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History of C Language: Timeline, Origin, Basics & Features

Published: 11th September, 2023
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Vibha Gupta

Technical Content Writer at almaBetter

The history of C language includes its journey from system implementation language to becoming one of the most widely used languages today. Read more here!

The history of C language is a captivating journey that showcases its evolution from a system implementation language to becoming one of the most widely used languages today. Developed in the early 1970s as a tool for the emerging Unix operating system, C has since become a popular choice for system-level applications and has influenced the development of numerous programming languages. In this article, we will explain the history of C language, its early implementations, the standardization process, and its successors. We will also cover some points on history of C++ language and other such programming languages.

The History of C Language: ALGOL, BCPL, and B

Sometimes, you might wonder, “What is the history of C language?” Lets try to answer this question. To understand the history of C language, we must trace its roots back to ALGOL (Algorithmic Language), the first computer programming language to use a block structure, introduced in 1960. In 1967, Martin Richards developed a language called BCPL (Basic Combined Programming Language), which was derived from ALGOL. BCPL served as the foundation for the subsequent development of B, a language created by Ken Thompson in 1970.

B, like BCPL, was a typeless language and was used primarily in academic environments. However, B had its limitations, which led to the development of a new language that would address these shortcomings and serve as a system implementation language for the Unix operating system. This new language, which would eventually become C, was created by Dennis Ritchie at the Bell Labs in 1972.

Programming Languages Developed Before C - History of C Language

LanguageYear ReleasedDeveloper(s)
Fortran1957IBM
LISP1958John McCarthy
COBOL1959CODASYL committee
ALGOL 601960International team
BASIC1964John Kemeny, Thomas Kurtz
PL/I1964IBM
APT1960sDouglas T. Ross
SIMULA1962Ole-Johan Dahl, Kristen Nygaard

The Origin of C

History of C language - Dennis Ritchie developed C using BCPL and B as its predecessors. The goal was to create a language that would provide low-level memory access while still offering high-level abstractions for system programming. C's main features included a clean and concise syntax, a set of useful keywords, and support for both low-level and high-level memory access. These features made C suitable for system programming and set it apart from other languages of its time.

C was initially used in academic environments, but with the release of commercial C compilers and the increasing popularity of the Unix operating system, it began to gain widespread support among professionals. Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie published "The C Programming Language" in 1978, which served as a reference for the language until a formal standard was established.

Early Implementations and Language Standard

History of C programming language - In this section, you will learn history of C language in points. By the early 1970s, the rudiments of modern C had been completed, and it was powerful enough to rewrite the Unix kernel for the PDP-11. The language continued to evolve, and between 1973 and 1980, new features such as unsigned, long, union, and enumeration types were added to the type structure. Structures also became more versatile, lacking only a notation for literals.

In 1983, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) formed the X3J11 committee with the goal of establishing a standard for the C programming language. This committee, under the guidance of CBEMA, published the ANSI C standard in 1989. The standard was later recognized by ISO as ISO/IEC 9899-1990.

The ANSI C standard, also known as C89, provided a unified set of practices and added some new features to the language. This standard was followed by several updates and corrigenda over the years. The most recent edition of the C programming language is defined by ISO/IEC 9899:2018, the fourth edition of the standard.

C Basic Commands

To write a C program, it is essential to be familiar with basic commands. Here are a few key commands in C programming:

  • #include: This preprocessor directive is used to include header files, which provide essential functions and definitions.
  • <stdio.h>: This header file defines input and output functions, such as printf and scanf.
  • main(): The main function is the entry point of a C program, where the execution of code begins.
  • {}: These opening and closing curly braces indicate the start and end of a function or block of code.
  • printf(): This function is used to display output on the screen.
  • ;: The semicolon marks the end of a statement in C.
  • return 0;: This command indicates the successful execution of a function.
  • }: The closing curly brace indicates the end of a function or block of code.

Popular Online Compilers

Clang Compiler

The Clang compiler, pronounced "C-Sharp," is a fast and powerful compiler designed for the LLVM project. It is primarily used for languages in the C family, such as C, C++, Objective-C, OpenCL, CUDA, and RenderScript. Clang provides lightning-fast compiles, informative error messages, and a foundation for developing source-level tools. It offers a GCC-compatible compiler driver (clang) and an MSVC-compatible compiler driver (clang-cl.exe). Clang is also used to build tools like the Clang Static Analyzer and clang-tidy, which analyze and improve code quality.

MinGW Compiler (Minimalist GNU for Windows)

MinGW, short for Minimalist GNU for Windows, is a free and open-source software development environment that allows developers to create Windows applications. It is a derivative of the original mingw.org project, which aimed to provide Windows users with a GCC compiler. MinGW supports various languages, including C, C++, Objective-C, Fortran, and Ada. It provides GCC runtime libraries and allows developers to create cross-platform compatible applications.

Portable C Compiler

The Portable C Compiler (PCC) is based on Stephen C. Johnson's original PCC from the late 1970s. PCC replaced Dennis Ritchie's initial C compiler in Unix Version 7, System V, and BSD 4.x versions. PCC was designed to be portable and had improved diagnostic capabilities compared to its predecessors. It was resistant to syntax errors, performed rigorous validity checks, and generated target-specific assembly language code. PCC played a crucial role in the development of C and helped pave the way for future advancements in programming languages.

Turbo C

Turbo C is a popular IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and compiler for the C programming language. It was first released in 1987 and gained popularity due to its small size, fast compilation speed, and comprehensive manuals. Turbo C was widely used for C programming and was later replaced by Turbo C++, which added support for C++ programming. Although Turbo C is no longer actively developed, it remains a significant part of the history of C language.

Successors of C

After covering the brief history of C language, let us discuss some of its successors. The success of the C programming language paved the way for the development of several successors and related languages. Some notable successors of C include:

Concurrent C

Concurrent C is a programming language developed in 1989. It is a superset of C and includes features for parallel programming, such as process creation, synchronization, and termination. Concurrent C was designed to make the best use of multiprocessors and multicomputers, providing developers with powerful tools for concurrent programming.

Objective-C

Objective-C is an object-oriented programming language that adds Smalltalk-style messaging to the C programming language. It was developed in the early 1980s and became the primary language for Apple's OS X and iOS operating systems. Objective-C combines the syntax and features of C with object-oriented programming capabilities, allowing developers to create robust and dynamic applications for Apple's platforms.

C#

C# (pronounced "C-Sharp") is a modern, object-oriented programming language developed by Microsoft. It was first released in 2002 and is widely used for developing applications on the .NET Framework. C# shares similarities with other popular languages like C++ and Java but also introduces unique features and capabilities. It offers a wide range of programming functionalities and has become a popular choice for Windows development.

C++

History of C++ programming language - C++ is an extension of the C programming language that introduces object-oriented programming features. It was developed by Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Laboratories in the early 1980s. C++ combines the syntax and functionality of C with additional features like classes, inheritance, and polymorphism. It has become one of the most widely used programming languages, especially in areas such as game development, embedded systems, and high-performance computing.

History and Features of C Language

Learning the C programming language can be highly beneficial for aspiring programmers and developers. Here are some reasons why learning C is worth your time:

  • Versatility: C is a general-purpose programming language that can be used for a wide range of applications, from system programming to game development.
  • Performance: C is known for its efficiency and fast execution speed, making it an ideal choice for resource-intensive tasks.
  • Portability: C programs can be compiled and run on various platforms, including Windows, Linux, and macOS.
  • Foundation for Other Languages: Many modern programming languages, such as C++, Objective-C, and C#, have been derived from or influenced by C. Learning C provides a solid foundation for understanding these languages.
  • Low-Level Programming: C allows direct memory manipulation and low-level control, making it suitable for tasks that require fine-grained control over hardware resources.
  • Abundance of Resources: C has been around for decades, which means there is a vast amount of documentation, libraries, and community support available for learning and development.

Check out our latest articles "Macros in C" and "Difference Between C and Java"

Conclusion

In this blog, we tried to explain history of C language. The history of C language is a testament to its enduring popularity and versatility. From its humble beginnings as a system implementation language for Unix, C has evolved into a widely used language for various applications. Its clean syntax, low-level memory access, and high-level abstractions make it ideal for system programming and application development. Learning C provides a solid foundation for understanding other languages and opens up a world of possibilities for developers. Whether you're interested in operating systems, embedded systems, or game development, C is a language that will continue to shape the future of programming.

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Frequently asked Questions

Q1. When was the C programming language created?

Ans. C was created in 1972 at Bell Labs by Dennis Ritchie.

Q2. What was the primary motivation behind developing C?

Ans. C was developed to provide a portable and efficient programming language for writing the Unix operating system, which was also created at Bell Labs.

Q3. What significant development followed the creation of C in the early 1970s?

Ans. The development of the C programming language laid the foundation for the creation of C++, an extension of C with object-oriented features, in the 1980s by Bjarne Stroustrup.

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