GCC stands for GNU Compiler Collection. GCC is highly flexible compiler system. It has different compiler front-ends for different languages. It has many back-ends that generate assembly code for many different processors and host operating systems. All share a common "middle-end", containing the generic parts of the compiler, including a lot of optimizations.

In GCC, a host system is the system (processor/OS) that the compiler runs on. A target system is the system that the compiler compiles code for. And, a build system is the system that the compiler is built (from source code) on. If a compiler has the same system for host and for target, it is known as a native compiler. If a compiler has different systems for host and target, it is known as a cross-compiler. (And if all three, build, host, and target systems are different, it is known as a Canadian cross compiler, but we won't discuss that here.) When GCC is built to execute on a host system such as FreeBSD, Linux, or Windows, and it is built to generate code for the AVR microcontroller target, then it is a cross compiler, and this version of GCC is commonly known as "AVR GCC". In documentation, or discussion, AVR GCC is used when referring to GCC targeting specifically the AVR, or something that is AVR specific about GCC. The term "GCC" is usually used to refer to something generic about GCC, or about GCC as a whole.

GCC is different from most other compilers. GCC focuses on translating a high-level language to the target assembly only. AVR GCC has three available compilers for the AVR: C language, C++, and Ada. The compiler itself does not assemble or link the final code.

GCC is also known as a "driver" program, in that it knows about, and drives other programs seamlessly to create the final output. The assembler, and the linker are part of another open source project called GNU Binutils. GCC knows how to drive the GNU assembler (gas) to assemble the output of the compiler. GCC knows how to drive the GNU linker (ld) to link all of the object modules into a final executable.

The two projects, GCC and Binutils, are very much interrelated and many of the same volunteers work on both open source projects.

When GCC is built for the AVR target, the actual program names are prefixed with "avr-". So the actual executable name for AVR GCC is: avr-gcc. The name "avr-gcc" is used in documentation and discussion when referring to the program itself and not just the whole AVR GCC system.

See the GCC Web Site and GCC User Manual for more information about GCC.