An Introduction to Functions in C Programming

Functions in C are the basic building blocks of a C program. A function is a set of statements enclosed within curly brackets ({}) that take inputs, do the computation, and provide the resultant output. You can call a function multiple times, thereby allowing reusability and modularity in C programming. It means that instead of writing the same code again and again for different arguments, you can simply enclose the code and make it a function and then call it multiple times by merely passing the various arguments.

Why Do We Need Functions in C Programming?

We need functions in C programming and even in other programming languages due to the numerous advantages they provide to the developer. Some of the key benefits of using functions are:

  • Enables reusability and reduces redundancy
  • Makes a code modular
  • Provides abstraction functionality
  • The program becomes easy to understand and manage
  • Breaks an extensive program into smaller and simpler pieces

Basic Syntax of Functions

The basic syntax of functions in C programming is:

return_type function_name(arg1, arg2, … argn){

Body of the function //Statements to be processed

}

In the above syntax:

  • return_type: Here, we declare the data type of the value returned by functions. However, not all functions return a value. In such cases, the keyword void indicates to the compiler that the function will not return any value.
  • function_name: This is the function’s name that helps the compiler identify it whenever we call it.
  • arg1, arg2, ...argn: It is the argument or parameter list that contains all the parameters to be passed into the function. The list defines the data type, sequence, and the number of parameters to be passed to the function. A function may or may not require parameters. Hence, the parameter list is optional.
  • Body: The function’s body contains all the statements to be processed and executed whenever the function is called.

Note: The function_name and parameters list are together known as the signature of a function in C programming.

General Aspects of Functions in C Programming

Functions in C programming have three general aspects: declaration, defining, and calling. Let’s understand what these aspects mean.

Function Declaration

The function declaration lets the compiler know the name, number of parameters, data types of parameters, and return type of a function. However, writing parameter names during declaration is optional, as you can do that even while defining the function.

Function Call

As the name gives out, a function call is calling a function to be executed by the compiler. You can call the function at any point in the entire program. The only thing to take care of is that you need to pass as many arguments of the same data type as mentioned while declaring the function. If the function parameter does not differ, the compiler will execute the program and give the return value.

Function Definition

It is defining the actual statements that the compiler will execute upon calling the function. You can think of it as the body of the function. Function definition must return only one value at the end of the execution.

Here’s an example with all the three general aspects of a function.

#include <stdio.h>

// Function declaration  

int max_Num(int i, int j){

    // Function definition

    if (i > j)

      return i;

    else

      return j;

}

// The main function. We will discuss about it later

int main(void){

    int x = 15, y = 20;  

    // Calling the function to find the greater number among the two

    int m = max_Num(x, y);  

    printf("The bigger number is %d", m);

    return 0;

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_1.

Add Another Star to Your Performance Evaluation

Learn from industry experts for FREEStart Learning
Add Another Star to Your Performance Evaluation

Types of Functions in C Programming

Functions in C programming are classified into two types:

  • Library Functions

Also referred to as predefined functions, library functions are already defined in the C libraries. This means that we do not have to write a definition or the function’s body to call them. We can simply call them without defining them as they are already defined. However, we need to include the library at the beginning of the code for calling a library function. We can then use the proper syntax of the function to call them. Printf(), scanf(), ceil(), and floor() are examples of library functions.

  • User-Defined Functions:

These are the functions that a developer or the user declares, defines, and calls in a program. This increases the scope and functionality, and reusability of C programming as we can define and use any function we want. A major plus point of C programming is that we can add a user-defined to any library to use it in other programs.

Header Files for Library Functions in C programming

As mentioned earlier, all library functions are included in different header files saved with a .h extension. To use any library functions, you need to use the header files at the beginning of the program. Without including the header files, the program will not be executed as the compiler will throw errors. Here are the header files available in C.

Header File

Description

stdio.h

The input/output header file contains all the library functions related to input and output operations.

conio.h

It is the console I/O file and contains library functions for console input/output operations.

string.h

This is the string header file that contains functions related to working with strings.

stdlib.h

The standard library consists of all general functions.

math.h

It is the math header file and contains all library functions related to math operations.

time.h

This header file consists of all the time-related functions

ctype.h

The ctype.h file includes all character handling functions.

stdarg.h

This header file consists of all the variable argument functions.

signal.h

The signal.h file contains all the signal handling functions.

setjmp.h

All the jump functions are declared in this header file.

locale.h

All the locale-related functions are defined in the locale header file.

errno.h

The errno.h header file has all the error handling functions.

assert.h

The assert.h file has all the functions used for diagnostic.

Different Ways of Calling a Function

Depending on whether the function accepts arguments or not and returns a value or not, there can be four different aspects of C function calls, which are:

C Programming Functions Without Arguments and Return Value

A function in C programming may not accept an argument and return a value. Here’s an example of such a function.

#include<stdio.h>

void main (){

    printf("Welcome to ");

    printName();

}

void printName(){  

    printf("Simplilearn");

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_2.

C programming Functions With No Arguments But has a Return Value

A function can return a value without accepting any arguments. Here’s an example for calculating and returning the area of a rectangle without taking any argument.

#include<stdio.h>

void main(){

    int area = rect_Area();

    printf("The area of the Rectangle is: %d\n",area);

}

int rect_Area(){

    int len, wid;    

    printf("Enter the length of the rectangle: ");

    scanf("%d",&len);    

    printf("Enter the width of the rectangle: ");

    scanf("%d",&wid);    

    return len * wid;

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_3

C programming Functions With Arguments But No Return Value

C functions may accept arguments but not provide any return value. Given below is an example of such a function.

#include<stdio.h>

void main(){

    int x,y;    

    printf("Enter the two numbers to add:");

    scanf("%d %d",&x,&y);

    add(x,y);

}

// Accepting arguments with void return type

void add(int x, int y){

    printf("The sum of the numbers is %d",x+y);

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_4

C programming Functions That Accept Arguments and Gives a Return Value

Most C functions will accept arguments and provide a return value. The following program demonstrates a function in C programming that takes arguments and returns a value.

#include<stdio.h>

void main(){

    int x,y,res;    

    printf("Enter the two numbers to add:");

    scanf("%d %d",&x,&y);    

    res = add(x,y);

    printf("The sum of the numbers is %d",res);

}

int add(int x, int y){

    return x+y;

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_5.

Full Stack Web Developer Course

To become an expert in MEAN StackView Course
Full Stack Web Developer Course

Important Points Worth Noting About Functions in C Programming

  • Every program in C has a function. Even if you do not use a library or user-defined function, you will have to use the main function. The main function is the program’s entry point, as that is where the compiler will start executing the code.
  • Even if a function does not return a value, it has a return type. If a return value is provided, the return type is the data type of the value. But if there is no return value, then the void is the return type of the function.
  • C functions cannot return array and function types. However, you can easily overcome this limitation with the use of pointers.
  • While in C++, void func() and void func(void) mean the same; it is not the case with C programming. In C, a function declared without any parameter list can be called with any number of parameters. Hence, it is advisable to declare a function as void func(void) and not void func() if you want to call a function without any parameter.
  • If you call a function before the declaration, the C compiler will by default consider the return type to be int and show an error if the data type of the return value is anything except int.

The Main Function in C Programming

You would have noticed that we have declared a function named main() in every example that we have seen in this article. In fact, not just this article, every C program that you see will have a main function. The main function in C programming is a special type of function that serves as the entry point of the program where the execution begins. By default, the return type of the main function is int. There can be two types of main() functions: with and without parameters.

Main function without parameters:

int main(){

… //statements

return 0;

}

Main function with parameters:

int main(int argc, char * const argv[]){

… //statements

return 0;

}

Note: We can write a program without the main function, but it is a frowned-upon practice. It is always best to use the main function for ease of readability and to understand the program.

Recursive Functions in C Programming

Functions in C programming are recursive if they can call themselves until the exit condition is satisfied. If a function allows you to call itself within the definition in a C program, it is a recursive function. These functions run by stacking the calls until the exit condition is met and the flow of the program exits the function. Suppose you want to find the factorial of a number in C; you can use a recursive function to get the result. Here’s an example to find the factorial of 8.

#include <stdio.h>

int fact(int num);

int main(){

  int i = 8;

  printf("The factorial of %d is: %d\n", i, fact(i)); 

  return 0;

}

int fact(int num){

    if (num == 1)

        // Exiting condition

        return (1);

    else

        return (num * fact(num - 1));

}

Output:

Functions_in_C_Programming_6

Let’s calculate the factorial of 8 and confirm if the output is true. The factorial of the number is calculated as fact(n) = n * (n-1) * (n-2) * … 1. Hence, the factorial of 8 is 8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1 = 40320. This confirms that our recursive function worked correctly.

Inline Functions in C Programming

While using functions in C programming, the pointer for execution flow jumps to the function definition after the function call. Hence, an additional pointer is required that goes to the definition and then returns. However, we can avoid the use of extra pointer by using inline functions.

Inline functions are the functions where instead of calling the function, we replace it with the actual program code. Thus, the pointer does not have to jump back to the definition. We need to use the keyword inline before a function to make it an inline function. These functions are usually used for small computations. Here’s the syntax of an inline function.

inline function_name (){

   //function definition

}

Advance your career as a MEAN stack developer with the Full Stack Web Developer - MEAN Stack Master's Program. Enroll now!

Wrapping It Up

In this article, you have learned everything about functions in C programming. Functions are the basic building blocks of a C program. They provide the functionalities of reusability, modularity, and simplicity. Hence, it is essential to learn how to create and use functions to optimize your program. You can learn about more such C fundamentals by signing up on our SkillUp platform. The platform offers free courses for numerous programming languages, including C. You can sign up and select the course you want to take and get acquainted with the basics of that programming language.

Mastering only C programming won’t be enough in today’s competitive world. Hence, developers are constantly upskilling themselves to master multiple languages and tools. You, too, can do that by opting for our Full-Stack Web Development Certification Course. The course will help you master the primary and the advanced concepts of numerous programming languages and applied learning on the most popular tools. Upon completing the course, you will be confident enough with your skills to land a high-paying job in any multinational company.

About the Author

SimplilearnSimplilearn

Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

View More
  • Disclaimer
  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.