can dynamic languages be compiled

C# 4.0 has many of these features, except that it is compiled to IL (bytecode) and interpreted using a virtual machine (the CLR). This brings up an interesting point, however: if bytecode is just-in-time compiled to machine code, does that count? If so, it opens to the door to not only any of the .Net languages, but Python (see PyPy or Unladed Swallow or IronPython) and Ruby

A language itself is neither compiled nor interpreted, only a specific implementation of a language is. Java is a perfect example. There is a bytecode-based platform (the JVM), a native compiler (gcj) and an interpeter for a superset of Java (bsh). So what is Java now? Bytecode-compiled, native-compiled or interpreted?

Other languages, which are compiled as well as interpreted, are Scala, Haskell or Ocaml. Each of these languages has an interactive interpreter, as well as a compiler to byte-code or native machine code.

So generally categorizing languages by “compiled” and “interpreted” doesn’t make much sense.

Once upon a time, long long ago, there lived in the land of computing interpreters and compilers. All kinds of fuss ensued over the merits of one over the other. The general opinion at that time was something along the lines of:

  • Interpreter: Fast to develop (edit and run). Slow to execute because each statement had to be interpreted into machine code every time it was executed (think of what this meant for a loop executed thousands of times).
  • Compiler: Slow to develop (edit, compile, link and run. The compile/link steps could take serious time). Fast to execute. The whole program was already in native machine code.

A one or two order of magnitude difference in the runtime performance existed between an interpreted program and a compiled program. Other distinguishing points, run-time mutability of the code for example, were also of some interest but the major distinction revolved around the run-time performance issues.

Today the landscape has evolved to such an extent that the compiled/interpreted distinction is pretty much irrelevant. Many compiled languages call upon run-time services that are not completely machine code based. Also, most interpreted languages are “compiled” into byte-code before execution. Byte-code interpreters can be very efficient and rival some compiler generated code from an execution speed point of view.

The classic difference is that compilers generated native machine code, interpreters read source code and generated machine code on the fly using some sort of run-time system. Today there are very few classic interpreters left – almost all of them compile into byte-code (or some other semi-compiled state) which then runs on a virtual “machine”.




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