Importance of c language

C language is very old compared to all current programming languages like Java, Javascript, C#, Swift, etc. People often wonder why they should learn such an old programming language when the world around them is utilizing all modern programming languages. Students and software engineers at their early stages stumble upon these facts. This topic page is entirely dedicated to guiding them and answering questions like – Why should I learn C? Should I learn c first? Where c language is used nowadays? The Importance of c language etc.

C as Base programming language

Let us say that we are going to learn any spoken language of the continent of Europe like Spanish, Italian, French, or Romanian. Now learning or knowing Latin could help us to speed up the learning of this language? The answer would be yes, knowing Latin would be a plus point for all those languages since Latin was the base ancestor of all of those languages.

This same analogy is applicable when learning a modern programming language. Knowing C programming language will enable you to understand and appreciate an entire family of programming languages built upon the traditions of C.

All-purpose programming

There were few programming languages available as higher-level programming languages those were used in computer programming and they are Basic, Fortan, Cobol, Pascal etc. Basic is good for writing step by step statements, Fortan is for solving mathematical problems and formulas, Cobol is for business problems and Pascal is good for solving problems using procedures. There was no programming language in the past that can cover all purposes. C is the first programming language invented to resolve all types of problems.

Fast execution of C code

Programming languages like Java, C#, Javascript etc require an interpreter or runtime executable. Programs written using C language runs natively to the CPU execution. There is no abstraction layer or runtime layer. Programs written in C are fast and lightweight.

Small & Fast code generation

The compiler of C has a preprocessor, optimizer, compiler, and linkers. They are simple and hence they take less space in disks. Also the compilation build time is less compared to other languages. The output object file and executable files are smaller.


A simple programming statement in assembly can vary between x86, ARM, and different CPU architectures. Assembly instruction sets are different for each processor families and porting codes to different architectures takes lots of time and effort. A major reason to learn C language over assembly language is that it is much easier and less time consuming to port a given programming task to another platform. C program source code is mostly architecture-independent. A programmer requires to use a cross compiler to recompile the source code to generate the executable for the other platform. Cross compiler will generate object file and then the linker will produce native executable files. There are lots of architectures like x86-64, Itenium, ARM, Motorola 68K, XScale, Atmel etc are there and some C source code can work seamlessly.

Low level instructions

Assembly language works at the instruction level of the processor. Assembly language can interact with the CPU, memory, and IO subsystem at the lowest level. However, this is not much different in C. An optimized compiled code work at the same level as Assembly language does. C compiler translates program lines into one or more machine codes and can directly interact with the system. C language offers inline assembly (_asm) facility to directly write assembly language instructions in C source files.

No Overhead

C compiler generates the executable in native platform instructions. There is an optimization layer in the compiler that modifies the program code to get the least amount of instructions at the machine code level. This optimization technique is known as optimize for code size. Another optimization is there where the optimizer arranges the code in such a way that code executes in the fastest time possible. This optimization technique is also known as execution for optimization.

An execution optimized executable can run as fast as if it is written in assembly language or machine language. An operating system should run with no overhead so that it can utilize the most out of the processor. Thus C is the most commonly used programming language for writing all operating systems. Unix is the first operating system written in C and GNU/Linux is the next addition to it.

Memory access

C language can read or write directly into the buffer, array, structures, union, pointers. Higher level languages like Java, C#, VB etc cannot use low level manipulation like C language.

Dynamic Memory management

C manages dynamic memory directly using the operating system's system calls. This is low-level access and the management of each chunk is in the control of the programmer. However higher-level languages cannot control dynamic memory at such a low granular level.

What are the Practical applicability of C language?

C Compiler is the most applicable component in software development. Wide varieties of software components are developed using C. Applicable fields are countless though we tried to broadly categorize the area in the below diagram.

C Development ares in Blocks

Application Development

Application software is the common software. Windows, Linux and Mac provide console-based utilities and command. These are developed using C language.

The next type of applications are Windows calculators, notepad, paintbrush, clock, control panel utilities are small size applications. Linux shell, commands are all written in C.

Middleware component Development

Middleware components are generally shared library modules comes as .SO or .DLL format. C runtime, MFC, .NET, XWindows, Gnome GTK, QT, KDE, JAVA JRE, and many more frameworks and libraries are present on the operating system that are written in C/C++.

Low level System Libraries Development

GLIBC in Linux (, C runtime environment (MSCRTXX.dll) are system libraries. They interface C programs with operating system calls. Linux/Mac, Windows or any operating system exposes all the system calls using C functions.

Operating system Kernel Development

Unix was the operating system implemented in C language. Linux kernel is entirely written in C and available as open source license. Mac and Windows were also written in C.

Device Driver Development

Device Drivers are system software to control and manage physical devices present in the system. Display, Keyboard, mouse etc are the basic devices managed by device drivers. The entire collection of device drivers of Windows, Linux and Mac are written using C.

Game Development

DOS-based games are mostly written with C and C++. C is good in low memory footprint systems like DOS 8086 where max memory is limited by 1MB by its CPU design. Most of the modern games use C++ and DirectX or OpenGL OOP library.

C /C++ and other Compiler Development

GCC, G++ compilers are opensource and the source code can be downloaded from GNU website. The source code of GCC can be recompiled to generate a new version of the compiler. Lex and Yacc, Flex, and bison are the tools used in compiler compilation. There are fourth-gen languages that do not compile to native language and they work using an interpreter. Some of these languages like Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby are all written in C.

Java Compiler, JRE and Native development

Java compiler and Java Runtime executable are the products developed using C & C++. The name of Java runtime environment that used to run in all Android platform was known as Dalvik.

Embedded and Cross Platform Software Development

C compiler comes as default with x86/i386 machine and they execute on x86 and generates executables for running in x86 platform. There are several other processor architectures than x86 like ARM, Motorola 68K, Atmel, XScale, Itanuim, Microchip PIC. A cross compiler is software runs on x86/x86-64 computers and generates executables that can run on those cross-platforms and this field of software development is known as “Embedded Systems”.

PC firmware BIOS Development

Every computer powers-on and a system firmware runs at the beginning. This software is the firmware of the PC or known as Basic Input Output System (BIOS). BIOS is entirely written in C language and a small part of the BIOS is written in assembly language.

C language is an old programming language even though it has a wide range of applicability in the field of modern software engineering. Therefore, schools and colleges include this programming language in their syllabus as the base programming language for students. C language may not be 100% applicable in current generations of the programming practices but still learning C will strengthen the grass wood level knowledge of programming of the newcomers.

What programming language should we learn after C?

Now we know the applicability and the importance of C language. C language is the primary language taught in engineering schools and colleges. Students can leverage their C programming skills to learn the next programming languages they will be using in their profession or other fields in their career.

C++ language is the next programming language to learn. C++ is not a different programming language but C with object-oriented programming and object-oriented design combined package. All the learning and concepts of C language can be used in C++. C++ language is often used for developing large software and components.

C, C++ are limited to a platform and executables can not be redistributed. There comes C# .NET and Java. These programming languages have been derived from C++ language. C# and Java are platform-independent. Javascript, PHP etc are higher-level languages. Students should learn C in-depth and later can learn C++ with OOPs concept. Most of the interview and exams asks questions about C/C++ and fundamentals. Java, VB, C#, Javascript, PHP are good to for fresh engineers but not compulsory. Recruiters often conduct training sessions for the candidate on these new languages before assigning them to a new project.

What type of job to try with C programming knowledge?

Application developer, Middleware System Programming, engineer Embedded System developer, Device Driver developer etc are common job positions to apply for knowing C language. These positions are available in USA, Europe, and India.

Kernel developer, BIOS developer, Game developer, Compiler developer, Java runtime developer positions not widely available but available in limited availability.

There are job search portals available on the Internet to search for an appropriate job matching to these skillsets. Websites to search jobs : Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, FlexJobs, The Ladders, AngelList, LinkedIn, LinkUp, Scouted, Snagajob.

About our authors: Team EQA

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