What Does Executable Mean?

An executable refers to a file containing instructions and data meant for performing a sequence of tasks on a computer. The contents of the executable file must be interpreted by an operating system to a meaningful machine code instructions to be used by physical central processing unit (CPU).


An executable can also be a file comprised of commands for a software compiler to execute. Even a VB or Java script or any other script language source file may also be considered an executable.

Techopedia Explains Executable

Some operating systems recognize executables by an extension like .exe. Or, they may recognize it through metadata, which marks the file to have execute permission, as is done in Unix-based operating systems. Most operating systems start the execution process by verifying that the file is in a valid executable form to avoid random bit sequences being accidentally executed as instructions.

Modern operating systems manage computer resources. This implies that separate programs make system invokes to access privileged resources. Since each brand of operating systems has its own system invoking procedures, executable files are typically operating system specific. There are many available methods to make executable files executable by more than a single operating system, for example, implementing a similar or matching application binary interface.

Various executables do not always stick to a certain hardware binary interface, or instruction set. They are either available in bytecode form for real-time compilation or in source code for use in a script language form.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…