C languages are, in many ways, the bedrock that most software stands on. C languages, unlike Latin, are not only the basis for many other languages but are still heavily used today. C and C++ are the oldest and most well-known languages in the family. According to PYPL, these languages rank as number six in usage worldwide as of January 2020. We’ll compare the two in-depth and help you decide which to consider learning.
Dennis Ritchie first developed C in 1972 at Bell Labs. It was originally made to run on the Unix operating system, then was later developed into the core of Unix. At its core, C is a general-purpose, compiled, and procedural programming language. It is statically typed, and it supports lexical variable scope and recursion.
At the time of its creation, C was cutting edge, replacing assembly language as the go-to for operating systems like Unix and later Windows. It’s considered a low or mid-level programming language because it has a low level of abstraction.
C++ is just like C; in fact, it’s considered a superset of C. Essentially, C++ is C with additional functionality. Bjarne Stroustrup created C++ in 1985. Stroustrup had created “C with classes,” an extension of the C language that provided lower-level C functionality and speed but with an object-oriented structure.
C++ is a compiled, statically typed, and object-oriented programming language. It’s hard to start up your computer without running some C++ code. Adobe software, Google software, MySQL, and even large parts of Windows itself are all made with C++.
C++ vs C
Let’s take a look at the differences between C and C++ in detail, and then determine which is right for you.
It’s important to note that since C++ is a superset of C, most C code can be run on a C++ compiler. However, C++ cannot usually run on a normal C compiler. This means that if you wanted to, you could code in C on a C++ compiler. Syntactically C++ is everything that C is plus (plus) more.
C++ adds classes and object-oriented programming to the C language. As an object-oriented language, C++ has the ability to use data encapsulation and information hiding. Variables that were visible in C can now be hidden inside a class that only certain functions can access.
Because of this, C++ has much better data security over C, the latter having public variables that can be accessed by malicious code.
While both languages are statically typed, C only has support for primitive predefined data types, and those data types don’t include (shockingly) boolean or string data types. In C++, one can create user-defined data types along with the same primitives that exist in C (and, of course, boolean and string types).
C++ also supports operator overloading and function overloading, which gives developers the ability to assign a custom definition to certain operators, data, and functions. C++ also uses inline functions (over macro functions) for organization, try and catch blocks for error handling, and reference variables. C includes none of these features.
One of the main benefits of C is its direct control over memory and hardware. As a superset, C++ has the same control with easier tools to give programmers even more control, or even easier tools that give up that control. Therefore, one benefit to learning C would be learning the hard way to do things, but having more control over what you do later.
C is a procedural language designed with a top-down approach in mind, allowing developers to design the top-level elements and structures before moving on to the smaller inner workings. This is an easy to comprehend structure and results in organized programs.
C++, on the other hand, is designed with an opposite approach: bottom-up. Like most object-oriented languages, a designer typically designs multifunctional modules that will be later used when designing the main function of the program. This approach is more difficult to organize but results in more modular code and a final product that’s easier to use and modify.
Neither of these approaches is better than the other. They really come down to preference, and skilled programmers can use either to create a useful and functional program. That said, bottom-up is usually better for teams and top-down for individuals; and bottom-up can tend to be messier than the organized by default top-down.
Intent and Use today
Despite the fact that C++ has all of these features, C is still in use today. This is because C is lower level, and therefore smaller and faster. As much of the Windows OS is written in C++, many parts of its core components are made in C for the extra speed. C is a good choice for embedded systems because of this extra performance.
C++, on the other hand, is still blazingly fast and is the first choice for systems that require speed but still need the functionality that C++ offers. Fields like AAA game design and networking use C++ because it’s fast, but it still retains higher level features that make development realistically possible.
C++ is a superset of C. C++ is object-oriented, bottom-up, and includes many high-level features. C is low level, procedural, and top-down. C is still in use because it is slightly faster and smaller than C++.
For most people, C++ will be the better choice. It has more features, more applications, and for most people, it will be easier to learn and use. However, C is still relevant, and learning to program in C can improve how you program in C++. Neither language is a bad choice, and both have realistic career applications.