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Top C++ Compilers for Windows in 2020

If you are on the hunt for the best C/C++ compilers available today, this article lists the top C/C++ compilers for Windows with their features. It’s very hard, in fact, to identify which C++ compiler is the best for you, as this is mostly about what you want to achieve with your code. If you want to implement small projects for analysis and calculations without GUIs and many other features, most small compilers will do just fine. If you want to migrate from building simple exe files to complex professional applications, we highly recommend using a professional C++ compiler with an advanced IDE from the start.

There are two types of programming languages: Interpreted and Non-Interpreted (Compiled). All computers (CPU/GPU) work with machine code (code that can be directly programmed by assembler codes) that tells the computer what to do (exe files are this kind of file). This is the most native and fastest code, but it requires writing many lines for simple things and is hard to generalize for all kind of machines. A Compiler (C or C++ Compiler, etc.) is a computer program that converts one programming language (i.e. C/C++ codes) written with text into executable machine code with a linker. Such code may not be as fast as assembler code, but the difference in speed is very small because both machine code and compiler-based code in text form are much more compatible with other CPU/GPUs and/or with other Operating Systems when you compile them on a machine. This is one reason why C++ is the fastest and most powerful programming language. Interpreted programming languages run inside executable applications like Java, Python or Visual Basic. This is why they are slower when executing operations, as they need to use compiled libraries for faster operations. Again, they mostly they use C/C++ compilers to build these libraries. Using an interpreted programming language is like being carried by a runner, while a compiled (non-interpreted) programming language is like running itself. This subtle difference turns into a huge gap when you run the same routine (i.e. for face recognition) millions of times a millisecond.

In this article we list the top compilers and their features.

1. CLANG C/C++ Compiler & Compilers that apply this standard

CLANG is considered to be a production quality C, Objective-C, C++ and Objective-C++ compiler when targeting X86-32, X86-64, and ARM. It is a new C/C++ compiler standard (C++98, C++11, C++17, C++20, C++23 ..) supported by The LLVM Compiler Infrastructure Project, and has been a default compiler in recent years for most C/C++ compilers. This means that if you code for a CLANG compiler, most other IDEs, Compilers of Platforms will support your code without any changes. The latest C++17 standard is supported by the most C++ compilers. More information about core language features can be found here. C++ 20 is new and needs adaptation time.

We highly recommend you start with or to move to a CLANG Enhanced compiler like the Embarcadero’s C++ Builder, which supports the CLANG (C++11, C++ 17) standard and has its own C++ Compiler, IDE, GUI Designer and more. The C++Builder Standards and Clang Enhanced Compiler features can be found here.

The C++ Builder Community Edition is a free edition and can be used by students, beginners and startups.
You can download it here Free C++ Builder Community Edition.

Professional developers can use the Professional, Architect or Enterprise versions of the C++ Builder. Please visit https://www.embarcadero.com/products/cbuilder.

CLANG is supported by many other Development IDEs Like Visual Studio, VS Code, Dev C++. CodeBlocks, CLion etc. For more details please see our article about the Top 6 C++ IDEs For Building Native Windows Apps.

2. Embarcadero C++ Builder / C++ Builder Community Edition (Free) Compilers

C++ Builder includes compilers for Win32, Win64, Android and iOS. C++Builder has both CLANG Enhanced C/C++ Compiler and a Borland C/C++ Compiler. It also features a modern, high-productivity RAD Studio IDE, debugger tools, and enterprise connectivity for to accelerate cross-platform UI development. You can develop GUI based applications easily, as it comes with the award-winning VCL framework for high-performance native Windows apps and the powerful FireMonkey (FMX) framework for cross-platform UIs. There is a free C++ Builder Community Edition that can be used by students, beginners and startups with limitations.

VCL C++ Builder is the easiest and fastest C & C++ IDE for developing simple or professional applications on Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android operating systems. It is also easy for beginners to learn with its wide range of samples, tutorials, help files and LSP support. C++ Builder comes with Rapid Application Development Studio, also knowns as RAD Studio, and C++ Builder is one of the most professional IDEs that work under RAD Studio.

You can download Free the C++ Builder Community Edition (CE) here: https://www.embarcadero.com/products/cbuilder/starter.
Professional developers can use the Professional, Architect or Enterprise versions of C++ Builder. You can download and use the trial version for one month with the same capabilities as the full version . Please visit https://www.embarcadero.com/products/cbuilder.

Learn more about C++ Builder and RAD Studio on their product pages.

3. Embarcadero C/C++ Compiler (Free)

Embarcadero C++ Compiler is a free C and C++ compiler for Windows. This package has compiler and linker, but does not include an IDE. You will need to use an editor to edit codes, and use Command Prompt or PowerShell to run and debug your codes. C++Builder includes C11 language support, the Dinkumware STL (Standard Template Library) framework, and the complete Embarcadero C/C++ Runtime Library (RTL). In this free version you’ll also find a number of C/C++ command line tools, such as the high-performance linker and resource compiler.

This free C++ compiler can be downloaded from Embarcadero’s Official Web Page : https://www.embarcadero.com/free-tools/ccompiler.

The free C++ Compiler download includes:

  • Embarcadero C++ Compiler (bcc32c/bcc32x)
  • Turbo Incremental Linker (tlink32)
  • C++ Win32 Preprocessor (cpp32)
  • Import Library utility—for creating import libraries from DLLs (implib)
  • Librarian for symbol case-conversion, creating extended libraries and modifying page size (tlib)
  • Other useful command-line utilities such as make, grep, and touch
  • The Embarcadero C/C++ Runtime Library, and the DinkumwareANSI/ISO Standard Template Library (STL)

4. Visual C++ / C# Compilers

Microsoft’s Visual C++ / C# Compilers are very popular compilers and come with the Visual Studio IDE. While C# is very different from C++ standards, we can list both of them as C compilers. Visual C++ supports CLANG standards while C# has its own specific standards that differ from those for C++.
Visual Studio can be downloaded from https://visualstudio.microsoft.com/.

5. GNU C/C++ Compiler (GCC, g++) (Free)

GNU GCC is another powerful C/C++ compiler originally written as the compiler for the Unix, Linux and GNU operating system. The GNU system was developed to be 100% free software, and it is efficient with both 32-bit and 64-bit operations. This compiler can be used on Windows using MinGW or CygWin Linux Simulators. Compiled executable files need a small dll to run independently on Windows. It is mostly compatible with CLANG standards.

GCC Compiler can be used by Visual Studio Code, Dev C++, Code Blocks, and can be directly used with Command Prompt or PowerShell.
It is available on the official product page https://gcc.gnu.org/.

The Embarcadero Dev-C++ IDE can be used free with GCC compiler and it is a fast, portable, simple C/C++ IDE for Windows. It is completely free, a great choice for beginners. If you want to work professionally it is highly recommended that you start with the C++ Builder CE version.

Dev-C++ can be downloaded from https://www.embarcadero.com/free-tools/dev-cpp/free-download.

Another IDE that uses GCC Compiler is Visual Studio Code (also called VS Code) is the most popular Free IDE by Microsoft. It could be described as a free version of Visual Studio. It can be used with MinGW Linux Simulation on Windows (with GNU C/C++ Compiler) to develop C++ applications running on the command console. It is the most well-known open-source code editor for a wide variety of languages, and it can act as an IDE with the right extensions. This developer environment tool also offers multiplatform support, and is excellent for developers seeking customization and a high degree of flexibility. Visual Studio Code is built in Electron, but it can consume more resources than other native IDEs.

Visual Studio Code can be downloaded from https://code.visualstudio.com/.

As you know codes are text based formats, which means they can be edited by any editor. If you don’t have any of the IDEs listed above, Notepad++ is a good tool for editing code.

6. Borland C++ Compiler (Free)

Borland C++ is a free C++ Compiler for Windows. This package has compiler binaries, including libraries, but lacks an IDE, which means you will need to use an editor and shell commands. This compiler is updated with the free Embarcadero C++ Compiler. It could be described as the old version of the Embarcadero C++ Compiler, but it still works well on Windows 98, XP, 7, 8, Vista and 10.

This free Embarcadero C++ Compiler can be downloaded from Embarcadero’s Official Web Page : https://www.embarcadero.com/free-tools/ccompiler.
If you are editing old code that is giving you compatibility problems on this new compiler, you can refer to this article to download Borland C++ https://edn.embarcadero.com/article/20633.

Conclusion: C++ Compilers & GUI Frameworks

C++ is a great programming language that is widely used in all operating systems. On the other hand, if you are using Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs like Button, Text, EditBox etc.) in code, these may be based on different programming languages or GUI frameworks. Here again we recommend that you compose your code in CLANG standards while your GUI codes are composed in their framework codes. As a result, if you move from one developing IDE platform to another with visual capability, you only need to make changes on the visual GUI applications. For example, a function that converts Celsius to Fahrenheit should be in CLANG format while its parameters are obtained and displayed by C++ commands of the framework used by the IDE and/or Compiler. Like in this example, you can easily move your code from GCC or Visual C++ to C++ Builder.

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About author

33+ years of coding with more than 30+ programming languages, mostly C++ on Windows, Android, Mac-OS, iOS, Linux and some other operating systems. Dr. Yilmaz Yoru was born in 1974, Eskisehir-Turkey. He graduated from the department of Mechanical Engineering of Eskisehir Osmangazi University in 1997. One year later he started to work in the same university as an assistant. He received his MSc and PhD degrees from the same department of the same university. He has married and he is a father of a son. Some of his interests are Programming, Thermodynamics, Fluid Mechanics and Artificial Intelligence. He also likes the graphical 2D & 3D design and high-end innovations.
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