code and Object Code

February 3,2021 - 4 min read
Difference between source code and object code

Developers often come across the terms source code and object code in their daily lives. However, only a few understand the correct difference between both the terms. If you want to be a successful developer, understanding the difference between source code and object code is essential.

The basic difference between source code and object code is that source code is written by a programmer while an object code is produced when a source code is compiled. Source code is created with a text editor or a visual programming tool and then saved in a file and object code is processed by the CPU in a computer. The object code file has a sequence of machine-readable instructions and the source code has programming lines that represents the logic of the programme.

The above paragraph is a concise description that represents the difference between source code and object code. In this blog, we discussed in detail the difference between source code and object code. Let’s get started!

In order to understand the difference between two things, we need to first discuss the meaning of each of these terms separately. Hence, let’s begin by reading the explanation of source code and object code individually.

What is Source Code?

Source code is written by a human programmer that is basically a high level or assembly code. It is written by programmer in any High- Level Language or Intermediate language which also contains comments for better understanding of the logic and hence it is easy to read and also modify. Source code is basically a set of instructions, commands and statements which is written by a computer programmer in a programming language like C, C++, Java, Python among others. In short, source code is the original source of the program written by a developer.

The above explanation of source code is perfect for a concrete understanding, however, here are a few points to comprehend the concept in a better manner.

If you have ever seen a text- based document which has a code for performing some task written in a programming language and saved in a prescribed format like ‘.java’ for JAVA code, ‘.cpp’ for C++ code, etc. The source code file is written that follows some conventions, rules and syntax of the particular programming language in which the source code is written in. This language is any high- level language of programmer’s choice or one which is appropriate to the project and is saved accordingly with the correct extension.

Now that we have understood the concept of source code in detail, it’s time to comprehend an important point in regards with source code. As explained above, source code is written in language that is easily understood by humans, however, machines can’t understand the instructions written in the source code. Hence, the source code is of no use to the machine until compiled by the compiler of that particular language (in which the source code is written) into a machine executable code.

The compiler of the language comes into picture when the source code is compiled as the source code is the input to the compiler of the language. The language translator converts the source code into machine code or object code that is understandable by the machine. As mentioned above that computers cannot directly understand source code and hence it is important to convert it to source code so that the computer understands and executes it, this conversion is the fundamental component in the world of computing. In the next segment, we are going to talk in detail about object code.

What is Object Code?

Object code refers to the low- level code that is understandable by computers. A compiler or a translator generates the Object code from the source code. Object code is in executable machine code format which contains a sequence of machine understandable instructions that the Central Processing Unit understands and executes.

Object code is contained in the object file which are Common Object File Format known as COFF, COM files and “.exe” files. We explained above that source code is input to the compiler or translator, similarly, object code is the output of a compiler or any other translator. Programmers and developers can understand the format of source code but it is not the same with object code. Object code is not is in binary format and not in plain understandable text like source code.

Object Code is basically a file generated by the compiler that contains the instructions for machine in the form of binary digits. Object code is basically a binary file having instructions encoded in binary digits or in a machine executable format that were given by the programmer in the Source Code. Object Code is understood by machines readable but not by humans, until and unless, they are expert programmers in binary coding.

The process of converting the source code into object code or machine executable code by a compiler is called compilation. Also, the output of the compiler (the object code) is specific to the system architecture. Therefore, the object file generated by the compiler in one machine might not work on other machines that have different system architecture. The problem of machine dependency is solved by the use of Intermediated Code and Just in Time Compiler. However, many languages continue to follow the traditional way of generating the object code. Also, whenever the source code is modified and compiled again, the changes are reflected in its object code.

Now that we understood the concept of source code and object code in detail, it’s time to compare both of them and understand in detail the precise difference between source code and object code.

What is the Difference between Source Code and Object Code?

In this segment, we would understand the difference between source code and object code in the form of crisp and concise points. The segment below can be considered as a summary of everything discussed above.

  1. Creation

    As mentioned above, that source code is generated by a programmer or a developer, basically a human and on the other hand, object code is generated by a compiler or any other language translator.

  2. Format

    Source code is a high- level code that is written in a high-level programming language that ca be understood by humans. It is a text rich document. Object code, on the other hand, is low level code which is basically a translation of source code in binary format that is usually not understood by humans but can be understood as well as executed by machines.

  3. Language

    Source code is written in a high- level language like C, C++, Java, Python and others or it is written in assembly language and contains comments that explain the logic. Object code is written in machine language through a compiler or an assembler or any other translator. Object code does not contain any comments.

  4. Modification

    Source code can be easily modified by any developer or programmer. However, the object code is only modified when the updated source code is compiled again.

  5. Nature

    Source code contains a smaller number of statements compared to object code. Also, source code is less close to machine compared to object code. Another point in the nature of source code is that source code is not system specific, while, object code is specific to a particular system.

  6. Performance

    Performance of source code is less compared to that of object code as it is less close towards machine.

  7. Compiler

    As explained above, source code is an input to the compiler or any other translator used and object code, on the other hand, is the final output of the compiler or any other translator.

  8. Modification

    Source code is flexible enough to be changed manually by a developer or a programmer. However, in order to change the object code, the modified source code has to be compiled again.

This was our earnest effort to explain the difference between source code and object code. This was a basic understanding and differentiation between object code and source code. If you aim to become a prolific developer, it is very important to understand the basics. We hope that this blog helps you upgrade your knowledge and perform better as a developer. Also, if you have any doubts or queries with regards to object code and source code, we would love to hear from you and build a community of enthusiastic technocrats.

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