Compilation System

Programs are translated by other programs into different forms

The hello program begins life as a high-level C program because it can be read and understood by human beings in that form. However, in order to run hello.c on the system, the individual C statements must be translated by other programs into a sequence of low-level machine-languageinstructions. These instructions are then packaged in a form called an executable object programand stored as a binary disk file. Object programs are also referred to as executable object files.

On a Unix system, the translation from source file to object file is performed by a compiler driver

From Computer Systems: A Programmer’s Perspective

Four phase compilation system

  • Preprocessing phase: The preprocessor (cpp) modifies the original C program according to directives that begin with the # character. For example, the #include <stdio.h> command in line 1 of hello.c tells the preprocessor to read the contents of the system header file stdio.h and insert it directly into the program text. The result is another C program, typically with the .i suffix.
  • Compilation phase: The compiler (cc1) translates the text file hello.i into the text file hello.s, which contains an assembly-language program. Each statement in an assembly-language program exactly describes one low-level machine-language instruction in a standard text form. Assembly language is useful because it provides a common output language for different compilers for different high-level languages. For example, C compilers and Fortran compilers both generate output files in the same assembly language.
  • Assembly phase: Next, the assembler (as) translates hello.s into machine- language instructions, packages them in a form known as a relocatable object program, and stores the result in the object file hello.o. The hello.o file is a binary file whose bytes encode machine language instructions rather than characters. If we were to view hello.o with a text editor, it would appear to be gibberish.
  • Linking phase: Notice that our hello program calls the printf function, which is part of the standard C library provided by every C compiler. The printf function resides in a separate precompiled object file called printf.o, which must somehow be merged with our hello.o program. The linker (ld) handles this merging. The result is the hello file, which is an executable object file (or simply executable) that is ready to be loaded into memory and executed by the system.

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