Machine Code


In computer programming, machine code (also called machine language or native code) is a system of binary instructions that can be directly executed by a computer's central processing unit (CPU). Machine code is the lowest-level representation of a compiled or assembled computer program and is specific to a particular processor architecture.


A machine code instruction consists of two primary parts:

  • Opcode: A binary pattern defining the operation to be performed (e.g., addition, data movement, logical comparison).
  • Operands: Data or memory addresses on which the operation acts (may be absent in some instruction types).


Consider a simplified instruction to add the contents of memory address 100 to a processor register:

10110101 00000100 
  • Opcode: 10110101 (might represent "add")
  • Operand: 00000100 (memory address 100)

Relationship to Other Programming Languages

Most programmers write code in higher-level programming languages like Python, Java, or C++. These languages offer more human-readable syntax. To be executed by a CPU, the following occurs:

  • Compilation: High-level code is translated into assembly language, a textual representation of machine code using mnemonics (e.g., ADD instead of 10110101).
  • Assembly: Assembly code is further converted into machine code by a program called an assembler.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Advantages:
    • Speed: Machine code executes directly on the hardware, leading to maximum potential performance.
    • Precision: Allows complete control over the processor's behavior.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Difficulty: Writing and understanding machine code is complex and time-consuming.
    • Portability: Machine code is processor-specific and not transferable between different CPU architectures.


  • Embedded Systems: Machine code optimization is often essential in devices with constrained resources.
  • Operating Systems: Core parts of operating systems interact directly with hardware using machine code.
  • Performance-critical Applications: Machine code can be hand-written for sections of a program where maximum speed is essential.