Author's Picture
Author: Joel Gray Published: 8 June 2023 Read Time: ~3 minutes

Is Python Compiled or Interpreted? Understanding Python’s Unique Process

Is Python Compiled or Interpreted? Understanding Python’s Unique Process

Compiled versus interpreted languages is a concept that often comes up when discussing programming languages. Python, a widely used and versatile language, frequently prompts the question, “Is Python compiled or interpreted?” This article delves into the inner workings of Python to answer that question.

Compiled vs. Interpreted Languages: A Quick Overview

Before we get into the intricacies of Python, let’s quickly differentiate between compiled and interpreted languages.

Compiled languages, such as C and C++, translate the entire human-readable source code into machine code prior to execution using a compiler. The result is a binary executable file that can be run independently.

Interpreted languages, like JavaScript and Ruby, are translated line-by-line during program execution. An interpreter reads and immediately executes the code instead of creating an executable file. This process makes interpreted languages generally slower than compiled languages.

Is Python Compiled or Interpreted? It’s Both!

Python is traditionally classified as an interpreted language. However, this label isn’t entirely accurate. Python uniquely combines aspects of both compiled and interpreted languages.

When you write Python code and execute it, the Python interpreter initially compiles your source code (.py file) into byte code, a lower-level, platform-independent format. This compilation is automatic and transparent to the user.

The byte code (.pyc files) can be executed faster if the original script hasn’t changed, thereby speeding up the script’s start time. The Python interpreter, more specifically, the Python Virtual Machine (PVM), interprets this byte code. It reads the byte code and carries out the instructed operations.

In short, Python code undergoes a compilation step to byte code, which the Python Virtual Machine then interprets. This process effectively means Python is both compiled and interpreted.

Why Does It Matter If Python Is Compiled or Interpreted?

Understanding Python’s status as a compiled or interpreted language is crucial for performance optimisation, debugging, and code portability considerations.

Python’s approach of compiling to byte code and subsequent interpretation allows for efficient code execution and the convenience of not needing to manually compile the code before running it. While this process improves performance, Python is not as fast as languages that compile directly to machine code, like C or C++.

Python’s interpretation at runtime also supports interactive coding and dynamic types. This flexibility can significantly enhance development speed and ease of use.

In Conclusion: Is Python Compiled or Interpreted?

Python can be classified as both a compiled and interpreted language, utilising the strengths of both types of languages. This distinctive operation contributes to its adaptability and broad application in the world of programming.

This article doesn’t explore third-party tools like PyInstaller, PyPy, or Cython, which can compile Python code into machine code or other forms for distribution or performance reasons. They can notably alter Python code execution but are beyond the scope of this discussion.

This article draws upon trusted sources, including Python documentation and various technical resources. For more detailed information on how Python operates, refer to the Python language documentation or other comprehensive resources.

Written by Joel Gray