February 23, 2024

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C vs. C++: 12 Key Differences and Similarities

C vs. C++: 12 Key Differences and Similarities
  • C and C++ are general-purpose programming languages used to write foundational software such as operating systems, browser engines, gaming engines, etc.
  • Even though C++ is derived from C, the two languages differ from each other. 
  • This article explains the differences between C and C++ and lists their similarities. 

What Is C?

C is a functional and general-purpose programming language that gives low-level access to system memory. A C program must be run via a C compiler to generate an executable that a PC may execute. Many Unix-based operating systems (OSes) are developed in C, and the language has been standardized as a component of the portable operating system interface (POSIX).

Nowadays, the C programming language operates on several hardware platforms and operating systems, including Microsoft (along with Windows 11) and Linux.

As a programming language, C is distinguished by four qualities:

  • A system programming language: Utilizing a systems programming language to develop systems software. C is a system programming language because it may be used to write low-level code (for instance, an OS kernel or software driver).
  • Procedural in nature: A procedure is also referred to as a component, technique, routine, or subroutine. Procedural languages describe a sequence of actions for software to perform in order to solve an issue. Before running, variables and functional prototypes must be specified in C.
  • Structural in nature: Structure is the process of dividing a program into portions or blocks to facilitate comprehension. Using functions, you may divide a C program into sections. It facilitates software interpretation and modification.
  • Mid-level in its working: A low-level language is machine-dependent or machine-specific. A high-level language, in contrast, is not machine-specific. C is called a language of the medium level as it incorporates characteristics of both low- and high-level languages.

See More: What Is COBOL Programming Language? Definition, Examples, Uses, and Challenges

What Is C++?

As an extension and improvement to C, Bjarne Stroustrup designed C++ in 1979 at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. As an expansion of C, it is frequently referred to as C with classes. It was created primarily with large systems and limited resource software in mind.

Since its beginning, C++ has seen tremendous expansion. Along with low-level memory manipulation, the most recent version (C++20) also supports object-oriented, modular, and generic programming. The greatest benefit of C++ is its ability to be highly scalable and offers developers substantial control over how programs use available resources.

As of 2011, the latest version of C++ is available for software developers and software engineers every three years. As of 2022, approximately four million programmers use the language, making it one of the world’s most prominent programming languages.

Java (a language related to C and C++) is derived from C++ but designed for the dissemination of program objects via networks such as the internet.

See More: Cobol Programmer: Job Description, Key Skills, and Salary in 2022

Differences Between C and C++ 

The first difference between C and C++ is how old each language is. C was developed by Dennis Richie between 1969-1973, while C++ was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup in 1979. Let’s explore 12 other differences: 

1. Working

C C++
C is a compiled programming language. Its working is described below:

  • After writing a C program, users must run it via a C compiler to generate an executable that the PC can execute.
  • The C program is the human-readable form, whereas the executable generated by the compilers is the machine-readable form. This implies that a C compiler is necessary to develop and execute a C program.
  • If you are running UNIX, you have access to a free C compiler. It can be either “cc” or “gcc” and can be accessed through the command line.
  • The user must obtain an open-source C compiler or buy a commercial compiler if they are using Windows. 

Microsoft’s Visual C++ environment is a widely used business-grade compiler that builds both C and C++ applications.

As mentioned, C++ is an object-oriented programming language. This means that each C++ source file must be compiled into an object file. This happens in three steps:

  • The compiler first executes the preprocessor on the source code systems. 
  • Second, the compiler creates an object file from the preprocessor’s output.
  • The linker feature of the C++ compiler converts the object files generated by the compiler into a fixed or shareable library or executable file.
  • Once many source files have been converted into an object file, they may be combined into a common or fixed library or an executable file.

C++ provides extensive library support for conventional or built-in database systems, algorithms, etc., in addition to third-party libraries such as the Boost libraries.

 

2. Programming style 

C C++
C is a procedural programming language that does not support the concept of classes and objects. Everything is broken into functions in this language to get the work done. The primary focus of C is to follow procedures (also known as functions, routines, or subroutines) to allow for stepwise sequential execution. 

C uses modularity and scoping to improve its readability and reduce complexity. Also, it does not support concepts such as polymorphism, inheritance, encapsulation, and abstraction. 

Unlike C, C++ supports procedural and object-oriented programming (OOP) paradigms which means that the primary focus of this language is on objects and how to deal with them. C++ also supports classes, polymorphism, abstraction, inheritance, and encapsulation. 

 

3. Approach to solving logical problems

C C++
C is a procedural programming language, so it follows a top-down approach to solving a problem. In the top-down approach, a problem is divided into smaller subproblems until a single subproblem that can be solved directly remains. 

The solutions to these subproblems are then combined to find the main solution to the problem. In this approach, testing and debugging are much easier and more efficient.

C++, however, follows a bottom-up approach to solving a problem. In the bottom-up approach, the low-level modules are developed first, then tested and debugged. Then, the subsequent module in the upper level is developed, tested, and debugged. This process continues until the main problem is solved. 

Code written using this approach is reusable and helpful to programmers when adding new features to an application. 

See More: What Is NoSQL? Features, Types, and Examples

4. Support for function overloading

C C++
In function overloading, two or more functions should have a similar name but different parameters. For instance, adding () can mean calculating the sum or concatenating two strings. 

Function overloading is a type of polymorphism that enhances code readability, saves memory space, and allows code reusability. It also makes the code flexible and speeds up the execution of programs. C is not designed to support function overloading.

Unlike C, C++ does support this feature. In C++, function overloading is a feature of object-oriented programming (OOP) that allows an overload of two or more functions with identical names but different parameters to create compile-time polymorphism. 

 

5. Use of inheritance

C C++
Inheritance allows developers to extend existing classes and use them again without modifying them, thus producing hierarchical relationships. The class inherited from another class is known as the derived class, while the class being inherited from is known as the base class. 

The derived class can have extra features not present in the base class. Inheritance reduces data redundancy by avoiding data duplication and is helpful for code reusability. 

The C language lacks this inheritance feature.

Inheritance is an essential feature of object-oriented programming (OOP) that C++ supports. The number of inheritances is determined by the data available within the source code. There are five types of inheritance in C++ that are single, multiple, hierarchical, multilevel, and hybrid inheritances. 

 

6. The availability of namespace 

C C++
A namespace refers to a declarative area that gives the names of functions, user-defined data types, and variables inside its scope. Namespaces provide additional information to enable the compiler to differentiate similar classes or variables with the same name available in different libraries. Namespaces promote the organization of elements and help to avoid name collisions. 

The namespace feature is unavailable in C. Programmers can resolve identifier conflicts in C using a standard name prefix for each module. The prefix should indicate the specific location to which the name belongs, enabling the compiler to use the suitable module.

The namespace feature is available in C++, allowing blocks to share the same name. Namespace declarations lack access specifiers; they can only appear at the global scope, their definitions can be fragmented into several units, and they can be nested within another namespace declaration. 

 

7. Exception handling

C C++
Exceptions refer to problems that a program encounters during execution. An exception can be synchronous or asynchronous. Programmers may encounter these errors due to bad code during the coding process or due to unforeseen circumstances. Exception handling is also referred to as error handling. 

C does not support exception handling. However, programmers can implement different error handling techniques, such as incorporating the global variable errno and performing tests on return values to ensure their code has no errors in the first place.

In C++, exception handling comprises keywords like try, catch, and throw. These keywords describe how a block of code handles errors resulting in incorrect code. Exception handling isolates error-handling code from normal code, ensuring that the normal code is readable and maintainable by using try or catch blocks. It also groups error types and allows functions to handle only the exceptions they choose. 

 

8. Ease of coding

C C++
C programming is among the most popular and versatile languages programmers can learn. This is because:

  • Its code portability allows programmers to write code on one system and use it in a different system. 
  • Its code is easy to learn and understand, requiring no previous technical knowledge. 
  • It is a hands-on language that requires developers to tell the software what to do. 
  • It only contains 32 keywords. Additionally, it has a clean and concise syntax.
C++ is simply an extension of C that enables highly regulated OOPs. If C is simple to learn, C++ is even more straightforward. It has 52 keywords and is more suitable for writing code for applications that directly interact with the hardware. 

See More: What Is an API (Application Programming Interface)? Meaning, Working, Types, Protocols, and Examples

9. Support for operator overloading

C C++
Operator overloading is a compile-time polymorphism in which operators are overloaded to give them a user-defined meaning. This feature allows changing how an operator works for user-defined types by performing different operations on the same operand. 

In operator overloading, at least a single operand must be a user-defined class object. Programmers use overloaded operators to make programs more intuitive. 

C does not support the operator overloading feature.

As mentioned, C does not support the operator overloading feature, but C++ does. Most operators in C++, such as unary, binary, and special operators, can be overloaded. However, some can not be overloaded, such as scope and ternary operators. 

 

10. Data security, encapsulation, and information hiding

C C++
Data security and privacy are huge concerns for users and organizations. Programmers need to hide the details of internal objects to guarantee that only authorized people can access data to maintain data integrity and avoid unauthorized changes. C and C++ provide different tools to make this possible.

In C, global declarations allow data communication between different blocks of code. Thus, it is less secure.

In C++, data is hidden as the data and function are encapsulated as a single unit object, ensuring that the data cannot be accessed through external functions and is thus more secure. 

C++ also supports the abstraction feature that allows programmers to only reveal information that the user requires on the interface while hiding the rest of the implementations. This feature is not available in C. 

By supporting both encapsulation and abstraction features, C++ promotes the hiding of information, which enhances data security in programs, unlike C, which does not enhance information hiding. 

 

11. Memory management

C C++
Memory management involves efficiently managing the computer’s memory by allocating or deallocating memory to programs or variables to boost application performance and minimize memory wastage. 

Memory allocation is done during runtime, while deallocation is done when a variable is no longer required. In both languages, memory management is done manually – but with subtle differences. 

In C, malloc() or calloc() functions dynamically allocate memory at run time. The malloc() function is used to create a single block of memory of a specific size, while the calloc() function assigns multiple blocks of memory to a single variable. The free() function is used for memory deallocation.

In contrast to C, the new operator is used to allocate memory dynamically at runtime in C++, while the delete operator is used for memory deallocation. 

 

12. Examples

C C++
Although C goes as far back as the 1970s, it remains among the most popular programming languages. Numerous businesses utilize C as a programming language for the creation of embedded devices, app development, as well as socket programming. Here are a few other examples of C:

  • The Windows kernel is created primarily in C, with certain assembly language components.
  • Adobe Photoshop was developed solely using the C programming language. Additionally, it was used to create Adobe Illustrator as well as Adobe Premiere.
  • Numerous Google Open Source projects are maintained using the C programming language.
  • Popular games like Google’s Dino and Snake are created in the C programming language.
  • MySQL is a C-based, open-source database management system (DBMS) program.
C++, like C, is a middle-level programming language — it enables both high-level and low-level programming of real hardware. This versatility at either end of the programming spectrum has rendered C++ effective for several systems needing precise memory allocation, including internet browsers, web crawlers, video games, movie VFX, financial tools, aviation software, and space technology. Here are a few other examples of C++:

  • C++ is a common option for operating system development.
  • C++ is commonly used in the development of game engines due to its ability to manage hardware resources and support CPU-intensive operations.
  • C++ is used to develop the renderer engines of several web browsers because of its speed.
  • Infosys Finacle is among the most widely used core-banking systems employing C++ as its underlying programming language.
  • C++ is the principal programming language for several embedded systems, such as medical equipment, smartwatches, internet of things (IoT) devices, etc.

See More: 5 AI Programming Languages for Beginners – Spiceworks 

Similarities Between C and C++

Despite the above differences, C and C++ are similar in many ways:

  • Compiled in nature: C and C++ are compiled languages, meaning both are first converted into machine code before they are executed. 
  • Data types used: C and C++ use similar basic data types such as characters, doubles, and integers. Data types specify the type of value variables have and the operations that can be applied to the variables without causing errors. 
  • Support for pointers: C and C++ support function pointers. Pointers are used to pass functions to other functions, allocate new objects on the heap, and iterate over elements in data structures. 
  • Basic functions: C and C++ use similar basic functions, for instance, library functions such as printf() and gets().
  • Variable grouping: C and C++ support structures that allow for grouping related variables into one place. 
  • Efficiency and performance: C and C++ allow for memory management techniques such as dynamic memory allocation and deallocation to save space and enhance overall performance.
  • Operators used: C and C++ use similar basic operators, for instance, unary plus and unary minus, to perform mathematical operations. 
  • File input and output: C and C++ use the same basic file input and output functions to create, open, and close files.
  • Language syntax: C and C++ have similar syntax and structure, which makes it easier for programmers to learn and adapt. 

See More: What Is BDD (Behavior Driven Development)? Meaning, Process, and Examples

Takeaway

Both C and C++ are essential languages for technical professionals due to their widespread use in software development. Specifically, they help build foundational programs that allow other hardware and software to run, such as operating systems, browser engines, etc. Several cloud-based platforms also rely heavily on C++, making it equally important in this new era of cloud computing. Interestingly, while C and C++ may differ in 10 key ways, their similarities and overlap mean that your programming skills will be somewhat transferable across the two languages. 

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