In computer programming, a p-code machine, or portable code machine is a virtual machine designed to execute p-code (the assembly language of a hypothetical CPU). This term is applied both generically to all such machines (such as the Java Virtual Machine and MATLAB precompiled code), and to specific implementations, the most famous being the p-Machine of the Pascal-P system, particularly in its UCSD Pascal incarnation.
Although the concept was first implemented circa 1966 (as O-code for BCPL), the term p-code first appeared in the early 1970s. Two early compilers generating p-code were the Pascal-P compiler in 1973, by Nori, Ammann, Jensen, Hageli, and Jacobi, and the Pascal-S compiler in 1975, by Niklaus Wirth.
Programs that have been translated to p-code are interpreted by a software program that emulates the behavior of the hypothetical CPU. If there is sufficient commercial interest, a hardware implementation of the CPU specification may be built (e.g., the Pascal MicroEngine or a version of the Java processor).