C++ Programming Language: History, Features, Uses, Applications & Advantages

C++ is a general-purpose programming language created by Bjarne Stroustrup as an extension of the C programming language, or “C with Classes”. The language has expanded significantly over time, and modern C++ now has object-oriented, generic, and functional features in addition to facilities for low-level memory manipulation. It is almost always implemented as a compiled language, and many vendors provide C++ compilers, including the Free Software Foundation, LLVM, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, and IBM, so it is available on many platforms.

C++ was designed with an orientation toward system programming and embedded, resource-constrained software and large systems, with performance, efficiency, and flexibility of use as its design highlights. C++ has also been found useful in many other contexts, with key strengths being software infrastructure and resource-constrained applications, including desktop applications, video games, servers (e.g. e-commerce, web search, or databases), and performance-critical applications (e.g. telephone switches or space probes).

C++ is standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), with the latest standard version ratified and published by ISO in December 2020 as ISO/IEC 14882:2020 (informally known as C++20). The C++ programming language was initially standardized in 1998 as ISO/IEC 14882:1998, which was then amended by the C++03, C++11, C++14, and C++17 standards. The current C++20 standard supersedes these with new features and an enlarged standard library. Before the initial standardization in 1998, C++ was developed by Danish computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup at Bell Labs since 1979 as an extension of the C language; he wanted an efficient and flexible language similar to C that also provided high-level features for program organization. Since 2012, C++ has been on a three-year release schedule with C++23 as the next planned standard.

Design Principles

C++ was designed to deliver the flexibility and efficiency of procedural languages with higher-level programming techniques of object-oriented programming languages. The design principles are –

  • it makes programming more enjoyable for serious programmers.
  • it is a general-purpose programming language that is a superset of C.
  • it supports object-oriented programming basics: data abstraction, data encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism.
  • it supports generic programming: a technique where a single program can cover many implementations. It ensures code efficiency and re-usability.

C++ Language Features

Some of the interesting features of C++ are:

  • Object-oriented: C++ is an object-oriented programming language. This means that the focus is on “objects” and manipulations around these objects. Information about how these manipulations work is abstracted out from the consumer of the object.
  • Rich library support: Through C++ Standard Template Library (STL) many functions are available that help in quickly writing code. For instance, there are standard libraries for various containers like sets, maps, hash tables, etc.
  • Speed: C++ is the preferred choice when latency is a critical metric. The compilation, as well as the execution time of a C++ program, is much faster than most other general purpose programming languages.
  • Compiled: A C++ code has to be first compiled into low-level code and then executed, unlike interpreted programming languages where no compilation is needed.
  • Pointer Support: C++ also supports pointers which are widely used in programming and are often not available in several programming languages.

It is one of the most important programming languages because almost all the programs/systems that you use have some or the other part of the codebase that is written in C/C++. Be it Windows, be it the photo editing software, be it your favorite game, be it your web browser, C++ plays an integral role in almost all applications that we use.

Uses/Applications of C++ Language

After exploring C++ features, let’s have look at some interesting areas where C++ is popularly used.

Browsers: The rendering engines of various web browsers are programmed in C++ simply because if the speed that it offers. The rendering engines require faster execution to make sure that users don’t have to wait for the content to come up on the screen. As a result, such low-latency systems employ C++ as the programming language.

Libraries: Many high-level libraries use C++ as the core programming language. For instance, several Machine Learning libraries use C++ in the backend because of its speed. Tensorflow, one of the most widely used Machine Learning libraries uses C++ as the backend programming language. Such libraries required high-performance computations because they involve multiplications of huge matrices for the purpose of training Machine Learning models. As a result, performance becomes critical. C++ comes to the rescue in such libraries.

Graphics: All graphics applications require fast rendering and just like the case of web browsers, here also C++ helps in reducing the latency. Software that employ computer vision, digital image processing, high-end graphical processing – they all use C++ as the backend programming language. Even the popular games that are heavy on graphics use C++ as the primary programming language. The speed that C++ offers in such situations helps the developers in expanding the target audience because an optimized application can run even on low-end devices that do not have high computation power available.

Banking Applications: One of the most popularly used core-banking system – Infosys Finacle uses C++ as one of the backend programming languages. Banking applications process millions of transactions on a daily basis and require high concurrency and low latency support. C++ automatically becomes the preferred choice in such applications owing to its speed and multithreading support that is made available through various Standard Template Libraries that come as a part of the C++ programming kit.

Cloud/Distributed Systems: Large organizations that develop cloud storage systems and other distributed systems also use C++ because it connects very well with the hardware and is compatible with a lot of machines. Cloud storage systems use scalable file-systems that work close to the hardware. C++ becomes a preferred choice in such situations because it is close to the hardware and also the multithreading libraries in C++ provide high concurrency and load tolerance which is very much needed in such scenarios.

Embedded Systems: Various embedded systems like medical machines, smartwatches, etc. use C++ as the primary programming language because of the fact that C++ is closer to the hardware level as compared to other high-level programming languages.

Telephone Switches: Because of the fact that it is one of the fastest programming languages, C++ is widely used in programming telephone switches, routers, and space probes.

Compilers: The compilers of various programming languages use C and C++ as the backend programming language. This is because of the fact that both C and C++ are relatively lower level languages and are closer to the hardware and therefore are the ideal choice for such compilation systems. These are a few uses and applications of C++ programming language. Now, let’s know more about C++ advantages over other programming languages.

Advantages of C++ Language

C++ has the following 2 features that make it a preferred choice in most of the applications:

  • Speed: C++ is faster than most other programming languages and it provides excellent concurrency support. This makes it useful in those areas where performance is quite critical and the latency required is very low. Such requirements occur all the time in high-load servers such as web servers, application servers, database servers, etc. C++ plays a key role in such servers.
  • Closer to hardware: C++ is closer to hardware than most other programming languages like Python, etc. This makes it useful in those areas where the software is closely coupled with hardware and low-level support is required at the software level.

Looking to learn C++? Check out the best C++ tutorials recommended by the programming community on Hackr.io. Do let’s know if you have any questions about features, uses, applications and advantages of C++ programming language in comments.

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