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In computer programming, routine and subroutine are general and nearly synonymous terms for any sequence of code that is intended to be called and used repeatedly during the executable of a program. This makes the program shorter and easier to write (and also to read when necessary). The main sequence of logic in a program can branch off to a common routine when necessary. When finished, the routine branches back to the next sequential instruction following the instruction that branched to it. A routine may also be useful in more than one program and save other programmers from having to write code than can be shared.

Typically, in assembler languages, a routine that requires some variable input can be encoded into a macro definition with a specified interface called a macro instruction . The programmer can then use a macro instruction instead of having to include and manage the branching to a routine. Macro definitions and instructions also tend to be shared among programmers for use in multiple programs, especially in software development projects.

In higher-level computer languages, many commonly-needed routines are prepackaged as function , which are routines with specified programming interfaces. Some functions can be compiled in line with other code. Other functions are compiled in as stub that make dynamic calls for system services during program execution. Functions are sometimes called library routines . The compiler and a set of library routines usually come as part of a related software development package.

In Windows and some other personal computer operating systems, the system routines for handling specific tasks such as interacting with specific I/O devices are called dynamic link library ( dynamic link library ) routines. These routines are dynamic because their files are not actually loaded into memory until the first time they are called.

A more recent term, procedure , is similar in meaning.

This was last updated in April 2005
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