Computer software or simply software is any set of machine-readable instructions that directs a computer’s processor to perform specific operations. Computer software contrasts with computer hardware, which is the physical component of computers. Computer hardware and software require each other and neither can be realistically used without the other. Using a musical analogy, hardware is like a musical instrument and software is like the notes played on that instrument. Computer software includes computer programs, libraries and their associated documentation. The word software is also sometimes used in a more narrow sense, meaning application software only. Software is stored in computer memory and is intangible, i.e. it cannot be touched. At the lowest level, executable code consists of machine language instructions specific to an individual processor – typically a central processing unit (CPU). A machine language consists of groups of binary values signifying processor instructions that change the state of the computer from its preceding state. For example, an instruction may change the value stored in a particular storage location inside the computer – an effect that is not directly observable to the user. An instruction may also (indirectly) cause something to appear on a display of the computer system – a state change which should be visible to the user. The processor carries out the instructions in the order they are provided, unless it is instructed to “jump” to a different instruction, or interrupted. Software written in a machine language is known as “machine code”. However, in practice, software is usually written in high-level programming languages that are easier and more efficient for humans to use (closer to natural language) than machine language. High-level languages are translated, using compilation or interpretation or a combination of the two, into machine language. Software may also be written in a low-level assembly language, essentially, a vaguely mnemonic representation of a machine language using a natural language alphabet. Assembly language is translated into machine code using an assembler.
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