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C is a general-purpose programming language created in the late 60s and early 70s in Bell Labs.


Dennis Ritchie, creator of C and, with Ken Thompson, Unix, wearing his National Medal of Technology awarded by President Clinton


In keeping with ALGOL tradition, C's design centers around structured programming, utillizing recursion, lexical variable scope and a static typing system which prevents many common typing errors programmers can make. C's strength and staying power in industry stems from its structure mapping so well onto typical machine instructions, thus it can be used instead of, or rewritten from, very low-level assembly language. Perhaps C's greatest application so far is its use in the system software of the Unix operating system. This has helped make it one of the most widely-used programming language of all time, and although C++ is more common in many place today, C is still a staple that is taught in most computer science degree programs.

Other effects of the popularity of C is that almost all computer architectures and operating systems support it by having an efficient compiler ready for C programs. C has also provided a basis for many new, more specialized languages such as C#, D, Go, Rust, Java, JavaScript, Limbo, LPC, Perl, PHP, Python and more, both in syntax and concepts. This has helped unify programming languages to some extent; even though a language's type systems, data, models, and semantics may be radically varied, many basic expressions and statements are recognizable to a decently fluent programmer across languages thanks to the C base.

C is a fairly low-level language, as languages go, but this gives the user more control as to how they manage their memory, etc. and can result in faster programs than something like Java which takes care of these details 'behind the curtain'. In addition, the straightforwardness of most C compilers make it easy to program something that will run on many platforms (which was a goal in designing C) and require minimal run-time support, which programmers everywhere are sure to appreciate. 


Icon photo is the cover of The C Programming Language (also known as the C Bible and K&R), authored by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. Photo credit Julesmazur.

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