Which Should You Learn First: C Or C++?

The C group of languages are among the most ubiquitous in the programming field; knowledge of either C or C++ will be extremely valuable to anyone interested in software development. There is no “right” order to learn C and C++ in; though one language is derived from the other, they are actually very different. In fact, their similarity can be a double-edged sword, as what works in one language won’t necessarily work in the other.

The Core Differences Between C and C++

C is a classic low-level procedural programming language while C++ is a superset of C that is both procedural and object-oriented. Both C and C++ are commonly used languages and though C++ is derived of C both languages need to be approached differently. The use of C is not deprecated within the industry; it’s still considered an extremely universal, portable and efficient language, and is an excellent introduction to procedural programming. But knowledge of C is not required or even necessarily desirable for those interested in learning C++. Ideally, a programmer would be fluent in both C and C++.

In general, C is used for systems-level programming while C++ is used for higher-level development. A driver developer would be more likely to prefer C over C++, while a video game developer would be almost certain to use C++ over C. For those interested in development in a particular industry, this difference may drive their decision.

Learning C Before C++

Many beginning programmers will learn C before C++ due to the straightforwardness of the language. As a procedural language, it’s often easier for beginners to grasp. It is a simpler language with fewer options and, consequently, it serves as a solid introduction to programming. From C, many programmers either move on to Java or C++. By learning C first, programmers can become acclimated to the procedural side of the language and then learn object-oriented programming through C++. C++ is more complicated than C and can be overwhelming for a beginner.

Learning C++ Before C

For more advanced programmers who are already acclimated to object-oriented programming and procedural programming, learning C++ before C can be an understandable option. C++ is more often used in the programming world today and it is often considered the more robust language, even though C is better suited to some applications. Programmers interested in certain specific fields, such as the above-mentioned video game industry, may not have a use for C and, in fact, may never need to use it. Further, some may find it confusing to learn both C and C++, as there are similarities in both languages that can easily trip a developer up.

So which is it? It depends on your goals. If you are new to programming, learning C before C++ will likely be less overwhelming and give you some room to learn and grow. But if you’re already a programmer or you’re more interested in developing programming skills that can be utilized immediately in a work environment, you may want to skip directly to C++. There’s only one caveat: if you’re interested in systems-level programming, C may still be valuable to you.

And, finally, don’t forget that there is a third option: C#. C# is widely considered a preferred language for a beginner because it is simple and versatile, though it does not yet have the widespread adoption of C++. C# extends C++, allowing developers to take advantage of the .NET environment. The transition from C++ to C# is generally considered to be easier than the transition from C to C++, though there are still some structural and syntax changes.

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