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Object code (also called machine code) is

a translation of the source code language into the machine language of the computer (e.g., binary coding using zeros and ones or hexadecimal coding using letters and numbers or octal coding using zero to seven) that the computer executes. Only instructions expressed in object code can be used ‘directly’ by the computer. Thus the source code is converted into electrical impulses to carry out the tasks set forth in the source code. The binary code of machine code (or object code) is virtually unintelligible to programmers.[1]
[a] representation of a computer program that is written in a machine language consisting of binary code (i.e., ones and zeroes). Object code is comprehensible to a computer or other electronic device, but as a general rule, it is not comprehensible to human beings.[2]
[a]n equipment executable form of a convenient expression of one or more processes (source code . . .) that has been converted by a programming system.[3]
[c]omputer instructions and data definitions in a form that is output by an assembler or compiler. Typically machine language.[4]
the binary language comprised of zeros and ones through which the computer directly receives its instructions.[5]


Object code often is directly executable by the computer into which it is entered. It sometimes contains instructions, however, that are readable only by computers containing a particular processor, such as a Pentium processor, or a specific operating system such as Microsoft Windows. In such instances, a computer lacking the specific processor or operating system can execute the object code only if it has an emulator program that simulates the necessary processor or operating system or if the code first is run through a translator program that converts it into object code readable by that computer.[6]

Object code is not human-readable and for a lengthy program, the object code is so long and complex that it would take a skilled programmer months (and perhaps years) to understand how the program works and to extract any underlying ideas or algorithms. This difficulty enables software developers to distributed their programs to the public with confidence that any trade secrets contained in the object code will not be able to be extracted without an enormous investment of time and highly skilled manpower.


  1. CONTU Final Report 54 n.109 (1978).
  2. Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition, Glossary, at 11.
  3. U.S. Export Administration Regulations, Part 772 (15 C.F.R. §772.1).
  4. Defense Acquisition University, Glossary, at B-124 (13th ed. Nov. 2009) (full-text).
  5. Computer Associates Int'l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693, 698 (2d Cir. 1992) (full-text).
  6. Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Reimerdes, 111 F.Supp.2d 294, 306 n.18 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (full-text) (footnotes omitted).