So, you’ve gotten a handle on most industry terms. Jargon is in no short supply in technology, but you understand most of what you read nowadays.
Still, you want clarity, especially when it comes to a performance difference in the programming you do. With all this talk of C#, C++, Objective-C, and C-, the last thing you want to do is confuse them or get lost when deciding which to use.
Once you jump into language forums, you get some answers, but ultimately end with more confusion. Programmers quickly digress into debates of which is better, but you just want to understand which when to use which.
Are these programming languages even related? Are some of them different versions of the same thing?
In a nutshell, C language came first and the rest were either built off it or openly inspired by it. (That is the greatest form of flattery, after all.) To get a clearer picture of what to use them for and how each programming language is individually unique, let’s dive into a deep comparison and discussion the difference between c and object-oriented languages like C#, C++, and Objective-C.
C and Object-Oriented Programming Languages
Understanding the differences between C#, C++, and Objective-C object-oriented programming starts with the C language. This was the original general purpose programming language and is considered one of the world’s oldest developed in the early 1970s.
C language has remained steadfast as a programming language and will continue to be used heavily in future programs. It became a universal coding language early on, and its presence remains strong in every sector of the technology industry.
C is especially popular still on those projects where source code requires advanced-level programming power.
C language is used for operating systems and other complex system development as well as writing libraries. It’s used to develop software, too, but its biggest application today is in operating systems and libraries. These databases (like a standard library for the real world building of source code) are used by multiple cross-platform programs that need to run multiple operating systems, too.
The principal limitation of C is that it’s not an object-oriented language. This means it doesn’t provide any category of classes or objects in the code itself. In contrast, C#, C++, and Objective-C are all object-oriented programming languages.
Examples of How C Language is Used in Programming
C continues to be one of the most widely-used programming languages ever developed. Many of today’s most innovative open-source projects are also written in C as well.
C language is found in all kinds of programming, including:
- Operating system programming
- Firmware system programming
- Enterprise applications
- Enterprise games
- Apps requiring calculations
- And more
Differences Between C and C++
C++ is another enormously popular and widely-used language. For example, Adobe Illustrator and Google Chrome are two of the world’s highest-profile programs written in C++.
C++ offers the primary benefit of being close to the hardware (meaning it requires machine code) without being an excessively different writing language for those accustomed to C. Resource-intensive software development is particularly easy to code in C++, like games and apps with robust user interfaces.
C++ was released in 1979, less than a decade after C. It was created to add objects and object behavior, which was the primary shortcoming of the original C programming language. The idea was that object-oriented programming could be more effective for larger software projects. As a new language, C++ enjoyed rapid and wide adoption as a result.
Many frameworks and libraries are written in C++, too, especially for functions like high-performance graphics, audio digital signal processing, and user interface design (for example in web development). It’s also become popular for desktop app development.
Using C++, beginners can get up and running in their startups and pet projects without having to write much code because C++ offers so many libraries and object-based development. Development can even be done without the need to venture into third-party libraries, in many cases.
C vs C++
C++ is often considered an advanced version of the C language with objects and instance methods added. C++ is usually the preferred language for high-end video games, graphics-intensive software, and other performance-oriented projects.
When asking whether C or C++ is better, though, it really depends on the project.
C is older, but like an old car without Bluetooth, self-driving, cruise control, and other features, the “old car” C programming language requires less knowledge to use and fails less often. C is also the basis for C++ and C#, so it’s a good place to start when learning multiple languages.
Differences Between C# and C++
C# (also written as “C Sharp”) and C++ appear to have more similarities than differences.
- They’re both multi-paradigm languages
- They both support object-oriented programming
- They are general-purpose
- They are widely used
The difference between C# and C++ are as important as their similarities, however.
One key difference is that C# is considerably newer. Developed in 2000, C# was created specifically for programs within the Microsoft .NET framework, the company’s proprietary framework for developing Windows software.
In the years since its first appearance, C# is no longer exclusive to the Windows platform. It’s well-suited for general object-heavy programming, including both large and small projects. It’s typically compiled using just-in-time (JIT) compilation in CLR, the Common Language runtime, which is the virtual machine component of the .NET Framework.
Today, whether on or off the Microsoft platform, C# is commonly used for:
- Web applications development
- Mobile app development (for Android and iOS)
- Desktop apps (for Windows, Mac, and even Linux)
- Video games on the Unity engine
C# vs C++
C# is a general-purpose language used on and off the .NET Framework, however, it’s adoption hasn’t been as wide as C++.
C# was originally developed as an alternative to the more-robust Java. Its code was developed as components, meaning it can act as a set of stand-alone modules totally independent of each other. The sum of these parts, however, is not as suitable for complex or large software projects like gaming systems, which C++ is exceptionally well-suited for.
C# and C++ are considered different levels of object-oriented languages:
- C# is classified as a high-level language
- C++ combines features of high and low-level languages
High-level languages are easier to learn and much faster to use when building apps. These languages are user-centric, while low-level languages are machine-centric. Low-level programming offers more flexibility to write and personalize code, which is why the unique combination of robust low-level features and high-level usability that C++ offers is more appealing for many projects.
The Objective-C code language was developed in the late 1980s, roughly a decade after C++.
The purpose of Objective-C was to build another object-oriented programming language with a focus on the reusability of code.
The creators of Objective-C added concepts from the programming language called Smalltalk on top of a C-inspired foundation. They believed this would improve on C++ while keeping the ubiquity of the C language along with the object-oriented benefits of C++.
Shortly after its first appearance, Objective-C was adopted by NeXT, Steve Jobs’ computer company created in his brief hiatus from Apple before returning to Apple.
Objective-C eventually became the foundation of OSX and iOS application development. In recent years, however, Apple has started replacing Objective-C with another programming language called Swift in a general move away from C-based languages.
Are all these languages still used?
C#, C++, Objective-C, and C are all still used throughout the tech industry. With Apple encouraging programmers to learn Swift and phase Objective-C out, however, a case can be made to set that programming language aside before its likely fadeout.
C#, C++ and C language can absolutely be used cross-purpose, too. For example, you could write code using all three to build a Macintosh desktop app if you wanted to.
In fact, it’s common to use a mix of these languages in projects today. An app written in C language might use some C++ and C# libraries.
C continues to be used most often for systems development, like operating systems or firmware. This type of permanent software stored in a computer’s memory is best written in the most widely-supported visual basic languages.
C++ is most often used for large and performance-sensitive projects that require object-oriented design.
C# is the most popular choice for Windows software development, along with backend web services and database-heavy apps.
Should I learn C# or C++?
Your preference of programming languages will always play a part in your choice, because ultimately each programming language can do just about anything you want it to.
That said, identifying your professional goals helps weigh in on the best choice for your career. Most programmers look to learn multiple programming languages, prioritizing the most important first.
- If you want to work in the Microsoft app industry, C# is the best programming language to learn
- If you want to develop games or other audio and visually-rich apps and software, a versatile object-oriented programming language like C++ is the natural choice for most programmers
- For libraries or to build an operating system, or for a more foundational approach to your language learning to build off of in the future, start with C programming language
Consider how well you want to understand computers, too. C++ is an object-oriented language that requires a profound understanding of how computers work because you get hands-on experience with low-level concepts (close to the computer hardware and machine code itself). You learn how computers think and operate, unlike with other object-oriented programming languages. Some developers even say that other languages make more sense after learning C++.
A final wise consideration is the learning curve. C++ does usually take longer to learn than C#, unless you’ve already learned C. C# might also be easier to learn if you know Java.
What's the best way to learn multiple languages?
Many programmers are self-taught in C++ and C#, especially when motivated by projects that require high-performance animations.
Trial and error is a perfectly viable way to study these programming languages. Just be sure you have a low-stress opportunity to test your knowledge, mimicking real world building before taking on development projects where a startup or team is counting on you.
There are plenty of free tutorials online to get started, including countless courses on popular computer programming education sources like Learn-C and Code School. Even mass education websites like Udemy have a whole library of course options, many of them free.
Communities around the web offer insights, too, like openFrameworks.