The Instruction Set Architecture defines how hardware processes binary data. Each 0 or 1 of binary data is called a bit and groups of these bits are put together in specific lengths that create instructions.

While the length of a specific binary instruction varies widely based on the ISA that is being used, the first few bits are always the OPCODE or OPeration CODE. This sequence of bits tells the processor what type of instruction it is receiving.

Every function or calculation that a processor can perform is defined by a specific OPCODE and the CU routes the remaining bits of information to the corresponding hardware that will execute the operation.

The list of all of these is included with the ISA documentation in the form of an OPCODE Table:

Mnemonic OPCODE Layman’s Definition Formal Definition
ADD 000001 Loads two numbers from registers and
saves result into another register
rs_reg <- op_reg_1 + op_reg_2
LOAD 000010 Loads a number from a memory address
location into a register
rs_reg <- mem[op_reg_1_addr]
STORE 000011 Copies data in a register to a
memory address for long-term storage
mem[op_reg_1_addr] <- op_reg_2

After the OPCODE, the remaining bits in the instruction are normally referred to as the “operands”. These are the pieces of data, sometimes presented as memory addresses or sometimes given directly as literals, on which the processor will operate.

The CPU will fetch the data from memory or registers, perform the function, and then return the result to the directed memory address or register.

Let’s take a look at this example 32-bit instruction and identify the OPCODE:

000001 01001 10111 0001101001010110 OPCODE

If we use the table we had from above, the first six digits are the OPCODE (000001), telling the CPU that this is an ADD function. The remaining bits provide the CPU with instruction specifics that we will cover in the next exercise.

We will be using a Python interface to process our mock instructions for the rest of this lesson, a basic OPCODE interpreter is written in the code editor.



Take a look at the Python code in the code editor, including the OPCODE table.

Guess the output of the following statement:

print(f"The '000001' OPCODE instructs the processor to {opcodeReader('000001')}.")

Run the code to see the answer.


Set the value of userInput1 to the name of the OPCODE function that is called by the following bits: 000101. Note that this value must be completely capitalized.

To check your answer, uncomment the statement print(userGuess1(userInput1)) and run the code.


Based on the given bits, set the values of userInput2, userInput3, and userInput4 to the correct OPCODES:

  • userInput2 is called by the bits 000011
  • userInput3 is called by the bits 000010
  • userInput4 is called by the bits 000110

To test your answer, uncomment print(userGuess2(userInput2, userInput3, userInput4)) and run the program.

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