The History of the C Language: From Its Inception to Modern Use

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21st September, 2018




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History of C Language

The C programming language was created in the early 1970s by Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs. It was designed to be a low-level, system programming language. Over the years, it has evolved into a powerful and versatile language that is still in use today. In this blog post, we will take a look at the history of the C language and how it has evolved over time.

Algol - 1960 - International Group

In 1960, the International Group of Algotists (IGA) published a report that described their new language called ALGOL. It was designed to be an easy-to-learn programming language with high readability and portability across different types of computers. In 1961, they created version 60 or ALGOL60 which became widely used in teaching computer science courses around the world because it could be implemented on any kind of computer system without much difficulty.

BPCL - 1967 - Martin Richards

In 1967, Martin Richards created a new programming language called BCPL that was meant to be an extension of ALGOL60. It added many features like macros which allowed users to define their own command words and use them in place of complex statements or functions. In 1969 Brian Kernighan implemented the first ALGOL-like compiler for BCPL on his PDP-11 computer system at Bell Laboratories where he worked with Dennis Ritchie who later used it as inspiration while designing C Programming Language (C). B is a subset of C, so you can still see traces today!

B - 1970 - Ken Thompson

 In 1970, Ken Thompson designed and implemented the B programming language which was a direct descendant of BCPL. It added features like data types, structures, and arrays to make it more suitable for system programming tasks. In 1973, he ported the Unix operating system to the DEC PDP-11 computer and used B as its main development language. This led to the widespread adoption of Unix in academic circles and eventually helped popularize C as well.

C - 1972 - Dennis Ritchie

Dennis Ritchie began work on what would become the C programming language in early 1972. He based it heavily on his earlier work on BCPL and B, with additional influences from ALGOL60 and other languages of that time period. In 1973, he and Mike Lesk created the first compiler for C at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey (USA) where they worked together on Unix operating system development. By 1975, Ritchie finished porting Unix to PDP-11 using only C as its main programming language!

Portability - 1978 - Brian Kernighan & Dennis Ritchie

In 1978, Brian Kernighan and Dennis M.Ritchie published "The C Programming Language," which became known simply as K&R after their last names were put together into one word like "hammer". This book introduced many features that are still used today such as prototypes for functions without arguments or parameter types specified explicitly inline with them instead of being listed out separately at the start of the function body. It also explained the Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX) standard which helped make C more portable across different types of computer systems.

ANSI - 1983 - American National Standards Institute

In 1983, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) published a specification for the C programming language that became known as ANSI-C. This standardized version of C added features like function prototypes, variable length arrays, and support for international character sets. It also introduced new keywords and changed some existing ones to make them more consistent with how they were actually being used in practice.

ISO - 1990 - International Organization for Standardization

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted ANSI-C as its official standard for the C programming language in 1990. This led to the creation of various international variants of C such as British Standard Code for Information Interchange (BSCII), Canadian Standards Association (CSA-C), and DIN 66261 German. Various other amendments were also made to the standard over the years, including a major update in 1999 that added support for object-oriented programming features like class inheritance and virtual functions.

GNU - 1991 - Richard Stallman

In 1991, Richard Stallman announced his plans to create a new free software operating system called GNU which would be based on the UNIX design principles but use the C programming language instead of Assembly Language. The goal was to make it easier for people to write their own software programs without having to worry about licensing fees or legal restrictions imposed by companies like AT&T Bell Labs that owned Unix at the time.

C99 - 1999 - International Organization for Standardization

The C programming language was standardized again in 1999 under ISO/IEC 9899:1999, commonly known as "C99". The biggest change with this version of C was a new set of keywords added to support object-oriented programming features like class inheritance and virtual functions. Other additions included support for complex numbers via an imaginary unit (i), changes made to some existing operators so they would work better on floating point number types such as double precision real values (e.g., ++a++ → ++(a++)), and removal of the old restrict keyword which been found to be problematic and difficult to use correctly.

C11 - 2011 - International Organization for Standardization

The most recent standard for the C programming language was published in 2011 as ISO/IEC 9899:2011, commonly known as "C11". This version added a few more features such as support for atomic operations on data structures like locks and barriers, designated initializers which allow you to initialize multiple variables at once using a single list of values, and improved Unicode support. It also removed some old or obsolete features that were no longer being used, such as the restrict keyword from C99.


As you can see, the history of the C programming language is quite extensive with many different versions and amendments having been made over the years. What began as a simple programming language designed to be used on Unix computers has now become one of the most widely used languages in existence today.



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