The Hopeful Hacker From Program to Process

 

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Of course, whether it's written in high- or low-level language, a computer program is just a set of instructions. It could be something like “if this happens, then do this, and this, and then depending on the result, either this, or that.”

It could be a mathematical equation, but it can also be a set of instructions for doing something that doesn't seem mathematical at all, like typing this sentence. “If that key all the way on the left next to the 'caps lock' key gets pushed, create an 'a' and put it on the screen.” That particular set of instructions would be considered, at best, “nonstandard.” But you get the idea.


But, to get back to the point, the program is just a set of instructions as long as it's sitting in storage somewhere and not being used. In order to actually browse the web, help you create a document, or calculate the annual payments for a 30-year mortgage at 6 ¾ percent, the program has to become a process.


A process is a program in action. A program finally fulfilling its potential, living up to your expectations, performing its true function and, ultimately in some small way, changing the world. So what does all of this take?


The goal is to get that set of instructions into the CPU, the big brain that can actually carry out the instructions in a way that accomplishes something. First, though, you have to get the program off the hard drive and into living memory where it can stand ready for it's moment in the processor.


That memory is either the RAM that you're always running short of, or a RAM-like region of a hard drive called virtual memory. It's from these easily-accessible areas that the instructions can nimbly dance off into the CPU and back when the moment comes.