What is a Cross Compiler?

Malcolm Tatum

Cross compilers are programs that are capable of producing executable code that can be run on a platform that is currently not the resident platform for the compiler. They are commonly used when a developer needs to use multiple platforms in order to handle computing functions, such as in embedded systems where each embedded computer within the system has a smaller amount of resources. Using a cross compiler makes it possible to overcome this lack of resources by creating an interrelated execution between various components on the system.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

One example of when a cross compiler might be used is when microcontrollers are in use within a system. Generally, a microcontroller does not contain a great deal of memory, so when this program is used to handle the creation and issue of execution of commands, less of the resources for the microcontroller are tied up in administrative orders. This means that they can be directed toward performing the task ordered by the compiler.

The program can help to create a working network between different types of machines or even different versions of an operating system. In this application, a company could use both older and more recent versions of an operating system to access a common network, even if the workstations in the office featured a wide range of desktop computers of varying age and capacity. Using this type of program makes it possible to gather all these varied elements into a cohesive build environment that will allow each of the stations to access essential files and data that resides on the common server.

Cross compilers can be traced back to the early days of the development of Windows® and the gradual decline in the use of DOS by many end users. Today, they remain a common means of maximizing the efficiency of several components. Virtual machines, such as Java’s JVM, are capable of handling at last a portion of the functions that once were only possible with the use of this software, however.

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