October 5, 2023

Beyond the Binary: Understanding Programming Languages and Machine Code

In this Insight article, we discuss the difference between the code written by a software developer and the specific code a device ultimately receives for direct execution.

To create software, developers utilize various programming languages (about the most popular ones at the moment, we discussed in this publication). Professionals choose the most suitable ones for accomplishing the necessary tasks for frontend or backend (read about the difference between them here).

Many business owners, whether planning to embark on digital transformation through CDAP or independently, have heard about various programming languages. However, few of them truly understand that the hardware running any applications, in reality, does not comprehend either JavaScript or Python.

A programming language is a formalized means of communication between the developer and a computer or mobile device. Using it, developers describe the instructions that the machine has to execute. Programming languages can be high-level (Python, Java, C#) and low-level (C, Assembler).

Meanwhile, machine code consists of a sequence of instructions that a computer or mobile device can directly interpret using its processor. It's a foundational language representing binary code, a set of ones and zeros, specific to each piece of hardware.

Level of Abstraction. Programming languages offer a high level of abstraction, allowing developers to focus on solving specific tasks and not delve into the details of specific hardware operations. In contrast, machine code provides instructions at the most basic level.

Readability for Developers. Code written in a programming language is often much easier to read, understand, modify, and extend. For a human, machine code appears as a chaotic set of numbers, usually decipherable only by highly experienced specialists in a narrow field.

Application Portability. Software written in high-level programming languages is most often relatively easy to transfer from one platform to another. Moreover, today there exist cross-platform tools for development (read about the difference between native and cross-platform development in this publication). In contrast, machine code is tied to a specific processor architecture.

Performance. Since machine code is executed directly by the processor, it can be faster. However, modern compilers are capable of optimizing code even in the highest-level languages in such a way that the difference in performance will be minimal or practically imperceptible.

In general, programming languages and machine code are two sides of the same coin. On one hand, they have many significant differences, which are evident even to those not professionally involved in the tech industry. On the other hand, they are all intended for the functioning of software.

To write software, developers use a programming language, which is subsequently transformed into machine code so that a specific device can execute it. Understanding this difference should help everyone grasp more deeply how exactly applications operate at a fundamental level.

Let our expert developers navigate the intricate world of programming languages and machine code for you


Nick Griс


Software Development

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