I was told bytes in assembly are counted by the byte of machine code. Is that true? If so what steps should be taken to correctly get bytes?


4 Answers 4


Machine code and assembly are different languages

If you write a program in assembly, therefore, you can submit it two different ways: you can either submit the source code you enter into the assembler (an assembly language solution), or else submit the object code or executable that you get out of the assembler (a machine code solution). The header of your post would be, e.g., "x86 assembly (gas)" or "x86 machine code (Linux)" in the two cases.

Machine code solutions should typically come with a disassembly in order to make them easier to read, although that isn't technically speaking required.

Note that except on DOS (where the .COM file format has very little boilerplate), it's probably going to make more sense to submit a function rather than a full program due to the vast difference in boilerplate amount. In this case, you only have to submit the machine code for the function itself (including the ret or equivalent at the end!), rather than an entire object file.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "Machine code and assembly are different languages" They most definitely are not. Assembly is merely a set of mnemonics for machine code, designed to make it readable for humans. There is a 1-to-1 mapping between them, which is what allows them to be easily mapped forwards (assembly) and backwards (disassembly). As far as the computer is concerned, machine code and assembly are identical. In terms relevant to this site, assembly is just the ungolfed version of the machine code. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:38
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @CodyGray Regardless of their similarities, I can't run a .asm file as an executable and expect it to work. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 1:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ You cannot run machine code as an executable and expect it to work, either, @Challenger5. It has to be packaged into a binary format that is acceptable to the operating environment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 9:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CodyGray Well I don't know anything, so I'm just going to quietly back out of this conversation now... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's that asm can always use db "<machine code here>" which is usually shorter \$\endgroup\$
    – l4m2
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 12:15

Assembly languages are scored by the compiled/assembled size

For example, take this x86 program to reverse the bit order of a number:

xor eax, eax
inc eax
shr ecx, 1
adc eax, eax
jnc short myloop

This compiles into:

33 C0 40 D1 E9 13 C0 73 FA

(a series of hex bytes)

Thus, this is 9 bytes.

Another example, in a different assembly dialect:

    # reverse bits of a 32 bit word
    .globl rbit
    .type rbit,@function
    push $32       # prepare loop counter
    pop %ecx
0:  shrl 4(%esp)   # shift lsb of argument into carry flag
    adc  %eax,%eax # shift carry flag into lsb
    loop 0b        # decrement %ecx and jump until ecx = 0
    ret            # return

This compiles/assembles to these 12 hex bytes:

6a 20 59 d1 6c 24 04 11 c0 e2 f8 c3

So to get your score, simply compile/assemble the assembly and get the size of the resulting file.

On Mac, this can be done as follows: (different flags may be needed for different assembly dialects)

If test.asm is the file containing the assembly (not compiled/assembled though), then run this:

nasm -f elf test.asm

This makes an object file. Next, run either:

ld test.o -o test


gcc test.o -o test

Then you can run test as ./test. Which of ld and gcc depends on the format of the assembly. If it has a main function, use gcc. If it has a defined start point, use ld.

The two answers I used are taken from here and here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We don't count C programs by their compiled byte size. Why should assembly be different? If you want to count it by assembled byte size, call it machine code. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 1:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is more important the length of code, or the number of assembly instructions that code generate? \$\endgroup\$
    – user58988
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 15:01

No. The correct way to count bytes is to count the length of the source file.

xor eax, eax

is 12 bytes. Assembly is no different to any other source-based language in this regard.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. If the submission is scored by the byte size of the machine code, then it's a machine code submission, not an assembly submission. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 1:24

Whatever is shorter.

What about all other compiled languages? Should C/C++ be scored by binary output size? Java/Kotlin/other JVM languages by bytecode size?

Languages are defined by their interpreter, compiling should be considered a middle step.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your link says "interpreter/compiler". "The language is defined by its implementation" is how I have always heard it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stephen
    Commented May 12, 2017 at 1:59
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't understand this answer. The rhetorical questions seem to be going in the opposite direction to the header. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 12, 2017 at 9:45

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