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Thinking in C++
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A compiler translates source code directly into assembly language or machine instructions. The eventual end product is a file or files containing machine code. This is an involved process, and usually takes several steps. The transition from writing code to executing code is significantly longer with a compiler.

Depending on the acumen of the compiler writer, programs generated by a compiler tend to require much less space to run, and they run much more quickly. Although size and speed are probably the most often cited reasons for using a compiler, in many situations they aren’t the most important reasons. Some languages (such as C) are designed to allow pieces of a program to be compiled independently. These pieces are eventually combined into a final executable program by a tool called the linker. This process is called separate compilation.

Separate compilation has many benefits. A program that, taken all at once, would exceed the limits of the compiler or the compiling environment can be compiled in pieces. Programs can be built and tested one piece at a time. Once a piece is working, it can be saved and treated as a building block. Collections of tested and working pieces can be combined into libraries for use by other programmers. As each piece is created, the complexity of the other pieces is hidden. All these features support the creation of large programs[26].

Compiler debugging features have improved significantly over time. Early compilers only generated machine code, and the programmer inserted print statements to see what was going on. This is not always effective. Modern compilers can insert information about the source code into the executable program. This information is used by powerful source-level debuggers to show exactly what is happening in a program by tracing its progress through the source code.

Some compilers tackle the compilation-speed problem by performing in-memory compilation. Most compilers work with files, reading and writing them in each step of the compilation process. In-memory compilers keep the compiler program in RAM. For small programs, this can seem as responsive as an interpreter.

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire