Computer Science

Difference Between Process and Program (Program vs Process)


Vibha Gupta

Technical Content Writer at almaBetter

people11 mins


Published on24 Aug, 2023

In the world of computer science, the terms "process" and "program" are often used interchangeably, but they refer to distinct concepts. Understanding the difference between process and program is essential for anyone interested in the inner workings of computers and operating systems. In this article, we will explore the nuances of process and program, highlighting their definitions, characteristics, and the key difference between process and program.

What is a Program?

Difference between process and program - A program is a set of instructions to complete a specific task. It is a passive entity that resides in secondary memory, such as the file’s contents stored on a disk. Programs can be executed by the central processing unit (CPU) when loaded into the computer's memory. They can be started via GUI mouse clicks, command line entry of their names, or other methods.

A program consists of two logical components: code and data. The code comprises a sequence of instructions that specify the program's operations. On the other hand, data refers to the information that the program manipulates during its execution.

Programs exist in a single place and continue to exist until they are deleted. They are static entities that do not change themselves. Multiple processes can execute a single program, where the program code may be the same, but the program data may vary.

Key Features of a Program

Here are some key features of a program:

  • Instruction Set: Programs consist of a set of instructions written in a programming language, defining a sequence of actions to achieve a specific task or purpose.
  • Static Entity: A program is a static entity, existing as a file on disk or in memory until it is executed.
  • No Direct Execution: The computer's CPU cannot directly execute programs. They need to be translated into machine code through compilation or interpretation.
  • Functional Definition: Programs define a specific functionality or behavior, such as word processing, data analysis, or graphics manipulation.
  • Source Code: Programs are typically written in human-readable source code that needs to be translated into machine-readable code for execution.
  • User Interaction: Many programs interact with users through input and output mechanisms, allowing users to provide input and receive output.
  • Development Process: Programs are developed by software developers, programmers, or engineers using various tools and programming languages.
  • Versioning: Programs can have multiple versions, each with different features, improvements, and bug fixes.
  • Software Libraries: Programs can use external libraries and modules to reuse existing code for common functionalities.
  • Software Development Lifecycle: Programs go through various stages, including design, coding, testing, and deployment in the software development lifecycle.
  • Documentation: Programs are often accompanied by documentation that explains how to use, install, and configure them.
  • Reusability: Once developed, programs can be reused for similar tasks, potentially saving time and effort.
  • Distribution: Programs are distributed to users through various channels, such as download from the internet, installation from physical media, or cloud-based deployment.
  • Maintenance: Programs require ongoing maintenance to fix bugs, add new features, and adapt to changing requirements.
  • Portability: Programs can run on different operating systems or environments depending on the programming language and platform.
  • Software Licensing: Programs may be subject to licensing agreements determining how they can be used, distributed, and modified.
  • Examples: Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, Google Chrome, and video games like Minecraft are all examples of programs.

What is a Process?

Difference between process and program - A process, also known as a job, refers to program code loaded into a computer's memory so the CPU can execute it. A process can be described as an instance of a program running on a computer or as an entity that can be assigned to and executed on a processor. When a program is loaded into memory, it becomes an active process.

Unlike a program, a process is a dynamic entity created during execution and loaded into the main memory. It exists for a limited period and gets terminated after completing its task. A process requires resources such as CPU, memory address, and input/output (I/O) during its lifetime.

Each process has its control block called a Process Control Block (PCB). This block contains information required for the management and execution of the process, including the process's state, priority, memory allocation, and other relevant details.

Key Features of the Process:

Here are some key features of a process:

  • Dynamic Execution: Processes are active entities actively executing in the system.
  • Instance of a Program: A process is an instance of a program that is loaded into memory and executed by the operating system.
  • Memory Space: Each process has its separate memory space, preventing interference and data access conflicts between processes.
  • System Resources: Processes can access system resources such as CPU time, memory, files, and input/output devices.
  • State Changes: Processes transition through different states, including 'New,’ 'Running,’ 'Waiting,’ 'Terminated,’ and more.
  • Concurrency: Modern operating systems support the concurrent execution of multiple processes, enabling efficient multitasking.
  • Inter-Process Communication (IPC): Processes can communicate and share data using mechanisms like pipes, sockets, shared memory, and message queues.
  • Scheduling: The operating system schedules processes to efficiently utilize CPU time and ensure fairness among running processes.
  • Context Switching: The operating system performs context switches to switch the CPU from one process to another, preserving the state of the first process and allowing the second process to resume where it left off.
  • Creation and Termination: Processes are created by the operating system when a program is executed. They can terminate naturally upon completion or be removed by the operating system if they become unresponsive.
  • Parent-Child Relationship: Processes can lead to child processes, forming a parent-child relationship. Child processes can inherit attributes from their parent.
  • Priority and Scheduling: Processes may have different priorities, influencing how the operating system allocates CPU time and resources to them.
  • Protection and Security: Processes are isolated from each other to prevent unauthorized access and interference.
  • Resource Ownership: Each process has open files, network connections, and other resources not directly accessible to other processes.
  • Multithreading: A single process can have multiple threads of execution, each running independently but sharing the same memory space.
  • Interrupt Handling: Processes can handle interrupts generated by hardware devices or software, allowing the system to respond to events.
  • Process Identification: Each process is identified by the operating system’s unique process ID (PID).

The Key Difference Between Process and Program

Now that we have defined both program and process let's delve deeper into the key difference between process and program:

1. Nature and Design

The first key difference between a process and a program is that a program is a set of instructions designed to complete a specific task. It is a passive entity that resides in secondary memory. On the other hand, a process is an instance of an executing program. It is an active entity created during execution and loaded into the main memory.

2. Existence and Lifetime

Another key difference between program and process is that a program exists in a single place and continues to exist until it is deleted. It is a static entity that does not change itself. In contrast, a process exists for a limited period. It is created during execution, executes its tasks, and gets terminated upon completion.

3. Resource Requirements

A program has no resource requirement other than memory space for storing its instructions. It does not require CPU time or other resources during its execution. On the other hand, a process has a high resource requirement. It needs CPU, memory address, and I/O for its execution.

4. Control Blocks

A program does not have any control block associated with it. It only consists of code and data. In contrast, a process has its own control block called a Process Control Block (PCB). The PCB contains information required for the management and execution of the process.

5. Instruction Execution

A program contains a set of instructions designed to complete a specific task. It does not execute these instructions. On the other hand, a process is a sequence of instruction execution. It executes the instructions present in the program code.

6. Data Manipulation

A program consists of instructions and data. It does not manipulate data during its execution. Conversely, a process contains program data and requires additional information for its management and execution.

7. Multiple Processes

Program vs. Process in OS- Multiple processes can execute a single program. The program code may be the same in such cases, but the program data may differ between processes. This allows for concurrent execution and efficient utilization of system resources.

Difference Between Process and Program in Operating System

Here is the difference between process and program in os:

DefinitionA program is a set of instructions written in a programming language that defines a specific task or functionality.A process is an instance of a program currently being executed by the operating system. It includes program code, data, and system resources.
StorageExists as a file on disk or in memory.Exists in memory while running.
StateInactive (until executed).Active (running) or inactive (terminated).
ExecutionNot directly executable by the computer. Needs an interpreter or compiler.Executable by the computer's CPU.
ResourcesDoes not consume system resources while not running.Consumes system resources during execution.
InteractionInteracts with users or other programs through input/output operations.Interacts with the operating system and other processes through system calls.
CreationCreated by a programmer or developer.Created by the operating system when the program is executed.
TerminationControlled by the user or the program.Controlled by the operating system or can complete its execution naturally.
Parallel ExecutionMultiple instances can run in parallel if started separately.Multiple processes can run concurrently, utilizing multiple CPU cores.
RelationshipCan be a part of a larger software system or application.A single program can give rise to multiple processes, each independent.
ExamplesMicrosoft Word, Photoshop, Web Browsers.Instances of a web browser, background system tasks, printing documents.

Similarities Between Process and Program

After understanding the difference between program and process in os, let’s dig into the similarities. There are several similarities between processes and programs. Here are some of the key similarities:

  • Execution Flow: Both processes and programs involve the execution of instructions or code, either by the CPU for processes or by compilation/interpretation for programs.
  • Resource Usage: Both processes and programs require system resources, such as memory, CPU time, and input/output devices, to function effectively.
  • Code Composition: Both processes and programs are composed of a sequence of instructions, whether the lines of code in a program or the set of instructions being executed by a process.
  • Interactivity: Both processes and programs can interact with users or other programs, whether it's a program taking user input or communicating with other processes through inter-process communication mechanisms.
  • Creation and Termination: Both processes and programs are created and eventually terminated. Programs are written and compiled or interpreted to create processes when executed. Processes are created and terminated by the operating system.
  • Resource Management: Both processes and programs are managed by the operating system. The operating system allocates resources, schedules execution, and handles context switching for both.
  • Concurrency: Both processes and programs can be concurrent, running simultaneously or overlapping in time, allowing for multitasking and efficient resource utilization.
  • Hierarchy: Both processes and programs can be organized in hierarchical structures. Programs can consist of multiple modules or components, and processes can spawn child processes.
  • Versioning and Updates: Both processes and programs can undergo version updates and improvements over time, leading to changes in their behavior or functionality.
  • Lifecycle: Both processes and programs have lifecycles. Programs go through development, testing, deployment, and maintenance phases. Processes transition through states like new, ready, running, waiting, and terminated.
  • Resource Isolation: Both processes and programs operate in isolated environments. Processes have memory space, and programs encapsulate their logic, reducing interference between processes or programs.
  • Persistence: Both processes and programs can persist beyond their initial execution. Programs can be saved to storage media and executed multiple times. Processes can run for extended periods or be paused and resumed.

While processes and programs have distinct roles and characteristics, their underlying nature of executing code, utilizing resources, and interacting with the system makes them closely interconnected in computing.


In conclusion, the difference between a process and a program lies in their nature, existence, resource requirements, control blocks, instruction execution, and data manipulation. A program is a passive entity residing in secondary memory, while a process is an active entity loaded into the main memory during execution. Understanding the distinction between these two concepts is crucial for comprehending the inner workings of computers and operating systems.

By grasping the nuances of processes and programs, you can better understand how software is executed and managed within computer science. Whether you're a programmer, an IT professional, or a curious enthusiast, this knowledge will undoubtedly enhance your comprehension of the computational world.

Now that we have understood the difference between process and program, you can follow AlmaBetter for more informational content.

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