What Is C Programming? Why Learn C?

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What is C programming and why should you learn it? The C coding language is a general-purpose “procedural” programming language. It is not an object-oriented language like Python or Java

As of March 2022, C is the second most popular programming language (after Python) according to the TIOBE Index, so it may be worth learning! It was also “Language of the Year” in 2008, 2017 and 2019. It’s been around for about 50 years, which is pretty incredible for a coding language!

In this post, we’ll cover more about what the C programming language is, some reasons to learn C programming, a few C syntax examples, the best way to learn C, and more. If you’re a complete beginner to this language, you’re in the right place! This is a quick guide to C programming for beginners.

What Is C?

To quickly define C programming, it is a procedural coding language developed by Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson in the 1970s. Now, procedural programming languages can be functional or not, so is C a functional language? In short, no: C is closer to an imperative language than a functional one.

C is strongly associated with the UNIX operating system — even most of the UNIX operating system is coded in C. In fact, most operating systems today, including the Linux Kernel, are implemented with C code.

C programming

C is often called a middle-level language, which means it bridges the gap between machine code/assembly language that can convert to machine code without a compiler or interpreter, and a high-level language like Python, C++, or Java.

Since C is procedural, it does not support classes and objects, meaning it has less functionality than a language like C++ does.

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What is C programming used for?

Since it is fast and performs almost as efficiently as assembly code, C is often used to develop software like operating systems, databases, compilers, embedded devices, etc. It is also used in kernel-level software and hardware drivers.

It provides base-level access to memory, and it requires very little runtime support.

C vs C++ vs C#

So what is the difference between C, C++, and C#?


C is one of the lowest-level languages that is still readable (compared to binary code with 0’s and 1’s). 

C++, like C, is considered a mid-level programming language that’s faster and closer to machine code; it is both a high-level and low-level language. Some more facts about C++:

  • C++ was actually developed as an extension of the C programming language
  • Basically, adds object-oriented programming capabilities to C
  • Developed in 1985
  • It’s a lot easier to understand C++ if you already have a solid foundation in the C programming language
  • C and C++ are pretty similar

C# is considered a high-level language. Here’s a little summary of C# as a language:

  • Also developed as an extension to C
  • C# is an object-oriented programming language
  • Developed in 2002
  • Compiles into byte-code, rather than machine code
  • Typically used in internal or enterprise applications, rather than commercial software. 
  • C# is more similar to languages like Java than it is to C

As you can see, the three of them are related (which is why they all share similar names), but C and C++ are closer to one another than either language is to C#.

Why Learn C Programming?

Why learn how to program in C? Learning C can actually make it easier to learn and fully understand other programming languages like C++, Java, or Python.

It gives you a solid understanding of how programming languages work since it is a base-level language that’s closer to the machine.

The C language syntax teaches you how to write efficient and fast code, so it could even be a good first programming language providing a foundation to build on.

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How Does C Work? What Does it Look Like?

C is a compiled language, meaning you have to use a compiler to turn the code into an executable file before you can actually run it. You write the code in a text editor and use a compiler. The compiler checks the code for errors and then creates an executable file.

All C programs must be written using this structure:

Structure of C Program
Image source: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/c-language-set-1-introduction/

Where to Learn C Programming

Most of these courses cover C programming for beginners. If you want to get really good at programming in C, I’d point you toward the third on the list (the professional edX certificate).

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for these courses. If you buy a course through these links, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

  1. Learn C on Codecademy: An introductory C course that teaches you the basics of the language. Things like variables, operators, loops/errors, functions, structures, and more. 
  2. Introductory C Programming Specialization on Coursera: Offered by Duke University, this Coursera C specialization includes four courses touching on programming fundamentals, writing, running, and fixing C code, pointers and arrays, and interacting with the system and managing memory. 
  3. C Programming with Linux (Professional Certificate) on edX: In this 7-course certificate path, you’ll develop and debug code in the C programming language, understand the foundations of computer programming and Linux, optimize computer memory using pointers in C, and much more. 
  4. C Programming For Beginners – Master the C Language on Udemy: In this C course, you’ll learn how things really work “under the hood,” including concepts like memory space and CPU architecture. Designed for complete beginners.

Is It Difficult to Learn C?

C is actually considered a simpler language when compared to other programming options. In fact, many programmers learn it before moving on to more complex languages.

C Code

However, some consider C to be more difficult to learn than JavaScript, for example. And it’s certainly harder than the super-simple languages like HTML and CSS (which are usually the first two I recommend.

Just like any skill, you’ll need patience to learn it, but it shouldn’t be too difficult! And then you can move on to a “harder” language, which won’t seem so hard anymore—because you’ll have a good understanding of how a computer actually works.

All things considered, it can open a lot of doors to learn C programming! It could be an excellent language to add to your arsenal.