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An interpreter is a computer program that is used to directly execute program instructions written using one of the many high-level programming languages. The interpreter transforms the high-level program into an intermediate language that it then executes, or it could parse the high-level source code and then performs the commands directly, which is done line by line or statement by statement.
Programming languages are implemented in two ways: interpretation and compilation. As the name suggests, an interpreter transforms or interprets a high-level programming code into code that can be understood by the machine (machine code) or into an intermediate language that can be easily executed as well. The interpreter reads each statement of code and then converts or executes it directly. In contrast, an assembler or a compiler converts a high-level source code into native (compiled) code that can be executed directly by the operating system.
In most cases, a compiler is more favorable since its output runs much faster compared to a line-by-line interpretation. However, since interpretation happens per line or statement, it can be stopped in the middle of execution to allow for either code modification or debugging. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and are not mutually exclusive; this means that they can be used in conjunction as most integrated development environments employ both compilation and translation for some high-level languages.
Since an interpreter reads and then executes code in a single process, it very useful for scripting and other small programs. As such, it is commonly installed on Web servers, which run a lot of executable scripts.