Python's Performance

Kenneth McDonald kenneth.m.mcdonald at
Fri Oct 14 23:03:11 CEST 2005

Um, sorry, but this isn't correct.

Although there might be a slight bit of gray area, the simple  
difference between compiled and interpreted languages is that  
compiled languages produce a binary consisting of bytes that mean  
something specific to the CPU of the computer the program is running  
on. The program is executed pretty much by just sending those bytes  
to the CPU.

In an interpreted language, the "binary" (whether it be a straight  
text file or a bytecode file that has been produced from a text file)  
is, at runtime, processed by another program which _does_ consist of  
the bytes the CPU understands directly. Interpreted languages put an  
extra layer of software between the executable and the program.

In practical terms, there are three differences:

1) Interpreted language programs are typically much easier to  
transfer between machines (not necessarily between operating systems).
2) Compiled languages typically have the potential (depending how  
much work goes into the compiler, amongst other things) to be _far_  
faster than interpreted languages.
3) Compiled languages require an often very painful, ugly compilation  
step to produce a binary. In interpreted languages (that produce  
bytecode), this phase is usually quite a bit easier, if not invisible.

Yes, a language can have both an interpreter and a compiler, but  
almost always one of those plays a trivial role in the use of the  
language, because it is usually very difficult to get the semantics  
of the two to match and at the same time produce enough of a benefit  
to make the effort worthwhile.


On 14-Oct-05, at 9:29 AM, Alex Stapleton wrote:

> You can see that the entire, interpreted vs compiled debate is
> utterly meaningless and that only implementation specific details
> actually matter. e.g. Java is native if you compile it with GCJ. x86
> is interpreted if you run it under a VM like VirtualPC.

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