A compiler is a computer program (or set of programs) that transforms source code written in a programming language (the source language) into another computer language (the target language, often having a binary form known as object code). The most common reason for wanting to transform source code is to create an executable program.
The name "compiler" is primarily used for programs that translate source code from a high-level programming language to a lower level language (e.g., assembly language or machine code). If the compiled program can run on a computer whose CPU or operating system is different from the one on which the compiler runs, the compiler is known as a cross-compiler. A program that translates from a low level language to a higher level one is a decompiler. A program that translates between high-level languages is usually called a language translator, source to source translator, or language converter. A language rewriter is usually a program that translates the form of expressions without a change of language.
A compiler is likely to perform many or all of the following operations: lexical analysis, preprocessing, parsing, semantic analysis (Syntax-directed translation), code generation, and code optimization.
Program faults caused by incorrect compiler behavior can be very difficult to track down and work around; therefore, compiler implementors invest significant effort to ensure the correctness of their software.
The term compiler-compiler is sometimes used to refer to a parser generator, a tool often used to help create the lexer and parser.