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What is C programming language and how and where to use it

By Editorial Team
On: 2018-06-11

C is one of the oldest programming languages that is used mostly by software engineers. It is a low level procedural coding language that runs very fast. This article explains key features of coding in C.

C is classified as a general-purpose coding language and has been used by software engineers for decades. C was developed by Dennis Ritchie in the early 1970s and was developed as a system programming language. C can only be written in one structure type: header, main, business logic, body, and return. It acts as a core for more modern languages such as Java or C++. It is one of the most powerful languages because it allows you to directly access memory and other computer operations. However, it also assumes that your syntax will be perfect, and it does not allow you to change variable types in a program.
Why is it, that despite all these challenges, C is still a widely used programming language?

  • It allows the programmer to control the low-level aspects of a computer such as accessing memory.
  • It is used for developing system applications which make up large segment of operating systems such as Windows or UNIX.
  • Its used for many different applications such as database systems, network drivers, or word processors.

Those who program in C generally design application which work directly with hardware. C can be used to allow external devices to communicate with a computer motherboard. C is taught alongside assembly language in most computer science curriculums. It is a relatively beginner language and is a great coding language for those with little computer science knowledge.
Despite its ancient history, C is still the language that most programmers believe runs the world. This is because of its deep operating system development roots. The world’s most used operating system, Windows, which accounts for 90% of the market, runs on C-based kernel. Linux and Mac are also both operating systems which rely heavily, if not completely, on C. Additionally, iOS, android, and windows phones all run on C kernels.
Now the question remains, if there are so many new and more efficient languages than C out there, why is it still being used in almost all aspects of our life: cars, vending machines, cash registers, and other embedded systems.
However, as with any language, there are also several limitations of programming in C:

  • The C language does not account for runtime type checking. C cannot detect the data type of variable at runtime.
  • C does not support code re-usability.
  • There are no objects in C, as it not an object-oriented language. This may may make certain projects much harder, if not impossible, on C.
  • In C language the exceptions cannot be handled at runtime.

Learning C is, in itself, valuable for each software engineer, as it provides you with a large skillset of knowledge that can be then applied to any language.

Additionally, there are focal points to learning C first over high-level or Object-Oriented Programming languages. When you learn to program with languages like Java or Python, you begin by learning related libraries, systems, and frameworks. While this may be useful in the specific language itself, it fosters a level of dependency on the language learned. However, by learning a basic language like C, you remain concentrated on the semantics of the coding language longer. All in all, it is quite beneficial for programmers of all skillsets, especially those just starting out, to dive into the world of C; it is the programming language that runs the world.

Programming Languages and Resources for Software Developers
The most common programming languages for software engineers are C, C++, Python, and Java. Also, for building native mobile Apps, iOS Swift and Java Android are used for building iPhone and Android Apps respectively.

C coding is well suited for those interested in pursuing a career in software engineering; however, other options are  system admin, web design and development and mobile App design and development. It is advisable to consult with an IT career counselor to understand what career options best fits your skills. For instance, if you want to be a software engineer, learning HTML and CSS might not fit the bill. Here is an excellent article for learning more on coding and technology career roadmap. Once you know what career path you wish to pursue, you can make a plan on what, when, and how to learn. There are lots of online resources for learning coding and technology in general. For teenagers and high school students, High School Technology Services offers variety of hands-on training. For adults and professionals, Coding Bootcamps and DC Web Makers Companies offer basic to advance project-based programming and technology classes.

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