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Communications of the ACM

Kode Vicious

In Praise of the Disassembler

PC internals

Credit: Getty Images

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Dear KV,

I have read enough of your columns to see that one of your frequent themes is that source code is meant to be read by people, including one's future selves, and that how that code is processed by an interpreter such as Python or a compiler is less important than making the code clear to the next reader. You seem to be saying that our tools will work out what we mean and that we should treat the interpreter or compiler as a black box that magically turns our source into running code. I feel you are ignoring an important part of understanding software, which is what happens when your compiled code executes on a machine—after all, no computer executes C, C++, or Rust directly; they are running a compiled binary. What happens when you have a bug that appears in the binary only because of a mistake by the compiler, linker, assembler, or other part of the tool chain, which must occur from time to time. What then?


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