Branch (computer science)


A branch is an instruction in a computer program that can cause a computer to begin executing a different instruction sequence and thus deviate from its default behavior of executing instructions in order.[a] Branch (or branching, branched) may also refer to the act of switching execution to a different instruction sequence as a result of executing a branch instruction. Branch instructions are used to implement control flow in program loops and conditionals (i.e., executing a particular sequence of instructions only if certain conditions are satisfied).

A branch instruction can be either an unconditional branch, which always results in branching, or a conditional branch, which may or may not cause branching depending on some condition. Also, depending on how it specifies the address of the new instruction sequence (the "target" address), a branch instruction is generally classified as direct, indirect or relative, meaning that the instruction contains the target address, or it specifies where the target address is to be found (e.g., a register or memory location), or it specifies the difference between the current and target addresses.
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