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An open source C compiler is a piece of software intended to turn human readable programming code into binary code that can be executed natively by a specific computer system. The C programming language and compilers strive to be platform independent, allowing for a programming paradigm of write once, run anywhere. This is accomplished by taking the human readable source files and recompiling them with a compiler for each system on which the code could be run. The development of open source C compilers has resulted in a robust selection of professional-level compilers that are in an almost constant state of improvement.
An open source C compiler differs from commercially available software in that it is created and maintained by a development community that operates free. Nearly anyone in the community can attempt to make recommendations for improvements. Additionally, the source code for the compiler is made available free to anyone wishing to create a variant compiler or who has a desire to study the code.
One of the characteristics of an open source C compiler is that the members of the development community are often of diverse technical backgrounds. Many people are simultaneously using many operating systems. This diversity helps to keep the developed C compilers updated so the performance across all platforms is consistent. Unlike non-open source compilers that often target one specific operating system, open source C compilers are designed from the start to target a variety of systems.
Another aspect of an open source C compiler is that the community is often very large. In addition to those who are actually writing the compiler code, there also are testers and end users who submit bug reports and requests for improvements. This constant activity allows a single compiler to be improved and to have a number of features added concurrently.
Not all open source projects are seen through to completion, however. There are projects that have seen a strong start and acceptance by the programming community, only to be abandoned and never completed. An issue also arises sometimes in which the actual program development exceeds the documentation and testing efforts. This is sometimes the result of a development community that has grown too large to be effectively managed.
One strong motivation involved in the development of an open source C compiler is that it is very often used as a platform for writing other open source software. In this way, the open source community as a whole has a strong interest in seeing a stable compiler for individual use. Although the compilers themselves could each have different features and abilities, they do generally conform to the C language standards that have been released.