C(7) BSD Miscellaneous Information Manual C(7)
c, c78, c89, c90, c99 -- The C programming language
C is a general purpose programming language, which has a strong connection with the UNIX operating system and its derivatives, since the vast
majority of those systems were written in the C language. The C language contains some basic ideas from the BCPL language through the B lan-
guage written by Ken Thompson in 1970 for the DEC PDP-7 machines. The development of the UNIX operating system was started on a PDP-7
machine in assembly language, but this choice made it very difficult to port the existing code to other systems.
In 1972 Dennis M. Ritchie worked out the C programming language for further development of the UNIX operating system. The idea was to imple-
ment only the C compiler for different platforms, and implement most parts of the operating system in the new programming language to sim-
plify the portability between different architectures. It follows that C is very well adapted for (but not limited to) writing operating
systems and low-level applications.
The C language did not have a specification or standardized version for a long time. It went through a lot of changes and improvements for
ages. In 1978, Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie published the first book about C under the title ``The C Programming Language''. We
can think of this book as the first specification of the language. This version is often referred to as ``K&R C'' after the names of the
authors. Sometimes it is referred to as C78, as well, after the publishing year of the first edition of the book.
It is important to notice that the instruction set of the language is limited to the most fundamental elements for simplicity. Handling of
the standard I/O and similar common functions are implemented in the libraries shipped with the compiler. As these functions are also widely
used, it was demanded to include into the description what requisites the library should conform to, not just strictly the language itself.
Accordingly, the aforementioned standards cover the library elements, as well. The elements of this standard library are still not enough
for more complicated tasks. In this case the provided system calls of the given operating system can be used. To not lose the portability
by using these system calls, the POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface (for Unix)) standard evolved. It describes what functions should
be available to keep portability. Note, that POSIX is not a C standard, but an operating system standard and thus is beyond the scope of
this manual. The standards discussed below are all C standards and only cover the C programming language and the accompanying library.
After the publication of the book mentioned before, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) started to work on standardizing the
language, and in 1989 they announced ANSI X3.159-1989. It is usually referred to as ANSI C or C89. The main difference in this standard
were the function prototypes, which was a new way of declaring functions. With the old-style function declarations, the compiler was unable
to check the sanity of the actual parameters of a function call. The old syntax was highly error-prone because incompatible parameters were
hard to detect in the program code and the problem only showed up at run-time.
In 1990, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted the ANSI standard as ISO/IEC 9899:1990. This is also referred to
as ISO C or C90. It only contains negligible minor modifications against ANSI C, so the two standards are often considered to be fully
equivalent. This was a very important milestone in the history of the C language, but the development of the language did not stop.
The ISO C standard was later extended with an amendment as ISO/IEC 9899 AM1 in 1995. This contained, for example, the wide-character support
in wchar.h and wctype.h. Two corrigenda were also published: Technical Corrigendum 1 as ISO/IEC 9899 TCOR1 in 1995 and Technical Corrigendum
2 as ISO/IEC 9899 TCOR2 in 1996. The continuous development and growth made it necessary to work out a new standard, which contains the new
features and fixes the known defects and deficiencies of the language. As a result, ISO/IEC 9899:1999 was born in 1999. Similarly to the
other standards, this is referred to after the publication year as C99. The improvements include the following:
o Inline functions.
o Support for variable length arrays.
o New high-precision integer type named long long int, and other integer types described in stdint(3) and inttypes(3).
o New boolean data type; see stdbool(3).
o One line comments taken from the C++ language.
o Some new preprocessor features.
o A predefined identifier __func__ and a restrict type qualifier.
o New variables can be declared anywhere, not just in the beginning of the program or program blocks.
o No implicit int type.
Since then no new standards have been published, but the C language is still evolving. New and useful features have been showing up in the
most famous C compiler: GNU C (gcc(1)). Most of the UNIX-like operating systems use GNU C as a system compiler, but the various extensions
of GNU C, such as attribute(3) or typeof(3), should not be considered standard features.
c89(1), c99(1), cc(1), cdefs(3)
Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie, The C Programming Language, Prentice Hall, Second Edition, 40th printing, 1988.
ISO/IEC, 9899:1990, Programming languages -- C.
ISO/IEC, 9899 AM1.
ISO/IEC, 9899 TCOR1, Programming languages -- C, Technical Corrigendum 1.
ISO/IEC, 9899 TCOR2, Programming languages -- C, Technical Corrigendum 2.
ISO/IEC, 9899:1999, Programming languages -- C.
ISO/IEC, 9899:1999 TCOR1, Programming languages -- C, Technical Corrigendum 1.
ISO/IEC, 9899:1999 TCOR2, Programming languages -- C, Technical Corrigendum 2.
ISO/IEC, 9899:1999 TCOR3, Programming languages -- C, Technical Corrigendum 3.
This manual page first appeared in FreeBSD 9.0 and NetBSD 6.0.
This manual page was written by Gabor Kovesdan <gabor@FreeBSD.org>.
March 30, 2011 BSD