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Learn C Programming: Best Courses, Books, and Resources for Learning C

Paul Larkin - October 05, 2022

C is a popular programming language that has been around since 1972. Five decades later, C remains a favorite among programmers of all backgrounds. According to the latest TIOBE index, C is the second most popular language with a 14.59 percent market share. This is one of the reasons why many people, including beginners, want to learn C programming.

C is a general-purpose programming language that has influenced most modern programming languages today. C++, for example, is a direct superset of C. In other words, it supports all of C’s features. The main difference between C vs C++ is that the latter supports object-oriented programming while the former does not.

According to seasoned programmers, the C language is worth learning simply because it exposes you to fundamental programming concepts. This exposure can help you refine your programming skills and learn other languages faster. This article will show you how to learn C programming using some of the best resources out there.

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What Is C Used For?

If you are a total beginner to programming, you are likely wondering what C is used for. C programming is typically used to develop operating systems, embedded systems, and high-performance libraries. It has been used to power parts of popular operating systems like Windows and Linux.

You can also learn C programming if you’re looking to break into game development. Because it is a low-level language close to machine code, C runs faster and is compatible with most hardware. This gives you ample room to create a game with fast assembly code and ensures a smooth programming experience.

Why Should You Learn to Program in C?

You should learn C programming for many reasons. It is a powerful language that is procedural in nature. That means its structure closely follows a set of commands. C is fast, lightweight, and highly structured. Its source code is also easier to read compared with other high-level languages. These features make it an excellent foundational language for most new coders.

Depending on the type of development you wish to pursue, a strong understanding of C can help you go from a novice to an experienced programmer. C is not considered the “mother” of all programming languages for nothing. It is complex. However, learning to do things the hard way will train you to pay closer attention to every little detail that can make or break a project.

Top Reasons to Learn C Programming

  1. C remains a popular programming language 50 years since its release which means there are a lot of communities built around the language should you require additional help.
  2. Proficiency in C exposes you to programming basics, making it easier to learn other languages.
  3. C can be used to build efficient programs and applications of all sizes, from programming an Arduino to creating a compiler.

How to Learn C Programming: Step-by-Step

A person looking at multiple lines of code on a computer screen.
The best way to learn C programming is to use all the resources available to you and continue to practice coding in the language.

If you are looking to learn C programming, we recommend that you start by establishing your goals. It is crucial to determine your reason for learning to program in C. Do you wish to explore programming jobs using C? Do you simply want to learn a language from scratch? Below are eight steps you can take to learn C programming.

Step 1: Establish Your Motivation

Just like any other programming language, C can be a hard language to learn . Setting a bigger goal can keep your motivation alive especially when you face roadblocks that discourage you from progressing further.

Establishing your motivation can also help you formulate a game plan that works for you. For example, if you are an experienced programmer who is looking to expand your skillset, you may already have a solid foundation in core concepts. As such, a quick programming tutorial may be all you need to learn to program in C.

Step 2: Learn C Basics

The main step you need to take to learn C programming is to learn the basics. It is recommended that you start with the history and evolution of C since its inception in the 1970s. This can help you better understand the practical applications of C programming in today’s world and see how C skills can help you achieve your goals.

C is a compiled and procedural language that requires its users to follow a set of specified commands. Here are some of the fundamental concepts in C that you should know:

C Programming Fundamentals to Master

  • C syntax
  • C variables
  • C basic data types
  • C pointers
  • C arrays and strings

Step 3: Find the Compiler for Your Needs

To get started with C, you’ll want to find yourself a nice compiler. A compiler works almost like a notebook; you input your code into a compiler and it converts that coding language into machine-level instructions that can then be read by the targeted device. You’ll need to pick out and set up a compiler designed for the C language .

There are lots of good compilers available like Ideone. Online compilers are excellent tools for beginners or for when you’re in a rush, but they have more limited capabilities than locally installed compilers. PC users can download and install a compiler such as Code::Blocks , Mac OS users can use compilers like Xcode , and Linux users can get GNU GCC .

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Step 4: Write a “Hello, World!” Program

Now that you’ve installed your compiler, it’s time to write a simple program. We’ll go with one of the oldies but goodies and have you create a text message. While the program is a basic one, the concepts behind it are sound and will carry over into any future coding you take on. While writing this program, you’ll also start to get a feel for C’s syntax and structure.

Because C has a small footprint, it requires you to assign libraries to perform actions. In this case, you’ll start your program with stdio.h, which defines the printf function. You’ll then start code execution with the command main(). All code within curly braces ( {} ) becomes the main body. So, here’s what the program would look like:

#include <stdio.h>
int main()
  printf("Hello, World!\n");
  return 0;

It might not seem like much, but you’ve just written your first program code in C. You’re on your way to becoming a C programmer!

Step 5: Attend a Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps are a great way to learn C, especially if you are looking for an in-depth program that covers advanced C programming. Some schools offer a hybrid of C/C++ program, while others offer C as a part of their web and software development program.

The length of a coding bootcamp depends on the schedule, location, and area of specialization. Before enrolling, you should reassess your motivation for learning C to ensure you are on the right track. Some of the best C bootcamps that you can attend include Flatiron School, Nucamp, and Le Wagon .

Step 6: Work on C Projects

Any experienced programmer would tell you that the best way to progress is to practice a lot. If you are a beginner in C programming, you can take on independent projects on a freelance basis. Once you are more confident in your skills, you can start collaborating with other C programmers and develop a more complex project.

You can also take advantage of some C quizzes and exercises online . They are designed to expose you to basic concepts and practice assignments in various areas of C programming. Learn your skill gap and spend more time working on that particular area before moving on to more advanced C programming.

Step 7: Join a C Developer Community

Whether you are new to programming or not, joining a developer community is always a good move. As someone who is learning to program in C, you would want to surround yourself with a supportive group of people who are experienced. A C developer community can be a great source of information and networking opportunities.

Even if you have established a strong foundation, it doesn’t hurt to build rapport and form connections with other professionals in the same industry. Not only would they be able to offer tried-and-tested solutions to coding problems you may face but they can also offer tips to help you land entry-level programming positions.

Step 8: Practice Your R Skills

This is especially helpful if you are interested in breaking into data science considering both C and R are commonly used in the field. R is a scripting language used to analyze, clean, and visualize large sets of data. If you know how to program in a general-purpose language like C, knowledge in R can further round out your skills and boost your marketability.

Using a similar approach, you can learn R programming by using some of the resources that are available online. You can then further develop your R skills by working on data-related projects either independently or with a group.

How to Learn C Programming for Free

A women on her laptop coding for her new career after coding bootcamp.
There are many different online coding courses you can take to learn c programming for free.

There are several resources you can use to learn C programming for free online. Some tutorials offer a step-by-step guide on how to achieve a specific task using C fundamentals while others offer a quick refresher on C history and applications. Regardless of your skill level or background, there is something for every type of C programmer. Here are the top tutorials to learn C programming for free.

Best Way to Learn C Online

The best way to learn C programming online is by referring to credible resources at your disposal and practicing your code until you get better. Here are our top recommendations for C online courses, free courses, and books that can help you master this structured programming language.

Online C Programming Courses

The best online C programming courses should cover basic concepts all the way through advanced applications of the language. However, this ultimately depends on your career goals and motivation for learning to program in C. Our top three picks of paid courses below are highly recommended for beginners.

Introduction to Programming in C Specialization | Coursera

  • Cost: $39 to $89/month for the Specialization subscription
  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

This course covers four courses that begin with programming fundamentals. Students will learn how to write, run, and fix code in C. They will also be exposed to pointers, arrays, and recursion before going into memory management. Students who spend five hours a week on the program can expect to complete it in five months. They will also receive a certificate of completion.

C Programming For Beginners | Udemy

  • Cost: $109.99
  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

This is one of the most popular C programming courses online. It covers 17 sections comprising over 100 lectures. This course aims to teach you how to code in C and prepare you for entry-level programming positions. The on-demand video lessons are taught by actual industry experts. It also comes with a certificate of completion.

C Programming Language Fundamentals | Pluralsight

  • Cost: $54/month
  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

This 86-minute course is great for beginners looking for a short and straightforward lesson on C fundamentals. It delves into topics such as variables, operators, expressions and statements, pointers and arrays, and functions and structures. It is one of the top-rated C courses online with a four-star rating from over 1,000 learners.

Free C Programming Courses

If you are looking to dip your toes into C before committing to a paid program, these free online C programming courses may be a good place to start. These free courses are typically more structured than free tutorials on C, making them suitable for beginners and programmers from all backgrounds.

C Language Basic to Advance Course | LearnVern

  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

This free online C programming course comprises 21+ hours of on-demand videos, 71 articles, and 20 exercises. Some of the modules include constants and variables, command line arguments, and basic data types. Qualifying students can also choose to pursue the paid certification offered by LearnVern in partnership with Skill India and National Skill Development Corporation.

Get Started with Programming in C: Full Course | Udemy

  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

Close to 14,000 learners have tried this free online C course which comprises 94 minutes of on-demand videos. It is a great option for those looking for a crash course on C fundamentals. Some of the topics covered include variables, data types, if-else conditions, and C libraries.

Quickstart Guide for C Programming | Udemy

  • Requirements: None
  • Audience: Beginners

In less than four hours, you will be exposed to crucial C programming topics such as variables, conditions and loops, functions, and user input. This free C course is geared specifically toward beginners and anyone interested in starting a programming career. It received 422 reviews with an average rating of four stars.

Online C Programming Books

Sometimes, online videos and lessons alone are not enough to help you learn C programming effectively. You can supplement your learning by picking up a good C programming book. They are typically more comprehensive, allowing you to build a deeper understanding of the language you are trying to learn. Below are some of the best books on C programming.

C in a Nutshell: The Definitive Reference (2nd Edition) by Peter Prinz and Tony Crawford

This book is divided into three sections: C language concepts and elements, the C standard library, and basic C programming tools in the GNU software collection. It is targeted at more experienced C/C++ programmers. A lot of readers left glowing reviews, calling it a “comprehensive reference” with a “high level of detail.”

The C Programming Language by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie

This book is special in its own right. It’s co-authored by the developer of the C programming language himself, Dennis Ritchie. Dubbed a classic by many C professionals, it covers the structures that govern the language in precise detail. It is recommended for readers with some experience in programming.

Learn C the Hard Way: Practical Exercises on the Computational Subjects You Keep Avoiding (Like C) by Zed A. Shaw

If you want a fresh approach to C training, this book is for you. It is meant to expose beginners to the inner workings of C programming by pushing readers to find answers for themselves. The author is focused on teaching readers how to learn C, rather than teaching them how to code in C.

Should You Learn C Programming?

Yes, you should learn C programming because it is a fantastic jumping-off point for any prospective coder. Because it is a structured, procedural programming language , learning C can help you better understand the fundamentals of programming in general. This, in turn, can help fortify your technical skills and make you a well-rounded programmer.

C is a decades-old language used to power some of the most sophisticated operating systems, embedded systems, games, and applications that we still use to this day. Being proficient in C programming can help you learn another language faster and it can also help you explore rewarding careers in tech.

Learn C Programming FAQ

How long does it take to learn C?

It can take anywhere from months to years to learn C. The amount of time it takes to learn C programming depends on factors like your skill level, background, intended purpose, and capacity. For seasoned coders, it may not take long to learn C while others with zero coding experience may require a lot more time.

Is C hard to learn?

Like any other programming language, C can be hard to learn if you don’t know where to start. There are a lot of resources you can use to make your learning experience a lot smoother like free courses, coding bootcamps, and books. You can also refer to C online tutorials if you are stuck. Most of these resources offer helpful pointers and tips to better navigate C programming.

What is the main difference between C and C++?

The main difference between C vs C++ is that the latter supports object-oriented programming while the former does not. C++ is derived from C, which means it shares most if not all of C’s features. Most C code can run on a C++ compiler but not the other way around. It is also interesting to note that C is a fast and lightweight language while C++ is more suitable for complex development projects.

Where can I learn C?

There are a lot of resources that you can use to learn C such as online courses, free tutorials, and books. Depending on your goal, some say that the best place to learn C is a coding bootcamp. This is because coding bootcamps generally offer rigorous, job-oriented training that not only equips you with the technical skills but also the soft skills to land a job after graduation.

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Paul Larkin

About the author: Paul Larkin has years of experience in the tech industry and writes about cybersecurity and future of work.

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