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Is C A High Level Programming Language?

Is C A High Level Programming Language

The C programming language is one of the most popular programming languages. But what is the level of the C programming language? Is C a high-level programming language or low-level language? Did you know that C can be used to develop great apps and has great functions like printf, scanfsscanf, fscanf which are very useful to output data in formatted settings? Did you know you can also use these functions in C++ software? Does all this make it high-level language? What do we mean by high or low-level language?

When was the C programming language invented?

The C Programming Language was developed in the 1970s and since 1970, there have been many programming languages and have been many changes in C language, like C+, C++, CLANG standards C++99, C++11, C++14, and C++17. C++ programming language includes C language and is powered by Object Oriented Programming features like Classes, Objects, and Methods. Still, this venerable language is popular, frequently appearing in the top 3 programming language choices – but if we consider its other variations and its usage on microchips and IoTs it is the most used programming language.

Is C a high level programming language?

Before we answer that question, let’s explain what we mean by a high or low level programming language.

Is C A High Level Programming Language? An image of an AMD CPU

What is a low level programming language?

The phrase low-level language means there is a small or nonexistent amount of abstraction between the computer’s raw instructions and the programming language itself. Low-level language means the keywords and structures it uses are close to the hardware level language understood by the CPU and GPU. This kind of code written in low-level languages tends to be relatively non-portable, mainly because of the close relationship between the language and the physical hardware architecture.

What is a high level programming language?

When we describe something as a high level programming language we mean the language is more friendly to the user than to machines. High-level languages are easy to learn and generally they resemble human-readable languages such as English. These high-level languages are friendly for the programmer to write programs that are more or less independent of a particular type of device or hardware.

Note that there are only low and high-level languages, which means there is no mid-level actually.

Is C A High Level Programming Language? An example of some C programming language code

Is C a high or low level programming language ?

Interestingly C is between these levels, depending on your code and depends where you look from.

Most developers think that low-level languages are only assembly languages and high-level languages are all programming languages except assembly languages. Personally, as a human if we grade this with low and high (not 1 and 0) there must be a range, so we may say close to a low or high level for some languages. 

Java, PHP, and SQL are user-friendly and device-independent languages, they are high-level languages, this is why most developers categories C as a mid-level class. In my opinion, because of its capability in assembly-level coding and compiling abilities, I prefer calling C a ‘close to low-level language‘. Briefly, we may say C and C++ languages are close to Low-Level languages, this is why most developers call them mid-level languages. In other words, we can NOT say it is a High-Level language. 

Here are two points to discuss.

First, C allows you to use assembly language, which means your codes may run at the assembly level and most of its instructions are close assembly language, which may be called low-level language. Note that C is a compiled (non-interpreted) language that allows its compiler to compile the code to be close to the machine level. After the compilation, some of the instructions of C++ are close to the assembly language level, thus we may say it is a programming language that is close to the low-level programming language’.

The second, C is user and hardware friendly, if it is codded in general ways of C programming, mostly your codes may be compiled well to run in most devices, including mobiles and desktop applications, which makes C is ‘about the high-level language‘. For example a C++ Builder project may run on x86 device, x64 device, iOS and Android devices (note that there are more than 10,000 different types/models of devices that runs android and iOS apps). Also, some of the C functions, when compiled in their instructions, are far from the assembly level, this is why it is called mid-level programming language.

Is C A High Level Programming Language? A person thinking about the C programming language.

Is C an interpreted or non-Interpreted (compiled) programming language?

There are two types of programming languages: Interpreted and Non-Interpreted (Compiled). All computers (CPU/GPU) work with machine code. This is code that can be directly executed by the computer’s CPU. This is the most native and fastest code, but it requires writing many lines for simple things and is hard to generalize for all kinds of machines. A compiler (C or C++ Compiler, etc.) is a computer program that converts one programming language i.e., C/C++ code written with text into executable machine code with a compiler and 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 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 for example in face recognition, millions of times a millisecond.

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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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