How to Learn C++
Whether you want to be an embedded systems engineer, a game developer, or just want to learn a practical coding skill, C++ is a great language to learn.
C++ is one of the most popular programming languages in the world—used for everything from building operating systems to crafting video games to creating 3D movies. While the language may have a steeper learning curve than other technologies, its potential applications are numerous.
This guide will discuss the best way to learn C++ online. We’ll walk through the main steps you should follow so that you know exactly what you need to do to master the powerful C++ programming language.
What Is C++?
The C programming language, initially developed for the UNIX operating system, was designed to make it easier for a user to write programs that will run on almost every machine.
The language is well-known for being created and tested by programmers throughout its history, which means that the language today has a number of features that are designed for specific use cases programmers have encountered over the years.
C++ is an extended version of C which includes all the latter’s features. The C++ language supports object-oriented programming, which is a type of development where programs are written using objects and classes. This structure allows you to reduce repetition and increase efficiency in your code.
Why Should You Learn C++?
C++ is known for being a more difficult language to learn than others such as Java and Python. This is in large part because C++ has a more complex syntax, which can be challenging for beginners to understand. With that said, investing the time to learn C++ can bring a number of benefits to you and your career.
The first benefit of learning C++ is that the syntax used by the language is similar to many other programming technologies, such as Go. This means that, once you’ve mastered C++, you should find it easier to start picking up on more technologies, including modern ones.
That’s not all! Because C++ is used in both software and hardware development, knowing how to code in C++ will give you a better sense of how both software and hardware work together. This is useful knowledge to have, no matter which path you pursue in technology.
C++ is also a good language to learn if you are interested in a career in technology. Given the widespread use of the language, you should have no trouble finding a company that uses the language and who is hiring talented developers. In addition, because C++ is used for such a wide array of applications, careers, as varied as a game developer to a software engineer, could all be in your future.
How to Learn C++ Fast
Are you convinced that learning C++ is a good investment of your time? Great! The next step on your journey is to ask yourself: How do I learn the language?
The complex syntax used by C++ may make your journey feel intimidating, but don’t worry. Let’s explore a few tips to help you start your journey on the right foot.
Step 1: Prepare Your Technology
There are a few different concepts that you’ll need to be familiar with before you start coding. The first step in learning how to code using C++ is to prepare your technology and development environment. Here is a glossary of the main technology you’ll need to prepare before starting to code:
A text editor is a tool where you will write your code. Think of a text editor like a Microsoft Word document, but for programmers. There are hundreds of text editors out there, and the specific one you end up choosing does not necessarily matter. However, at the start of your journey, it is advisable to choose something simple. Here are a few recommendations:
You’ll also need to have a compiler on your computer. The compiler will read your source code—the code you have written—then it will convert it into a format the computer can read and execute. Here are a few compilers you can use with C++:
- GCC (Windows, Mac, Linux)
- Visual Studio C++ Compiler (Windows)
- Clang (Windows)
Now you’ve prepared your tools, we can start talking about how to learn C++.
Step 2: Master the Basics
Once you have your technology ready, you can start on your journey to learning C++. One mistake that many new developers make is to start big and work their way back to more basic programming concepts. But when you’re getting started, you should start from the beginning and aim to master the fundamentals, then go on to look at more complex C++ topics.
To help you get started, let’s break down the main topics you’ll need to master in order to learn how to code in C++.
C++ Syntax and Variables
The first step to learning any programming language is to understand the language’s syntax. Syntax refers to the rules and procedures a language uses to interpret code.
Then, you should start to learn about variables. Variables are a feature of programming that allows you to store data and can be manipulated over time to reflect changes in your code.
Here are the main topics you should explore when it comes to C++ syntax and variables:
- How to create a C++ program
- How to receive program output
- How to declare a variable
- How to chain variables
- How to use arithmetic operators
- How to accept user input into a variable
Programmers use a series of statements called conditionals to control the flow of their programs. Conditionals allow programmers to only run certain code when a condition or set of conditions are met. Here is a list of the flow control topics you’ll need to know:
Loops allow you to execute a block of code multiple times over, and help you reduce repetition in your code. For instance, instead of copying the same code five times over in your code, you can create a loop that runs a single block of code five times.
Here are the main topics you’ll need to know about:
Functions are code blocks that run when they are called in a program. So, writing a function allows you to write a block of code that is only executed when you want it to be, and that block of code can be run as many times as you want throughout your program.
The main features of functions that you should know about are:
- Built-in vs. user-defined functions
- How to declare a function
- The void keyword
- How to return values
- How to use parameters and arguments
Classes and Objects
As we mentioned earlier, C++ is an object-oriented language. This means it relies on classes and objects. Classes are blueprints that store the structure of a part of a program, and objects use that structure to create a collection of data.
For instance, a class may store the structure for a type of car, and an object may store details about an individual type of car, like a 2020 BMW. The most important features of classes and object are as follows:
- How to create a class
- How to create an object
- Public and private statements
- How to use constructors
- C++ inheritance
Vectors are a type of list that can change in size. When you’re programming, you can use vectors to store lists of data, which can help you keep your code more organized and maintain its efficiency. Here is a list of the main features of C++ vectors:
- Creating a C++ vector
- Adding and removing vector elements
- How to change values in a vector
Where to Learn about C++
So far, we’ve discussed both the value of learning C++, and the main topics that you should know about that will allow you to code effectively using the C++ language. Now, we need to ask: Where can I learn these skills?
The fact that C++ is so widely used is to your advantage. It means there are plenty of resources out there on which you can depend to start learning to code, and those resources support all different learning styles. So, if you prefer interactive tutorials, there will be something for you and if you prefer books, there are many from which you can choose.
Here are a few online resources that can help you to learn C++:
- Career Karma’s Introduction to C++ series
- C Programming by LearnVern
- C++ Fundamentals online course by Pluralsight
- Udemy’s C++ Tutorial for Complete Beginners
- The C++ Programming Language (4th Edition) by Bjarne Stroustrup
- C++ Primer (5th Edition) by Stanley B. Lippman
These are a few of the many resources out there that can help you learn C++ for free. When you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll be ready to start working on your own C++ projects.
Step 3: Build a Project
Building projects are not only fun, but it is a great way to practice the theory that you have learned from books, courses, and tutorials. When you build a project, you’ll have complete control over what you work on, so you get to choose what you create and how it works.
The first thing you need to build a project is an idea. You may be thinking about what to build, and this question is actually easier to answer than you’d expect.
While you can build anything you want—that’s right, anything—a good way to come up with basic ideas is to think about problems you encounter on a day-to-day basis and try to come up with a way to solve them using code.
The final idea you choose to work on should be one that interests you though—that way, if you hit a roadblock, you’ll be more motivated to power through and keep going.
Here are a few basic project ideas for beginner C++ developers:
- Car insurance system
- Clothing store management system
- Tic-tac-toe game
- Casino number guessing game
- C++ bank account management system
When you’re building a project, remember to start small, then work your way up to explore more advanced ideas. So, your first project may use your knowledge of classes, then, once you’ve built that project, you could try to add inheritance into your project, for example.
Step 4: Join a Community
Another common mistake new developers make is to “code in isolation.” In other words, many people decide to learn to code by themselves, without seeking help from others. It makes sense why some developers do this—learning to code is difficult, and you may feel like you are burdening others with basic questions. But that’s not the case!
The best thing you can do is to join a developer community from an early stage and engage as frequently as possible. Luckily for you, because there are so many C++ developers out there, it’s easy to find a community to join that has the vibe you’re looking for.
Joining a developer community offers you a number of benefits. Here are a few:
- You can meet people who have been in your shoes. On developer forums, you’ll find programmers of all stripes—from beginners to experts. You’ll have no trouble finding someone who has been in your shoes before, which may help you better understand where you are and where you need to go to improve.
- You can ask for help. Developer communities are all about programmers helping other coders. If you have a question, instead of worrying about it yourself, you can ask someone in a community.
- You can practice your skills by helping others. Once you’ve mastered the basics of C++, you’ll be qualified to help out people who are not as knowledgeable as you in certain topics. This will help you reinforce your skills, and become a better developer.
Now, you may be asking: What communities can I join? Here is a quick list of top C++ communities to help you get started:
- Dev.to: Dev.to is a community for developers of all skill levels to discuss. Their C++ community is particularly active.
- GitHub: GitHub is a code-sharing platform for developers, and features a number of great projects to which you can contribute.
- Stack Overflow: Stack Overflow is a community for developers to ask questions and respond to those questions. If you have a question about C++—or want to help someone else—Stack Overflow is the place to go.
Step 5: Practice, Then Practice More
The only way that you will be able to refine your skills is to practice and to practice some more.
Earlier, we mentioned that C++ has a steeper learning curve than other languages, and so you’ll likely end up asking yourself, “Should I quit?” a couple of times throughout your journey. The answer to that question is always, “No!” If you keep going and show up every day to practice, over time you’ll become a significantly better programmer.
Practicing makes it easier for you to keep learning, because the more you practice, the more you’ll learn about common challenges associated with programming. There are no specific ways in which you need to practice, but here are a few ideas to get you going:
- Work on projects: Get busy with projects as often as possible—they’ll give you a bigger goal to focus on, and allow you to reinforce your existing skills.
- Join Edabit: Edabit is similar to Duolingo, but for developers. On Edabit, you’ll find a number of fun coding challenges that you can join.
- Google Code Jam: Google Code Jam allows you to build your skills by competing with other developers on C++ projects.
Step 6: Share Your Work
As soon as you feel comfortable doing so, you should start sharing your work with others. This is an important part of learning C++ because it will help you build more confidence in your work. This will make it easier for you to keep coding, even when you encounter a barrier.
When you’ve finished learning a concept, ask a friend or someone in a developer community to quiz you on the concept. Or, alternatively, you could build a project using the concepts you have learned, and ask a friend to review it and give you feedback.
Even better, if you know other C++ developers, you could ask them to do a code review and help you understand how you can incorporate best practices into your code.
Do you still have questions about learning how to code in C++? Here are a few frequently asked questions that you may find useful:
Technically, there’s no point at which you’ve “learned” a programming language—things change all the time, and there’s always more to learn. However, if you work hard, there’s no reason to say that you can’t master the basics in a few weeks or months, and be ready for a job using C++ in a year or two.
We touched on this earlier, but the main difference between C and C++ is that C++ is object-oriented. This means the language supports classes and objects.
Many modern programming languages like PHP, Rust, and C# were based on C and C++. So, it’s likely that as you explore other programming languages, you’ll be able to find a few similarities.
Yes, C++ is an in-demand skill. At the time of writing this article, Glassdoor reports that the average C++ developer in the U.S. commands a salary of $76,526—an impressive sum!
C++ may be more difficult to learn than other languages like Python or Java, but the language is still absolutely worth learning. Whether you want to become a game developer, work on creating browsers, or become an embedded systems engineer, knowing how to code in C++ will be incredibly useful.
The long history of C++, as well as its widespread use, means that there is no shortage of resources out there that you can use to help you learn the language. That’s not all. C++’s popularity means that there are a number of companies actively hiring developers who can code using the language.
To start, you should focus on the fundamentals: syntax, functions, loops, program flow, and so on. Then, you can start building your own projects that get slowly more advanced, and you can help out other programmers in communities like Dev.to and StackOverflow.
Learning C++ is a long-term investment in your skills and your career, and the best way to learn is to get started as soon as you can and follow the tips in this article to help you create a clear learning path.