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It seems rare to read of a Python "virtual machine" while in Java "virtual machine" is used all the time.

Both interpret byte codes; why call one a virtual machine and the other an interpreter?

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A virtual machine is a virtual computing environment with a specific set of atomic well defined instructions that are supported independent of any specific language and it is generally thought of as a sandbox unto itself. The VM is analogous to an instruction set of a specific CPU and tends to work at a more fundamental level with very basic building blocks of such instructions (or byte codes) that are independent of the next. An instruction executes deterministically based only on the current state of the virtual machine and does not depend on information elsewhere in the instruction stream at that point in time.

An interpreter on the other hand is more sophisticated in that it is tailored to parse a stream of some syntax that is of a specific language and of a specific grammer that must be decoded in the context of the surrounding tokens. You can't look at each byte or even each line in isolation and know exactly what to do next. The tokens in the language can't be taken in isolation like they can relative to the instructions (byte codes) of a VM.

A Java compiler converts Java language into a byte-code stream no different than a C compiler converts C Language programs into assembly code. An interpreter on the other hand doesn't really convert the program into any well defined intermediate form, it just takes the program actions as a matter of the process of interpreting the source.

Another test of the difference between a VM and an interpreter is whether you think of it as being language independent. What we know as the Java VM is not really Java specific. You could make a compiler from other languages that result in byte codes that can be run on the JVM. On the other hand, I don't think we would really think of "compiling" some other language other than Python into Python for interpretation by the Python interpreter.

Because of the sophistication of the interpretation process, this can be a relatively slow process....specifically parsing and identifying the language tokens, etc. and understanding the context of the source to be able to undertake the execution process within the interpreter. To help accelerate such interpreted languages, this is where we can define intermediate forms of pre-parsed, pre-tokenized source code that is more readily directly interpreted. This sort of binary form is still interpreted at execution time, it is just starting from a much less human readable form to improve performance. However, the logic executing that form is not a virtual machine, because those codes still can't be taken in isolation - the context of the surrounding tokens still matter, they are just now in a different more computer efficient form.
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