C++ Programming for Beginners

C++ is the fourth most popular programming language, according to the TIOBE programming community index. In this article, we will address several questions and concerns that you may have so that you can be clear whether C++ is for you.  Let’s get right to it. 

tiobe index

Figure 1: TIOBE index-popularity of different programming language

What is C++ Programming? 

C++ is an enhanced and extended version of C programming language, developed by Bjarne Stroustrup in 1979 as part of his Ph.D. project. Bjarne developed what he called ‘C with Classes’ (later renamed C++) because he felt limited by the existing programming languages that were not ideal for large scale projects. He used C to build what he wanted because C was already a general-purpose language that was efficient and fast in its operations.

C++ is a sophisticated, efficient, general-purpose programming language. The free-form, statically-typed, multi-paradigm, and typically compiled programming language is most suitable for intermediate-level programmers. However, those who want to start their programming journey with C++ will find that they can quickly learn programming concepts that will carry them a long way in their career.

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C++ Background and History

C++ was first released in 1985, but it was not until 1998 that the first standardized version—C++98—was released. In 2003, C++03, the following standard, was published with the primary intention of fixing bugs identified in C++98 and to ensure that the language had greater portability and consistency.

The next major upgrade to the language arrived eight years later (2011) and was named C++11. After that, C++14 was released and made simple improvements, and bug fixes to C++11 before the next major release: C++17. The current C++17 version has several new features and a much more extensive standard library. Based on the current three-year cycle, the next release is slated for release in 2020 and will be named C++20.

c++ roadmap

Figure 2: C++ roadmap

The use of C++17 has grown by 10 percent since last year (2018), according to JetBrains, as people continue to adopt the new C++ standards. Projections show that one-third of all developers plan to adopt C++17 within the next year.

c++ standards

Figure 3: Adoption of different C++ standards

Benefits of C++

As a feature-rich programming language, C++ brings a lot of benefits to the table, all of which can’t be enumerated in the scope of this article. However, as a beginner, here are some of the benefits that you should be aware of:

  • Speed. Low-level programming languages are much faster than higher-level programming languages like Java and Python. Since C++ is an extended version of C, a low-level programming language, it is one of the fastest programming languages available.
  • Efficiency. C++ has a standard template library (STL) that can be used extensively when coding. These libraries provide efficient algorithms that allow the programmer to save time and effort that would otherwise be expended creating code.
  • Freedom to choose programming styles. C++ supports about seven different styles of coding, making it a multi-paradigm programming language. As such, you can select a style that fits your use case without having to use objects. 
  • Ability to break down complex problems into smaller sets. C++ is partially an object-oriented programming language, which means that you can solve complex issues intuitively by creating objects. Additionally, C++ functions allow you to break down code into logical blocks that are clear, easy to understand, and easy to test and modify.
  • Ability to catch errors before execution. C++ is statically typed, which means that the compiler does not make assumptions about what the programmer types. The benefit is that the compiler can catch bugs and errors before execution, which can save time in the long run.

c++ features

Figure 4: C++ features

Uses and Applications of C++ Language

There are countless C++ programming examples in both the tech world and the real world. The very nature and design of the programming language, as outlined in the benefits (or features) above, allows it to be used in all kinds of projects and applications. As such, understanding the use cases of C++ can help you decide whether investing your time, money, and effort into it makes sense for you. Here are some of its applications:

Operating Systems

C++ is used as the backbone of all major operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and macOS, primarily because it is a low-level programming language.

Browser Rendering Engines

If you want to create or troubleshoot a web browser, then C++ is an excellent choice because of its speed. It allows for fast execution and rendering of graphics, which is critical for today's users who demand low latency content to show up on their web browsers quickly.

IoT and Embedded Systems

Several IoT (Internet of Things) and embedded systems such as smartwatches, cars, washing machines, routers, and switches, primarily use C++ because they require code that is as close to the hardware as possible.

Cloud/Distributed Systems

Again, because C++ is low-level code, it is used in cloud storage systems and distributed systems where scalable file-systems need to work closely with hardware and where compatibility with different machines is critical.

Databases

Two of the most often used databases, MySQL and Postgres, are written in C and C++ because of the benefits they offer. These databases are used in well-recognized applications such as YouTube and Quora.

Other Use Cases

C++ is also used in several different applications, including:

  • Libraries (e.g., TensorFlow used in machine learning)
  • Compilers (e.g., Intel C++ compiler, Clang, GCC, Open64, etc.)
  • Graphics (e.g., Game engines, and other software that employs digital image processing and   computer vision)
  • Banking applications (e.g., Infosys Finacle)

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Why Learn C++? 

Now that you’re aware of some of the use-cases of C++ as a programming language, it’s much easier to determine whether it will benefit your career path, hobby, or as a future up-skilling goal. If you are still not clear about it, here are a few reasons why you should learn C++: 

  • It will help you understand computer architecture. Since C++ is a low-level language that directly interacts with hardware, it allows you to learn how computer memory works and how information is stored.  
  • There are an extensive community and many open source projects. If you want to learn or adapt applications for your use, C++ provides plenty of repositories. For example, GitHub alone has more than half a million repositories from which to choose. StackOverflow, the best Q&A platform for developers, has almost half a million questions pertaining to C++ and excellent answers from seasoned C++ developers.
  • It’s widely used. C++ is used to build operating systems, browsers, games, and well-recognized applications like Adobe products (e.g., Photoshop), Facebook, Autodesk products, and much more. Some say that C++ is so widely used that it is irreplaceable.

C++ Career Prospects

With just C++ programming expertise, you will have excellent job opportunities, salaries, and career prospects. However, for a career based on programming languages such as Java and Python (which are in more demand than C++) or for careers based on front-end, back-end, and full-stack development, you will go a lot further with C++ expertise. Furthermore, in development domains such as software testing, you are expected to know C++.

The potential salary you can expect to earn after learning C++ will depend on your skill level, geographical location, employer, whether you’re working as a freelancer, and other factors. 

How to Get Started with C++?

One of the essential tools that you need to develop in C++ is a compiler. There are several available free-of-charge. Learning C++ is easier today than ever before because you can use a C++ online compiler to run through command-line interfaces (CLIs). CLIs read entire programs and convert them into object code, which is a translation of program source code that a computer can execute directly.

However, to make learning C++ convenient and more pleasant, it’s a good idea to get a full-fledged IDE. If you’re on Windows OS, you should try Visual Studio. For a more compliant option, then GCC (MinGW) may be a good option since it can be used in both Linux and macOS.

Once you choose a compiler, there are two main ways you can learn C++. The first is through a self-taught approach, and the second is through instructor-led training.

c++ ide

Figure 5: Most used C++ IDE

Useful Tips and Other Things to Keep in Mind

With either approach, (self-taught or instructor-led), you will need to go through several C++ tutorials and books to fully understand what you learn. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin your journey:

  1. You need to make a long-term commitment. The amount of time and energy it takes to learn C++ will vary depending on your level of commitment. Depending on your current situation and previous experiences, the time it takes to learn C++ will vary. In any case, don’t expect to learn C++ in a week thoroughly.
  2. You need to apply yourself thoughtfully. There is a lot to learn, and it can be overwhelming to get through the basics. As such, you need to take the time to understand the fundamentals and seek support from peers and more experienced C++ programmers.
  3. Follow guidelines and C++ standards. Guidelines encourage you to focus on simple rules that help you get the job done effectively. Building on such a strong foundation will help you build on what you have learned without having to always go back to basics every time you encounter a different setting or particular purpose. 
  4. Practice, practice, and more practice. Whichever approach you use to learn C++, taking the time to apply what you have learned is the best way to know that you understand what you have learned.
  5. Find errors and broken code to fix. Whether you build your applications or try to fix other people's code, you learn the most when you try to fix these issues, because you are forced to tap into different areas that you have learned.
  6. Read different people's C++ codes and learn different styles of coding. Learning on your own can give you tunnel vision, which can prevent you from acquiring new ideas or more straightforward ways to do what you have learned. Understanding how other people think by reading their code can, therefore, be invaluable to your C++ journey. 
  7. Join a community and attend conferences. There are many useful communities that you can join that can help you with your C++ learning journey, e.g., Codechef, StackOverflow, and CodeProject.

coding-advice

Figure 6: Commonly used sources of C++ guidelines and standards

Wrap-Up

Learning C++ language is an excellent place to start or bolster your knowledge of programming and safeguard your career. Whether you started your programming journey on a different path such as Java or Python, learning C++ will help you better understand any programming environment and do more. As discussed in this article, you have everything to gain by studying C++. Why wait? Simplilearn’s C Programming Language online course provides beginners with easy-to-follow instructions and an arsenal of resources to make them fluent in C language methodologies such as variables, data types, loops, arrays, etc.

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