Jenna Inouye | 08 Aug, 2023
Robert Johns | Co-author

C vs C++: What’s the Difference? Ultimate Guide [2024]


Despite being two of the oldest programming languages, C and C++ are still very popular for system programming, embedded systems, and real-time apps due to high performance and low-level control. And with top 12 positions in the latest Stack Overflow developer survey, they show no signs of slowing! 

C++ was initially developed as an extension of the C language, but with the key addition of object-oriented programming (OOP). C++ retains the core syntax of C, including data types, control structures, and standard library functions, but it adds classes, objects, inheritance, and polymorphism.

In a nutshell, the C++ language includes all of the features of C but with the addition of OOP. C++ is also backward-compatible with C, meaning C code can be compiled by a C++ compiler with few modifications. This makes C++ popular for systems programming, as C code can be reused while gaining object-oriented programming functionality.

Intrigued but want to know more? Read on as we cover the differences between C and C++.

Want to boost your skills by learning C or C++? Check out

The Best C++ and C Books

C vs C++ Head-to-Head Comparison




Developed By

Dennis Ritchie between 1969 and 1973 

Bjarne Stroustrup in 1985

Programming Paradigm

Procedural and function-driven language

Object-oriented programming language

Programming Approach



Program Subdivision

Modules and procedures

Classes and objects

Variable Declaration 

At the beginning


Number of Keywords

C11 has 44

C++20 has 92

Support for Data Types


Built-in and user-defined

Compatible with other languages






Data Security






Function and Operator Overloading



Reference Variables



Friend and Virtual Functions



Memory Allocation and Deallocation

malloc(), calloc(), and free()

new and delete keywords

Exception Handling

Not directly


I/O Operations

scanf() and printf()

cin and cout

Functions Inside Structures



External Functions



Namespace Support



Strict Type Checking



C and C++ Still Rank Highly Among Developers in 2024:
Stack Overflow

What Is C?

Developed in the early 1970s by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs, C began its journey by helping to develop the Unix operating system. Today, the C language is a general-purpose and low-level programming language that offers programmers fine-grained control over hardware and memory, making it popular for system-level programming.

A key feature of the C language is that it’s a structured language that supports modular programming. This allows programmers to divide larger programs into smaller, more manageable pieces. You also get access to several basic data types, like integers, floats, and characters, or you can define your own via structures and unions.

Being compiled, C language programs are converted into machine code by the compiler before execution. And while this makes for fast and efficient programs, it also means that C programs must be compiled for each platform or operating system.

Undeniably, the C language profoundly impacted computing, having influenced many other languages, including C++ (we know this!), Java, Python, and Ruby. With simplicity, power, and portability, C remains popular for developing operating systems (OS), device drivers, and more.

Key Features of C

Key Features of C

  • Simplicity: Small set of keywords and straightforward syntax makes it easy to learn.
  • Portability: Can be compiled and run on many platforms and OS.
  • Modularity: Can break up large programs into smaller manageable pieces.
  • Fast & Efficient: Low-level language, efficient memory management, and direct hardware access.
  • No garbage collection: Reduces overhead but requires the programmer to manage memory allocation and deallocation.
  • Dynamic memory allocation: Efficient memory allocation/deallocation at runtime rather than compile time. Needs to be handled carefully to avoid bugs or memory leaks. 
  • Procedural programming: As a function-driven language, code is organized into functions that perform specific tasks, and program flow is linearly defined by the sequence of function calls.
  • Pointers: Work directly with memory addresses.
  • Rich standard library: Large standard library of functions including input/output, string manipulation, and math operations.

Major Versions of C

Like most languages, the C language has seen several versions since its release, but here’s a summary of the most significant versions:

  • C89/C90: Created in 1989 by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and later adopted by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization), this was the first standardized version and is typically known as C90.
  • C99: The next major version was standardized in 1999, adding several features like variable-length arrays, inline functions, and new data types.
  • C11: The latest version was standardized in 2011, adding support for multi-threading, atomic operations, and static assertions.

Want to level up your resume? Check out The Best C Certifications

What Is C++?

C++ is a general-purpose programming language developed as an extension to the C language in the early 1980s by Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Labs. Unlike C, C++ is an object-driven language, meaning it combines higher-level features of an object-oriented programming language with the low-level control and efficiency of C. 

C++ can be used with various programming styles, whether as an object-oriented programming language or with a procedural, generic, or functional approach, meaning it is versatile and usable for a range of applications. It also provides several basic data types, including integers, floats, and characters, while allowing users to define custom data types via classes.

Just like C, C++ is a compiled language, meaning programs must be translated to machine code by the compiler before execution. And again, just like C, this makes C++ programs fast and efficient but means they must be compiled for specific platforms and operating systems.

With its speed, flexibility, and power, C++ is one of the world’s most popular programming languages that’s still used to develop operating systems, device drivers, video games, scientific simulations, financial applications, and more.

Another benefit of C++ is its compatibility with other programming languages. Many libraries and frameworks enable C++ to work with Python, Java, and Ruby, whether via language bindings or wrappers. And, of course, C++ also supports ‘extern C’, which allows you to create C++ functions that are compatible with the C language.

Key Features of C++

Key Features of C++

Being an extension of the C language, many of the key features listed for C also apply to C++. There are, however, some other key features that apply specifically to C++ as it’s an object-driven language.

  • Object-oriented programming language (OOP): Object-oriented programming features allow developers to build reusable objects to encapsulate data or behavior.
  • Classes and objects: Devs can create custom types to encapsulate data and functions.
  • Inheritance: Classes can inherit properties and behavior from other classes, reducing code duplication and improving organization.
  • Templates: Allow developers to write generic code for various data types, including common data structures and algorithms, reducing duplication and enhancing reusability.
  • Pointers: Work directly with memory addresses to enhance efficiency.
  • Memory management: direct memory access and control, with options for allocation and deallocation on the stack or the heap. Also offers high-level abstraction via smart pointers and containers to automate memory management.
  • Extensible: A rich ecosystem of libraries and frameworks to extend the functionality
  • Standard library: Large standard library with a range of functions and classes for common tasks like I/O, string manipulation, and memory management.
  • Low-level system access: Allows developers to interact with hardware, like memory, CPU, and files.
  • Efficient & Performant: Being compiled, C++ code can be optimized for computer architecture.

Major Versions of C++

Like the C language, there have been several major version releases for C++:

  • C++98: The first standardized version of C++ was published in 1998 as the initial version of the ISO C++ standard.
  • C++03: This represented a minor revision in 2003, as it focused on correcting technical errors and better compatibility with C.
  • C++11: Published in 2011, this introduced several new features like multithreading, powerful templates, and various libraries, including the standard thread and standard mutex.
  • C++14: Released in 2014, this introduced several new features, including binary literals, generic lambdas, and improved compile times.
  • C++17: The clue is in the name here, as this version was published in 2017 with new features like nested namespaces, improved parallel algorithm support, and better handling of constexpr functions.
  • C++20: The most recent was published in 2020, adding new features like modules, coroutines, concepts, and ranges.

Want to know how C++ stacks up against C#? Check out

C++ vs C#

What Is the Difference Between C and C++?

  • Object-oriented programming (OOP): C++ integrates object-oriented programming features, while C follows a procedural approach. This means C does not include features like classes, encapsulation, inheritance, or polymorphism.
  • Memory management: When it comes to C vs C++ memory management, C++ offers a more sophisticated approach, including constructors and destructors that are automatically called when objects are created or destroyed. C relies on manual memory management with functions like malloc() and free().
  • Containers: The C++ Standard Library includes a richer set of container classes than C, including vectors, lists, sets, maps, and more.
  • Stricter type checking: C++ does not permit implicit violations of type safety versus C.
  • Exception handling: The C++ Standard Library includes support for exceptions, whereas the C Standard Library does not include this.
  • Templates: C++ makes extensive use of templates to allow programmers to write generic code and enhance code reuse, while C does not use these.
  • I/O Streams: The C++ Standard Library includes I/O stream classes to handle input and output, while the C Standard Library uses a simple file-based I/O approach.
  • Performance: Generally, C is faster than C++ due to the overhead from features like virtual function or exception handling.
  • Compatibility: C code can be used in C++ programs, but the opposite is not always true because C++ adds additional features and syntax that are not in C.

What Are the Similarities Between C & C++?

Seeing as C++ is an extension of the C programming language, there are a number of key similarities between the two.

  • Syntax: When it comes to C vs C++ syntax, these are very similar, with many of the same basic constructs like variables, operators, loops, and conditionals.
  • Control structures: C and C++ both support if-else statements, while and do-while loops, and for loops.
  • Data types: C and C++ share many data types, like int, float, double, and char.
  • Pointers: Both languages support pointers for direct memory access.
  • Standard libraries: C and C++ both have standard libraries that provide common functionality, such as I/O, math functions, and string manipulation.
  • Preprocessor: Both languages use a preprocessor to handle directives like include, define, and conditional compilation.
  • Low-level access: Both C and C++ provide access to system resources like hardware, memory, and I/O.

C vs C++: Pros & Cons

Pros of C

  • Efficiency and speed: C is fast and efficient, so it’s often used in systems programming and embedded systems.
  • Portable & Flexible: C code can be compiled on various platforms.
  • Minimalism: C has a simple syntax, making it easy to learn and use.
  • Standard library: The C standard library provides functionality for I/O, math, and more.
  • Hardware access: C can access hardware resources, like memory and peripherals.

Cons of C

  • Memory management: C requires explicit memory management, which can be difficult and error-prone.
  • No built-in security: With direct memory access, C can lead to buffer overflows, string vulnerabilities, and memory leaks, so the programmer must handle these issues.
  • No exception handling: C does not have built-in support for exception handling.
  • Limited abstraction: C lacks the abstractions and high-level constructs of modern languages, making it harder to create maintainable and scalable code.

Pros of C++

  • Performance: C++ provides high-performance and low-level access to hardware, making it ideal for applications that require speed.
  • Object-oriented programming language: C++ supports OOP, allowing for encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism.
  • Templates: C++ supports templates, a powerful and flexible method to write generic code.
  • Standard library: C++ has a rich standard library with a range of functionality for I/O, containers, algorithms, and more.
  • Cross-platform: C++ can be compiled to run on various platforms, like Windows, Linux, macOS, and embedded systems.

Cons of C++

  • Complexity: As a complex language, C++ can be difficult to learn and master due to a steeper learning curve than simpler languages like Python or Ruby.
  • Memory management: C++ requires explicit memory management, which can lead to errors, memory leaks, or other bugs if not handled properly.
  • Compile time: Large programs can have long compile times, making development and testing slower with C++.
  • Debugging: C++ code can be challenging to debug due to the complexity of the language and the low-level access to hardware.
  • Syntax: C++ syntax can be verbose and difficult to read, making it hard to maintain the code structure.

Have we convinced you that you need to learn C++? Check out 

The best C++ Courses

C++ vs C: Which One Should You Use?

If you plan on building any of the following types of programs or application, then you should definitely consider using the C programming language:

  • Operating systems: C is commonly used to develop OS, with the Unix Operating System, Linux, Windows, and Mac OS Kernels all using C.
  • Embedded systems: C is popular for developing software for embedded systems in cars, appliances, medical equipment, and more.
  • System software: C is well-suited to developing system software, like compilers, assemblers, and linkers.
  • Financial applications: C is widely used in finance to create high-performance and low-latency applications.
  • Scientific applications: C is useful for scientific applications, like simulations, modeling, and data analysis.

Likewise, if you want to build any of these applications or program types, you should consider using the C++ programming language:

  • Application software: C++ is popular for developing application software, like word processors, spreadsheets, media players, and more.
  • Operating systems: C++ is also used for developing operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.
  • Game development: C++ is widely used in the game industry, with popular game engines like Unreal Engine and Unity using C++ in their source code.
  • Graphics and multimedia: C++ is well-suited to graphics and multimedia, whether that’s video codecs, image processing, or graphics engines.
  • Web browsers: C++ has been to develop modern web browsers, like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.
  • Database software: C++ is also well-suited to developing database software, with giants like MySQL and Oracle being built from C++.

Just in case you’re not convinced about how popular these two languages truly are, check out some of these famous applications of C++ and C

Built using C

Built using C++

Microsoft Windows Kernel

Microsoft Windows Kernel

Linux Kernel

Linux Kernel

Mac OS X Kernel

Mac OS X Kernel

iOS & Android Kernels

Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, & Premiere Pro

Oracle, MySQL, MS SQL Server






Apache HTTP Server

Microsoft Office


Oracle, MySQL, MS SQL Server


Unreal Engine & Unity 

Python, PHP, Ruby, & Java

Google Chrome & Mozilla Firefox


As two of the oldest programming languages still in use, C and C++ remain firm favorites thanks to high performance and low-level control, making them popular for systems programming, embedded systems, real-time applications, and much more 

This article has tried to cover as much ground as possible on the topic of C vs C++, including a head-to-head comparison, and detailed summaries of their histories, key features, and major versions.

We’ve also examined the key differences and similarities between C and C++. And if you want to know which language is best for your upcoming projects, we’ve covered pros and cons, typical use cases, and a range of famous applications built using C and C++.

Looking for the best way to learn C++? Check out 

Beginning C++ From Beginner to Beyond

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is C++ Better Than C?

When asking the question, C++ or C, which is better, there is no single answer. While C++ offers many features that aren’t available in C, it also has a steeper learning curve. Generally speaking, C remains popular for systems programming, while C++ is often favored for larger and more complex projects.

Of course, if you need the option for OOP, then C++ is the better choice as it’s versatile enough to be a procedural-oriented language and an object-oriented programming language. 

2. Should I Learn C or C++ First?

If you’re interested in low-level or system programming, learning C before C++ can be helpful. If your primary goal is to learn OOP or develop software apps, jumping straight into C++ may make more sense. Ultimately, it depends on your goals and the projects you want to do.

3. Is C Used in Robotics?

C is popular for embedded systems, including robotics, because of its low-level control over hardware, allowing efficient use of system resources. It also offers a high level of portability and cross-platform compatibility.

4. Is C the Fastest Language?

The speed of a programming language depends on several factors, like the specific application, hardware, and skill of the programmer. A range of programming languages can be generally considered to be the fastest, including C, C++, Rust, Go, and Assembly.

5. How Are C and C++ Different?

The major difference between C and C++ is the programming approach, with C being procedural and C++ adopting OOP. Other differences include more sophisticated memory management with C++, the addition of exception handling in C++, and stricter type safety. Take a look at our comparison above for more information. 

6. What Can C++ Do That C Cannot?

While there are many similarities between the two, C++ includes object-oriented programming, classes and objects, support for templates, and exception handling, while C does not. 

7. Is C Easier Than C++?

Generally speaking, C syntax is simpler and easier to learn than C++. C code is also typically easier to read, as it does not include the complexity of OOP in C++. Similarly, C++ includes methods of abstraction that aren’t available in C, making C++ more difficult to learn and use.

8. Is C++ Easy if I Know C?

In general, if you already know C, then learning C++ could be relatively easy for you, as there are many similarities between the two, including basic syntax, control structures, and functions. 

However, if you’re new to OOP, this will still be a new area for you to grasp, and knowing C will not help with this.


By Jenna Inouye

Jenna Inouye currently works at Google and has been a full-stack developer for two decades, specializing in web application design and development. She is a tech expert with a B.S. in Information & Computer Science and MCITP certification. For the last eight years, she has worked as a news and feature writer focusing on technology and finance, with bylines in Udemy, SVG, The Gamer, Productivity Spot, and Spreadsheet Point.

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Wilfrantz Dede

Great article!

4 years ago

Wilfrantz Dede

I agree.

4 years ago