What is object code in a computer program?

A computer is a machine that runs on millions of lines of code. Programmers write code in many different languages, but all of this code has some basic functionality, no matter what language you’re using. A program always has two sets of code: source code and object code. Source code is prewritten, a language that programmers use to give instructions to a computer’s compiler to make a program run. The result of the compiler compiling these source code instructions is called object code.

The term is intuitive in that source code is the beginning or source of an operation and object code is the desired result or object in the overall exercise. It is stored in a file generated by the computer’s compiler, which can be the end purpose intended by the programmer.

Once the source code is compiled into a file, it continues to the computer processor to execute the final instructions. A commonly available software application is essentially a huge collection of object code that cannot be changed because no source code is included. It’s like having a solution to a problem, but not every step used to get to the problem. Changing this code without the source code can be frustrating.

This multi-step process is necessary because the computer can only execute instructions written in machine language. This is the end result, it runs as the object code version. So, when a consumer receives a software application, that consumer receives a version of the executed source code that has been translated into machine language into the final project.

With the current focus on open source code, more and more applications are being released as source code. Diligent programmers and coders can access that source code, make changes to suit their needs, and then create new object code that serves a different purpose than the original programmer intended.

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