What is a compiler?

A compiler is necessary to make your source code (..c, .cpp, or .cc files) into a running program. If you're just starting out, you'll need to make sure that you have one before you start programming. There are many compilers available on the internet and sold commercially in stores or online. If you have Mac OS X, Linux, or other *nix variant (such as Unix or FreeBSD), you likely have a compiler such as gcc or g++ installed already.

Compiler terminology

  • Compile Colloquially, to convert a source code file into an executable, but strictly speaking, compilation is an intermediate step
  • Link The act of taking compiled code and turning it into an executable
  • Build A build refers to the process of creating the end executable (what is often colloquially referred to as compilation). Tools exist to help reduce the complexity of the build process--makefiles, for instance.
  • Compiler Generally, compiler refers to both a compiler and a "linker"
  • Linker The program that generates the executable by linking
  • IDE Integrated Development Environment, a combination of a text editor and a compiler, such that you can compile and run your programs directly within the IDE. IDEs usually have facilities to help you quickly jump to compiler errors.

    Understanding the Compilation Process

    What compilers are available?


    • Cee Studio, is an excellent free, online C and C++ compiler that lets you run your code from the web without having to install anything.


  • Code::Blocks and MINGW Our recommended free compiler setup! Code::Blocks is also available on Linux.
  • Microsoft Visual C++ Read about Visual C++
  • *nix

  • g++ is a C++ compiler that comes with most *nix distributions.
  • gcc is a C compiler that comes with most *nix distributions.
  • Mac OS X

  • Apple XCode XCode is the development platform to use for OS X or iPhone programming.