What Is Source Code & Why Is It Important?

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Madison Zoey Vettorino
Madison Zoey Vettorino


Ever found yourself wondering, "What is source code?" If so, think of it this way. Imagine you're building a new desk for your office, and you skip the instructions and begin putting the pieces together. If you've attempted this — in which case, no judgment, we've been there, too — you probably realized there's a better way. Like constructing that pesky piece of IKEA furniture sitting in its box in your basement, the best way to create a website is by following directions. 

source code: guy holding his ear to listen with a laptop and key nearby

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Think of source code as the instructions that guide you through the journey of creating a website's foundation. Let's dive deeper and answer everything you need to know, such as, What is source code? We will also sharetypes to be familiar with, common uses, and even an example of a source code.

What is source code?

So, what is source code? To put it succinctly, when we talk about 'source code,' we are referring to a collection of instructions that programmers write using computer programming languages such as JavaScript, PHP, and Python. 

When the programmer writes a set or line of source code, it is implemented into an application, website, or another computer program. Then, that code can provide instructions to the website on how to function. To further streamline the process, sometimes programmers help developers out by adding commentary. This facilitates understanding and ultimately may lead to further adaptation. 

We want to call out something important about source code. It's crucial that a human is also able to read the source code. When a compiler later helps translate the code into a machine language, it becomes known as "object code." 

Now that you have an answer to the question, "What is source code?" Let's dive into some jobs that frequently use it. 

What roles use source code?

If you're a computer programmer, source code will likely be a substantial part of your role. This is because the bulk of your position as a programmer is to develop and implement source code in a program or an application. 

Programmers can use various computer programming languages to write source code. Some of the most popular include Java, JavaScript, C, C++, BASIC, PHP, Pascal, and Python.

What are the types of source code?

Did you know that there are several types of source code? It's true. There are several different types of source code, and learning about them will help you better understand why it's invaluable.

Here are the types of source code you should know: 

  • Interpreted source code

  • Compiled source code

  • Software feature source code

  • Software program source code

  • Computer (or operating system) source code

These all sound relatively similar, right? That's understandable. To fully comprehend the types of source code, it's beneficial to have a comprehension of two key concepts: Implementation hierarchy and types of translation. Here's what you need to know. 

Implementation Hierarchy

You can also use source code for outputs. These outputs serve a variety of functions, such as structuring a computer (at the highest level), software programs (mid-level), or even software features (lowest level).

Types of Translation

You can translate source code into machine code in three primary ways: With the help of a compiler, assembler, or interpreter. 

What are some common uses of source code?

Now that you can succinctly answer, "What is source code?" You might be wondering how you can use it. Some of the most common uses, such as building the foundation of a website, are pretty straightforward. Others may surprise you. 

Enhancing a Program's Functions

The main reason source code is crucial is that it's capable of enhancing a program's functions. When your website, app, or computer program doesn't already have a function it requires, programmers are able to use source code to add it. 

Creating the Foundation of a Website

Another one of the primary reasons that programmers use source code is to create a foundation that web designers and developers can use to build onto and ultimately make new sites. A website's foundation can sometimes be identified as source code because it supplies instructions to help the website function and respond to user interactions appropriately.

Creating the foundation of a website with source code that could be unique includes the type of language programmers utilize. Remember that coding the website's foundation usually involves HTML, a markup language, but most programmers will use programming languages to write source code.

Sharing Algorithms

Don't forget about source code as a way programmers can share algorithms. Programmers can typically write source code using word processors or other text-based software, printing out physical copies of the code or saving it as a file. If another programmer wants to include the source code on a program they're working on, they would then be able to.

What is source code licensing, and why is it worth considering? 

If you're a programmer, you can choose to release your code as open source, which allows anyone to modify, enhance, and even distribute it. However, in some cases, you can choose to keep your code inaccessible to the public. Sometimes, programmers — or the companies they work for — decide to keep the code private to ensure the code quality is maintained and the code is less vulnerable to attackers. In some cases, however, there's a different motivation for keeping the code private. Instead, programmers may do so to safeguard their intellectual property. That's where source code licensing comes into the picture. 

With source code licensing, only the software authors are able to modify their code. Users will sign a license when operating it, and confirm that they will not do anything the software writers do not allow.

Put source code to good use with your website.

Now that you know what source code is and its merits, you can begin implementing it into your website thus building a solid foundation for enhanced functionality. Whether you're writing source code or using previously created instructions, you'll quickly see the many ways to put it to good use.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2022 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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