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Source Code

Every computer program is written in a programming language, such as Java, C/C++, or Perl. These programs include anywhere from a few lines to millions of lines of text, called source code.

Source code, often referred to as simply the "source" of a program, contains variable declarations, instructions, functions, loops, and other statements that tell the program how to function. Programmers may also add comments to their source code that explain sections of the code. These comments help other programmers gain at least some idea of what the source code does without requiring hours to decipher it. Comments can be helpful to the original programmer as well if many months or years have gone by since the code was written.

Short programs called scripts can be run directly from the source code using a scripting engine, such as a VBScript or PHP engine. Most large programs, however, require that the source code first be compiled, which translates the code into a language the computer can understand. When changes are made to the source code of these programs, they must be recomplied in order for the changes to take effect in the program.

Small programs may use only one source code file, while larger programs may reference hundreds or even thousands of files. Having multiple source files helps organize the program into different sections. Having one file that contains every variable and function can make it difficult to locate specific sections of the code. Regardless of how many source code files are used to create a program, you will most likely not see any of the original files on your computer. This is because they are all combined into one program file, or application, when they are compiled.

Tech Factor:
Updated: October 11, 2007
Category: Software Terms