Translating the Code for the Computer

While you now understand the Hello World! code, the computer won t. Computers don t understand C++ or any other programming language. They understand only machine language.

Three programs are used to translate your source code into an executable file that the computer can run. These programs are, in their order of appearance:

  1. Preprocessor

  2. Compiler

  3. Linker


The preprocessor is a program that scans the source code for preprocessor directives such as include directives. The preprocessor inserts into the source code all files included by the include directives.

In this example, the iostream standard library file is included by an include directive. Therefore, the preprocessor directive inserts the contents of that standard library file, including its definition of the cout object, into the source code file.


The compiler is another program that translates the preprocessed source code (the source code after the insertions made by the preprocessor) into corresponding machine language instructions, which are stored in a separate file, called an object file, having an .obj extension. There are different compilers for different programming languages, but the purpose of the compiler is essentially the same, the translation of a programming language into machine language, no matter which programming language is involved.

The compiler can understand your code and translate it into machine language only if your code is in the proper syntax for that programming language. C++, like other programming languages, and indeed most human languages, has rules for the spelling of words and for the grammar of statements. If there is a syntax error, then the compiler cannot translate your code into machine language instructions, and instead will call your attention to the syntax errors. Thus, in a sense, the compiler acts as a spell checker and grammar checker.


While the object file has machine language instructions, the computer cannot run the object file as a program. The reason is that C++ also needs to use another code library, called the run-time library, for common operations, such as the translation of keyboard input or the ability to interact with external hardware such as the monitor to display a message.


The run-time library files may already be installed as part of your operating system. If not, you can download the run-time library files from Microsoft or another vendor. Finally, if you install an IDE as discussed in the next section, the run-time library files are included with the installation.

The linker is a third program that combines the object file with the necessary parts of the run-time library. The result is the creation of an executable file with an .exe extension. The computer runs this file to display Hello World! on the screen.

C++ Demystified(c) A Self-Teaching Guide
C++ Demystified(c) A Self-Teaching Guide
ISBN: 72253703
Year: 2006
Pages: 148 © 2008-2017.
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