Vlad Budnitski

In this blog, you will get an overview of C vs. C++. We will compare these two amazing programming languages in-depth and discuss how they were created and why. As it is also important, we will discuss their similarities and differences.

As of December 2021, according to PYPL, C/C++ is one of the top five programming languages (right after Python, Java, JS, and C#). The popularity of these programming languages remains high even though they have strong competition.

Both C and C++ have a decent demand in the market. They are instrumental and highly efficient, making them essential for systems development. But what’s so special about them, and what are the differences between them?

Before comparing C vs. C++, let’s understand what they represent, their history, and their usage.

What is C programming language?

C language is the “mother” of all programming languages, and it was first developed about 50 years ago by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs. Some of the main C language goals were speed, performance, and versatility.

In the beginning, C was mainly used as a low-level programming language. That’s why, in some cases, it has replaced the assembly language for these uses. Since then, it has been used (and still is being used) to develop various complex (and core) systems. C language is utilized in developing operating systems, core code of database applications (Oracle/MySQL), embedded systems, and many other places.

Check out this blog if you’re interested in learning how to think, write, and develop in C by creating your first “c hello world” application.

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How did it proceed to C++ programming language?

In 1979, Bjarne Stroustrup began working on an extension of the C language. This extension was meant to be a superset of C. The main goal was to expand C’s usage and add object-oriented programming into the C language. It was called “C with classes.” It supported classes, inheritance, default function arguments, and much more, keeping the low-level functionality without sacrificing speed and performance. 

In 1985, the first edition of “The C++ Programming Language” was released. C++ was designed to provide additional functionalities while keeping the efficiency and flexibility of C. The name of the language, being “C++” instead of “C with Classes,” was used to indicate an “advanced version” of C. 

Since they were created, there have been a few improvements and additions to C language (C99, C11, C17, etc.) and C++ language (C++98, C++03, C++11, etc.).

Are there similarities between C and C++?

The short answer is yes. They are pretty similar, except that C++ also has native support for OOP (Object-Oriented Programming) and other extended functionalities. Since you’re now familiar with the history of both programming languages (explained above), you know that one was created as an “extension” of the other.

Both languages have the benefits of direct memory management and control over hardware. Also, they were used for database application development in core parts of many famous databases like Oracle, MySQL, and other systems. Since they can work very close to the low-level layer, they were used as part of the development of low-level systems. For example, Unix, Windows, and even macOS used them to develop their operating systems. Various aspects of these, like the kernel, were written in C and C++.

So as specified previously, C++ is considered an improvement of C. That’s why there are many similarities. For example, the syntax and the usual commands may look almost identical. A “rule of thumb” is that in terms of “syntax,” C++ is nearly everything C is, PLUS PLUS more.

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C vs. C++ – An extended comparison

  1. Procedural VS Object-Oriented

C is a “procedural language,” while C++ is both a “procedural” as well as an “object-oriented” programming language. Thus, C++ adds the concept of classes and OOP to the C language. Although it’s “possible” to simulate object-oriented programming in C, it’s not highly recommended. More on the differences below.

  1. Data Encapsulation

One of the significant advantages that C++ provides over C is the natural ability for data encapsulation and information hiding.

  1. Standard Data Types

The “standard” data types (int, double, float, etc.) are the same in both languages. Yet, C++ supports the usage of references, while C doesn’t. Although C has pointers, they are not quite the same thing. Generally speaking, all the arguments in C are passed “by value,” while in C++, it’s very easy to pass “by reference.”

  1. User-Defined Data Types

Another main difference rises in user-defined data types. In C++, a user-defined struct allows the usage of data members as well as member functions. On the other hand, only the use of data members is allowed in the C language structs.

  1. Function Overloading

Function overloading is “natively” supported in C++ while not supported in C. Although not being “truly supported” in C language, an addition (since C11) can be used for this task. But, in my opinion, it’s too tedious and not intuitive when you can use it naturally in C++.

  1. Operator Overloading

The C language does not support a native extension and the creation of operator overloading. One can use only the operators built into the C language. On the other hand, C++ natively supports operator overloading.

  1. Namespace

C doesn’t have a namespace mechanism as opposed to C++. Although you can make some “workarounds” to simulate the usage of namespaces in C, it doesn’t support it natively.

  1. Virtual Functions

While “virtual functions” are being supported and highly used in C++, they are not natively supported in C.

  1. Exception and Error Handling

C doesn’t natively support exception handling nor error handling and hence, doesn’t include “try-catch” blocks. On the other hand, C++ does support exception handling.

  1. Compiler Usage

Since C++ is a superset of C, you can run most of the code you create in C using a C++ compiler. Yet, the opposite is not necessarily true.

What are the differences between procedural vs. object-oriented languages?

One of the main differences between C vs. C++ is that one is “procedural” while the other is “object-oriented.” C is both a “structured” and a “procedural” programming language. C++ is both and also an object-oriented programming language.

C is designed with a top-down approach by following a series of computational steps (step-by-step instructions). It mainly depends on “procedures” or ”functions” and the data being passed between them. This coding style is easy to understand and follow, and programs in C are considered to be pretty well organized.

C++ supports both procedural programming and object-oriented programming. That means C++ also supports the principles of OOP with a bottom-up approach, allowing to model the elements as “real world” objects that consist of data (members) as well as the functions they can do.

The object-oriented approach is considered to be less intuitive (especially for beginners). It’s usually thought harder to plan a program in terms of objects. But once done, the program will usually be modular, configurable, easier to use, and easier to modify.

Where are C/C++ being used for these days?

C is a good option for embedded systems and OS kernels. It’s somewhat more performant than other programming languages, including C++, and lets you squeeze out the last performance bits. Get to know the C syntax to find out more about C.

C++ has many excellent features with several open-source libraries and projects. It also has a large ecosystem with tons of developers that contribute, use, and upgrade it. It’s a great option when there is a need for extended functionality aside from performance. These higher-level features can make the development process much more manageable. That’s why C++ is commonly used for graphics-heavy games development, images, and video editing software. It’s also used for applications with processing speed bottlenecks.

What’s next?

If you enjoyed this article, I invite you to enroll in my C Programming Course on Udemy with over 50,000 students. It perfectly suits beginner-level programmers or students in college/university who want to get started with programming and become great developers.

In this course, you will learn everything from scratch, including advanced topics with plenty of practical exercises and complete solutions. After this course, you should be confident to learn C++ and even other programming languages further.

Either way, keep on moving forward!

Frequently Asked Questions

Which language is better — C vs. C++?

Neither language is a poor choice, and both are excellent programming languages. Each has its own advantages and common fields of applications.

Should I start with C or C++?

One of the benefits of learning C is learning it the “hard way” — from the “bottom-up.” This way, you will get all the knowledge and control over anything that you do (even at the lowest level of memory and hardware utilization). Once you have learned the basics of C, it should be easier to master other languages built upon C, such as C++ and C#. 

It’s not easy to answer which one is better since there are cases where one might be a more suitable option than the other, and vice versa. But still, one of the main advantages of C++ is that it’s a far more commonly used programming language worldwide. Many applications are written solely in C++, while the opposite isn’t necessarily true.

Is C Programming still used today?

Yes. C Programming Language is still used today in many companies by developers in various fields and domains such as Embedded Systems, Cyber, etc.

Page Last Updated: May 2022