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What is Machine Code?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Machine code is the essential or basic language that provides the foundation for all computers currently in operation. Essentially, machine code is based on a stream of “O” and “I” characters, with the arrangement of the characters determining the nature of the action detailed in the message. Sometimes referred to as binary code, the machine code has been the language of computers since the days of the electronic brains of the 1940’s all the way through the computer systems of today.

When a programmer writes code for a program, the source language statements are compiled into a form out output that makes use of this binary code. The machine code is then stored as an executable file until the file is accessed and commanded to run. As the code is scanned and ran, the computing system reads the arrangement of characters and receives instructions in what to do next.

Reading machine code is accomplished by the microprocessor in the computer. Basically, the microprocessor knows to only read a certain number of the characters at a time in order to accurately interpret the command. The determination of how many characters to read at a time is set by the perimeters within the executable file. For example, the instructions may inform the microprocessor to read a consecutive string of 32 characters at a time. The processor will consider one group of thirty-two characters of machine code and implement the instructions found there before moving on to the next set of code in the sequence.

The use of machine code is also helpful to programmers when attempting to modify the code or isolate some issue with the operation. When this is necessary, the programmer will often order a printout of the actual code, called a dump. The dump will show the sequence of the characters, although this simplified format will use hexadecimal numerals to represent each four bits of characters, making the printout much easier for the seasoned programmer to read.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon131714 — On Dec 03, 2010

I can write purely from machine code (can be daunting, but it is possible).

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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