Though practically ancient in computer science terms, C and C++ remain two of the most popular programming languages in use today. These languages have laid the foundation for many other languages and are great options for starting your coding journey. 

Read on to discover whether it makes more sense to begin your learning with C or C++.

What Is C?

C is a general-purpose, procedural programming language. Being general-purpose, C is a simple language that can be used for almost any task.

Dennis Ritchie created C back in 1972 to run on the new UNIX operating system. Still, C is machine-independent and has been used over the last 50 years to write applications such as Windows, Linux and mobile kernels, and databases like Oracle.

C is a low-level programming language and has inspired many other programming languages. For instance, Python is fully implemented in C.

What Is C++?

At the turn of the 1980s, Bjarne Stroustrup began developing the C++ programming language as an extension of C. As a result, C++ has many similarities to C and is able to compile around 99% of C programs without requiring any changes to the code.

C++ is also a general-purpose language used to create many different types of applications. C++ plays a big part in programs like Spotify, YouTube, Microsoft Office, Google Chrome and even Amazon.

C++ stands out C from because it’s entirely object-oriented, which helps clarify program structure and make code more efficient. That’s a significant departure from C, which takes a procedural approach.

Which Is Better to Learn: C or C++?

While C and C++ have their similarities, they are two different programming languages and should be viewed as such. Even today, some 50 years following C’s creation, there are still distinct use cases for both.

To answer the question of whether you should learn C or C++, it’s important to first consider the type of program to which you want to apply your newfound knowledge.

Let’s take a look at some of the use cases for C and C++.

When To Use C

Here are some cases in which many programmers would opt for using C:

Operating Systems

C was created for use with the UNIX operating system, and it still shines when it comes to operating systems today. This makes C a solid choice to learn if you’re into learning operating systems and want to take a crack at doing something different with the OS layer. Linux relies heavily on C, and learning Linux programming will likely require knowledge of C.

Embedded Devices

C is also a popular choice for use in embedded devices. Since embedded devices need to function as a standalone unit, each device requires a specific-purpose computing system to work.

These computing systems for embedded devices often use C when it comes to scripting drivers and applications.

Kernels and Drivers

Being a mid-level language, C is a top choice for use in low-level programming to write scripts for kernels and drivers. This should come as no surprise since kernels and drivers both operate aspects of a system.

Other Reasons To Use C

C was created as a top-down programming language. In fact, it’s easier for programmers and developers to design top-level structures first. Once these are in place, focus can be shifted to the program’s smaller inner workings. This makes the coding structure much more organized and easier to follow.

Compared to C++, C is the simpler and ultimately faster programming language. C is procedural and does not support classes and objects, meaning it has less functionality than C++. This allows you to spend more time focusing on what you can do with C’s libraries, especially at the OS level.

With C++ having roots in C’s code, learning C will only make studying C++ that much easier down the road. C++ was originally known as “C with classes,” and there are many similarities between the two.

When To Use C++ 

On the other hand, the following cases show that there’s also a time and place for C++:

Domains

C++ is an object-oriented programming language frequently used in corporate environments. In these settings, the domain model is often more complex and requires the use of object-oriented programming, which C lacks.

Gaming

C++ is a dominant force in video gaming. It’s closer to hardware than most other languages and, as a result, can easily manipulate resources. C++ shines at being fast, enabling it to override the complexities of three-dimensional games and multiple layers of networking.

Graphics

The language also stands out in terms of graphics and computer vision. Since these are computationally intensive tasks, C++ is likely the best programming option. It’s able to offer the speed and efficiency that’s needed to splash graphics on a screen.

Web Browsers

C++ is prevalent in many of today’s web browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Web browsers rely on the language particularly for their rendering engines. C++ provides the speed web browsers need to display content at a fast enough speed.

Other Reasons to Use C++

Compared to C, C++ has significantly more libraries and functions to use. If you’re working with complex software, C++ is a better fit because you have more libraries to rely on.

Thinking practically, having knowledge of C++ is often a requirement for a variety of programming roles. Think of all the big companies listed earlier whose platforms are based on C++!

C or C++: What’s Our Recommendation?

As you can see, there are cases in which either C or C++ might be the superior alternative. 

Without giving a definitive answer, here are a few other things to consider:

At the professional level, C++ is the far more common language worldwide. As mentioned earlier, many programming opportunities in the workforce require knowledge of C++ for consideration.

More applications are written entirely in C++, and it’s rare to find a program written in just C. Even operating systems that use C at their core are known for having C++ in other areas to boost complexity and functionality.

If you’re an absolute coding novice, the skills you’ll pick up by learning object-oriented C++ are transferable to other languages, with Java, JavaScript and Python being the prime examples.

While C has comparatively limited use, it’s still relevant in key cases like core operating system functions. This is an area that other programming languages still fear to go.

Whatever your choice between C vs. C++, keep in mind that knowledge of one will of course give you head start for learning the other. 

Become a C++ Developer

In this guide, we presented the comparative benefits of learning C versus C++.

At Udacity, we offer specialized nanodegree programs designed to give you an edge in the workforce. With C++ as in-demand as ever, we’re offering a comprehensive C++ course that will take you through five real-world projects, all under the supervision of industry experts.   

Enroll in Udacity’s C++ Nanodegree program today!

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