A Guide To C Programming: Definition, Uses and Benefits

Updated February 3, 2023

Software developers often learn several programming languages throughout their careers to build and maintain applications and sites. Though several languages are especially useful for writing specific types of code, the C programming language is common and transferable to learning other types of programming languages. Learning about this language can help you decide if learning it is right for your career.

In this article, we'll explain what C programming is, list ways that you can use it, detail just a few of the many benefits that can be gained from learning this foundational programming language, and provide a simple explanation of how C works.

What is C programming?

C is a programming language that is both versatile and popular that developers use to create and maintain applications and technologies. For example, you can use it to write the code for operating systems, complex programs and applications, and databases. There are several variations of C programming, including the popular C++ language. C is a highly efficient and simplistic programming language that originally helped to write operating systems. It offers capabilities for low-level access to memory, a clean and concise syntax and a fairly small set of keywords.

Additionally, the source code of C for one system can be ported easily to other system architectures without differences in program behavior. Though C was developed as a programming language for UNIX operating systems, it now has many compilers that allow you to use it across almost all hardware platforms and operating systems. When it was first beginning to become popular, the American National Standards Institute, also known as ANSI, created a commercial standard for the programming language. Since then, it has also been approved by the International Standards Organization and is now sometimes referred to as "ANSI C."

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How C programming is used

You can use C as a programming language in several ways, such as:

  • Creating and maintaining IoT, also known as the "Internet of things," applications

  • Developing compilers

  • Developing the operating systems used on a desktop or smartphone

  • Developing and building databases

  • Developing internet browsers and their extensions

  • Developing creative applications, such as photography and graphic design tools along with desktop and system applications

  • Working in embedded systems

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Benefits of learning C programming

As one of the foundational languages in programming, learning C provides many benefits to individuals that take the time to learn it. Here are some of the primary advantages of learning C:

It helps you understand how a computer works

By learning C, you can be able to understand and visualize the inner workings of computer systems. This can include aspects like allocation and memory management along with their architecture and the overall concepts that drive programming. As a programming language, C also allows you to write more complex and comprehensive programs. When you understand how a computer works, you can better design applications and sites to optimize user experience.

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Most programming languages can interface with it

A majority of high-level programming languages, such as JavaScript, Python and Java, for example, can interface with C-based programs. For example, Cython is a popular C-extension to Python for calling functions written in C or declaring C types on variables and class attributes. Additionally, C can be extremely useful when trying to communicate ideas and concepts in programming because of its universal nature. This can help if you work for different companies that may use unique combinations of programming languages.

You can work on open-source projects

Though many applications use a variety of programming languages aside from C, many of those languages take inspiration from C. By learning C, you call also work on large, open-source projects, like making contributions to Python source code, that could benefit millions of programmers worldwide. You can also reuse open-source code available in libraries, helping to save you time when developing new applications.

It can be easier to learn other programming languages

Because so many different programming languages are based on or related to C, your knowledge of C can simplify the process of learning other languages. These languages typically share similar syntax, operators, control statements, data types and more. This basic knowledge can help you learn other functions and coding quicker if you need to adapt for different projects.

The structure simplifies testing and debugging

The C programming language is a strongly typed language, meaning data structures and variables must be declared first. This means the compiler is able to enforce proper usage of these declared types and catch a variety of bugs at compile time.

Additionally, the language supports the concept of structures which are user-defined data types that can be used to encapsulate data and code in a modular fashion. You can then write these modules individually and combine them to form a more complex and larger program. This divided structure improves the efficiency of testing by making it extremely easy to evaluate defects, remove them and maintain the program.

Related: What Is the Difference Between C and C++? (With 23 Comparisons)

It is an efficient programming language

There are only 32 keywords contained within C along with built-in functions and data types. Additionally, C programs contain a standard library of functions that you can call by user programs, allowing access to all of these features and functions at any point in the program. All of these attributes make C both efficient and simple to work with, especially when developing complex programs. Additionally, C is an extremely efficient language whose compiled binaries execute quickly and with minimal overhead.

Related: 3 C Programming Certifications You Can Earn (Plus Benefits)

How C programs work

C functions as a compiled language, meaning that you can compile and convert its functions into object files, which consist of machine code that is understood by the CPU. After you compile a program, the linker, then, combines the various object files to create a binary file that you can then execute to run the program. The development of technology has greatly simplified this process. Now, there are quite a few compilers that you can run online and can execute programs written in C as well as C++.

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