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The C Language - An Introduction

C is a General Purpose, Structured (Block Structured) programming language. Structured languages have a characteristic program structure and an associated set of static scope rules. The structured programming concept originated in the language ALGOL 60, one of the most important early languages. They have been adopted in other languages because of their elegance and effect on implementation efficiency.

In a Block-structured language, each Program or subprogram is organized as a set of nested blocks. The main characteristics of a block is that it introduces a new local referencing environment. A block begins with a set of declaration for names (variable declarations, type definitions, constant definitions, etc.), followed by a set of statements in which those names may be referenced.

Although C is a high-level language, it is often referred as a middle-level programming language as it enables you to build both low and high-level applications. At the low end you can substitute assembly language with C and write all assembly level instructions in C, which is more portable. At the high end you can build any complex real-world application such as a business application, a gaming software, AI software, database software, etc. in C. If you spend considerable time learning and writing advanced level programs in C, you will develop a deep understanding of how computer processes instructions, how it does memory allocation & deallocation, and how it organizes & stores data in structures. All this you will understand at the bit level of 0s & 1s. This core insight will build the foundation for you to become a good software developer.

How C programs work?

A high-level program written in C language, passes through two stages of processing to make it ready for running. In the first stage, it is compiled by a C Compiler (a tool that converts C programs into machine-readable object files - .obj files). Next, one or more object files are processed by a Linker that combines them logically to build a single executable file - .exe file. This exe file is your final executable C program. Compilers are available for different operating system architectures and same set of C programs can pass through these 2 stages of compilation to generate exe files compatible with the corresponding OS architectures.

History of development of C

C was developed in the 1970's by Dennis Ritchie at erstwhile Bell Telephone Labs (now known as AT&T). In 1978, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie published a comprehensive description of the language C, The Kernighan and Ritchie description is commonly referred to as K & R C. Following the publication of the K & R description, computer professionals, impressed with C's many desirable features, began to promote the use of the language. Since 1980's, the popularity of C had become widespread. Most commercial implementations of C differed somewhat from Kernighan and Ritchie's original definition. This created some incompatibilities among different implementations of the language, thereby diminishing the portability of programs written in C. Consequently, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) proposed a standardized definition of the C language (ANSI committee X3J11). Most commercial C compilers and interpreters are expected to adopt the ANSI standard.

The statements in C resemble other high-level non-object oriented programming languages of the time, such as Pascal and FORTRAN-77. C also supports certain additional features, that allow it to be used at a lower level, thus bridging the gap between machine language and the more conventional high-level languages. This flexibility allows C to be used for systems programming (e.g., for writing operating systems) as well as for applications programming (e.g., for scientific computation, mathematical equations, or for business data processing).

It is possible to develop concise source programs in C mainly due to the large number of operators available in the language. Although the language has a relatively small instruction set, it is possible to include extensive library functions that enhance the basic instructions. Furthermore, the language encourages users to write additional library functions of their own. Thus, the features and capabilities of the language can easily be extended by the user.

C compilers are available for all types of computers ranging from PCs, workstations to super computers. The compilers are usually highly optimized, and generate object programs that are small and efficient. In addition, C programs are highly portable, as compared to the programs written in other high-level languages. The reason for this is that machine dependent features are often handled by library functions. Thus, every version of C is accompanied by its own set of library functions, which are written for the particular characteristics of the host computer. These library functions are relatively standardized with a common access protocol for these functions. Therefore, most C programs can be compiled and processed on different machines with little or no alteration.

Read further to understand why you should learn C in 2023.

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About the Author
Rajeev Kumar
CEO, Computer Solutions
Jamshedpur, India

Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of premier engineering colleges & management institutes, and IT professionals.

Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & Web Services Worldwide. He has hands-on experience of building variety of websites and business applications, that include - SaaS based erp & e-commerce systems, and cloud deployed operations management software for health-care, manufacturing and other industries.

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