What is C Programming Language? Definition, Features and History

By | April 18, 2022
What is C Programming

C is a powerful high-level, general-purpose programming language. It is one of the most suitable programming languages for beginners. Speed is the main asset of this popular programming language, and it is portable too. Programs written on one computer can run on other systems.

Here in this article, we will discuss what C programming is and should a programmer or a beginner who is about to start his programming journey start with it or not. We will also discuss its main features and why we consider it a low-level programming language.

What is C Programming? [Definition]

It is a high-level and general-purpose programming language that is used to develop desktop applications and firmware. It is a building block of many other high-level programming languages such as C++ and C#.

C follows structured and procedural paradigms, which make it flexible and more powerful. It has a fixed number of keywords, and its usage is also limited. The programming language uses a compiler as a translator to convert its source code to object code.

History

It was developed by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs, back in 1973. Originally, it was designed to provide some extra utility to the Unix operating system, but with time it became one of the most used programming languages.

When the Unix operating system was ported to PDP-11, they needed an assembly language for further development. At that time, B was the popular programming language, but it was too slow with the PDP-11 version of Unix. Moreover, it was not able to take complete advantage of all PDP-11 features.

To overcome this issue, Ritchie and his co-workers came up with a new programming language, which was basically an improvement of B, and they named it C programming language. That’s because it was a successor to the B programming language.

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Features 

1. Procedural Language

In a procedural programming language, the program can work with different functions, and the functions work according to the function call. In procedural programming, the program follows fixed steps, and the code executes step by step.

Apart from the procedural approach, there is another popular programming paradigm that is known as object-orientated programming. Programming languages like C++, Java, and Python follow both procedural as well as object-oriented programming paradigms.

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2. Fast

Compared to other high-level programming languages such as Python, Java, and C++, it is the fastest programming language. By fast, we mean the programming language processes and executes its code very fast because it does not contain many features such as automatic garbage collection or dynamic typing.

3. Portable

It works on the principle of “write once and compile everywhere.” It means that code written in one system can be compiled on other systems, and there is no need to change the code.

4. Static type

It is static by nature, which means we have to define the data type of the variable when we declare a variable. In static type, all the variables and data types defined in the program get checked by the compiler at compile time.

5. Modularity

With modularity, we can use different libraries that bring some additional functions and utilities to our program.

Why Should You Learn C?

The answer to this question varies from person to person. Right now, it does not have any future. It is about to become history, like B and Pascal.

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Yet expert developers suggest learning C first, but why? This is because it contains all the essential data types and data structures such as integers, floats, arrays, lists, queues, trees, and graphs, and in a programming language, nothing is more important than data structures and data types.

Since it is a procedural language, there is no concept and complexity of object-oriented programming. Hence, it is easy for a student to understand and learn all the basic data structures of this programming language.

Although it is a high-level language, some of its properties are akin to low-level languages, which help a student to understand how programming languages actually work on a computer system. Other important reasons to learn this programming language are:

  • This language is very close to the low-level programming language that helps you to understand the working of a computer too.
  • Primarily all programming languages are derived from it. So it’s better to start with this first.
  • Once you know the basic concepts and procedural programming, you can easily move and learn other high-level programming languages such as Java and Python.

Why Not Learn C?

  • There are many other programming languages that are better and promise a bright future and career.
  • It is not an easy programming language. Its syntax gets complicated with the concept of pointers and data structures, like trees and graphs.

Advantages

  • It is a procedure-oriented programming language, which means it follows the procedure of the program and reads the program line by line, which increases the overall efficiency of the programs.
  • It contains a total of 32 keywords with easy syntax that help the user to understand the program, and it is very easy to learn for beginners.
  • Portability is an important highlight of the C programming language. The output is stored in a .exe file, which makes it more portable. A program written in it can be used in any other computer system without making any changes in that.
  • It is very easy to debug the problems in this programming language.
  • It supports pointers, which help the user to understand the concept of memory allocation.
  • As it works on the procedural paradigm, the compiling speed of the C compiler is very fast. It can compile 1,000 lines in one to two seconds.
  • It is the building block of other famous languages such as C++, C#, and Python.
  • One of the main advantages of the C language is that the user can extend its libraries. The user can add her own functions to the C library.
  • It is one of the languages used for development with which beginners can start their programming journey. Once they have done with this programming language, it is easy to decide what language they should choose for the future.

Disadvantages

  • It does not support the concept of OOPs. Consequently, it does not support OOPs features, such as inheritance, encapsulation, and polymorphism.
  • The user cannot declare two variables having the same name in one scope because it does not support the concept of namespace.
  • It does not support the concepts of class, constructors, destructors, and run-time type checking.

Why is C Considered a Low-level Programming Language?

Although it is a high-level programming language, C is also considered a low-level programming language. This is because it has pointers that can directly manipulate memory content, and many C compilers provide options that can adjust the way a target architecture is used, whether certain types of machine language instructions are generated, etc.

Conclusion

It is not for the experienced developer who already knows other programming languages, but for a beginner, C could be an ideal platform to start her programming journey.

When you start learning C, do not give too much time to learning only this programming language. Try to learn all the data structures and data types and move to modern programming languages like Java and Python. 

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Author: Vinay Singh

I am a Full Stack Developer with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science, who also loves to write technical articles that can help fellow developers.

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