C Programming

C Programming Interpreters

One of the most popular programming languages used globally is C. It is a high-level language that is used to create a wide range of software products, from operating systems and device drivers to applications and games. The question of whether C language compiles or interprets is a popular one among programmers and computer enthusiasts, and the answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

Difference Between Compilers and Interpreters

Understanding the difference between compiled and interpreted languages is crucial. A compiled language converts its source code into machine code so that the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of the computer can execute it directly. On the other hand, an interpreted language is one where the source code is run line by line by an interpreter and then instantly translates the code into machine code.

Is C Language Compiled or Interpreted?

C language is generally considered to be a compiled language. When you write a C program, you must first compile it using a compiler program such as GCC or Clang. The compiler takes the source code and converts it into a computer-readable binary file known as an executable. This binary file contains machine code that is specific to the computer’s CPU architecture and can be executed directly without the need for an interpreter.

Types of Interpreters Used for C Language

There are some interpreters available that can run C code.


CINT is a C/C++ interpreter developed by CERN that allows for the interactive execution of C/C++ code. Developers can use an interactive shell to run C/C++ commands and expressions without the need for linking and compilation. It is frequently employed for quick prototyping, testing, and investigation of C++ programming.

2: Ch

Ch is an embeddable C/C++ interpreter that enables runtime dynamic execution of C/C++ code. It can be used as a scripting language to include C/C++ code into applications, enabling customization and dynamic behavior without having to completely recompile the program.

3: Scripting Languages

Certain scripting languages, including Lua, Python, and Perl, have bindings that let C code be executed from within the script in the same way that it would be interpreted. This gives programmers a means to use C as a scripting language by enabling them to combine C code with scripting language code and execute both simultaneously.

While CINT and other C interpreters exist, they are not commonly used for production software development, as they are generally slower and less efficient than using a compiled executable.

Another important point to consider is that the C language itself is not compiled or interpreted – it is the compiler or interpreter that determines whether the code is compiled or interpreted. For example, modern compilers like GCC can optimize C code to run faster by taking advantage of low-level optimization techniques like loop unrolling and inline assembly code. Interpreters, on the other hand, may be slower and less efficient, but they allow for more flexible and interactive development since changes to the code can be executed immediately.

Final Thoughts

The C language is typically compiled, but there are interpreters available that can run C code. The particular needs and conditions of the project will determine whether to utilize an interpreter or a compiler. If developing production software, a compiler is generally the better choice due to faster and more efficient code execution. However, if experimenting or doing interactive development, an interpreter can be effective, particularly for testing and prototyping.

About the author

Hiba Shafqat

I am a Computer Science student and a committed technical writer by choice. It is a great pleasure to share my knowledge with the world in which I have academic expertise.