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The Objective-C runtime is low-level code that makes your applications work. Every Objective-C program links to the runtime, and the runtime manages objects, looks up methods, and implements the features of Objective-C.
The first Objective-C runtime was created by NeXT in the 1980s for their implementation of Obj-C and NeXTSTEP. The GNU project started to re-write it in 1992. This runtime was significantly modified in 1993 by Kresten Krab Thorup. Since then, there have been two runtimes evolving in parallel.
When Jobs returned to Apple, he brought with him NeXTSTEP's code. The Obj-C runtime used in Apple's Mac OS X is inherited from NeXT. Apple has made many changes to it.