Preface (slightly abridged)
In computing, turning the obvious into
the useful is a living
definition of the word "frustration." Alan Perlis
Let me get this off my chest right at the
start: I've had a love/hate relationship with C for years. I
love the ease with which I can write C programs. I love the development
environments that come with many of today's C compilers. But
I hate the ease with which I can make mistakes. I hate the attention
to picky details that C programming often requires. And, above
all, I hate the way many C programmers disparage other languages.
Let's face it: C isn't the ultimate programming language. (C++
isn't, either.) It is, however, a language with which every software
developer should become familiar. It has become, for better or
for worse, the lingua franca of the computer world.
I first used C in 1975, when it was new
and somewhat immature. I then lost touch with the language for
some years. Once C was standardized, I decided to take another
look at it. To my relief, I found that some of its worst flaws
had been corrected during standardization. (Of course, there
are enough left to keep life interesting!) I decided to write
a book that would take a fresh look at C, while at the same time
tapping into the collective wisdom that C programmers have accumulated
over the past quarter of a century.
Here are some of the goals I've tried to
accomplish in this book:
- Be clear, readable, and possibly
even entertaining. Many C books
are too concise for the average reader. Others are badly written
or just plain dull. I've tried to give clear, thorough explanations,
leavened with enough humor to hold the reader's interest.
- Be accessible to a broad range of
readers. I assume that the
reader has a minimal amount of previous programming experience,
but I don't assume knowledge of a particular language. I've tried
to keep jargon to a minimum and to define the terms that I use.
I've also attempted to separate advanced material from more elementary
topics, so that the beginner won't get discouraged.
- Be authoritative without being pedantic. To avoid reader frustration, I've tried to cover
all the features of the Standard C language and library, including
argument lists, and international features. At the same time,
I've tried to avoid burdening the reader with unnecessary detail.
- Be organized for easy learning. My experience in teaching C underscores the importance
of presenting the features of C gradually. I use a spiral approach,
in which difficult topics are introduced briefly, then revisited
one or more times later in the book with details added each time.
Pacing is deliberate, with each chapter building gradually on
what has come before. For most students, this is probably the
best approach: it avoids the extremes of boredom on the one hand,
or "information overload" on the other.
- Motivate language features. Instead of just describing each feature of the
language and giving a few simple examples of how the feature
is used, I've tried to motivate each feature and discuss how
it's used in practical situations.
- Emphasize style. It's important for every C programmer to develop
a consistent style. Rather than dictating what this style should
be, though, I usually describe a few possibilities and let the
reader chose the one that's most appealing. Knowing alternative
styles is a big help when reading other people's programs (which
programmers often spend a great deal of time doing).
- Avoid dependence on a particular
machine, compiler, or operating system.
Since C is available on such a wide variety of platforms, I've
tried to avoid dependence on any particular machine, compiler,
or operating system. Of course, with a language like C, it's
impossible to skip machine details completely. When such discussions
are unavoidable, I give examples for both 16-bit and 32-bit architectures.
When examples depend on a particular operating system, I discuss
both DOS and UNIX.
- Use illustrations to clarify key
concepts. I've tried to put
in as many figures as I could, since I think these are crucial
for understanding many aspects of C. In particular, I've tried
to "animate" algorithms whenever possible by showing
snapshots of data at different points in the computation.
What's So Modern about A Modern Approach?
One of my most important goals has been
to take a "modern approach" to C. Here are some of
the ways I've tried to achieve this goal:
- Put C in perspective. Instead of treating C as the only programming
language worth knowing, I treat it as one of many useful languages.
I discuss what kind of applications C is best suited for; I also
show how to capitalize on C's strengths while minimizing its
- Emphasize Standard C. I pay minimal attention to older versions of the
language. There are just a few scattered references to Classic
(K&R) C in the chapters, mostly in Q&A sections. Appendix
C lists the major differences between Standard C and Classic
- Debunk myths. Today's compilers are often at odds with commonly
held assumptions about C. I don't hesitate to debunk some of
the myths about C or challenge beliefs that have long been part
of the C folklore (for example, the belief that pointer arithmetic
is always faster than array subscripting). I've re-examined the
old conventions of C, keeping the ones that are still helpful.
- Emphasize software engineering. I treat C as a mature software engineering tool,
emphasizing how to use it to cope with issues that arise during
programming-in-the-large. I stress making programs readable,
maintainable, reliable, and portable, and I put special emphasis
on information hiding.
- Postpone C's low-level features. These features, although handy for the kind of
systems programming originally done in C, are not as relevant
now that C is used for a great variety of applications. Instead
of introducing them in the early chapters, as most C books do,
I postpone them until Chapter 20.
- De-emphasize "manual optimization." Many books teach the reader to write nonobvious
code in order to gain small savings in program efficiency. With
today's abundance of optimizing C compilers, these techniques
are often no longer necessary; in fact, they can result in programs
that are less efficient.
- Emphasize compatibility with C++. I'll have more to say about this later.
Each chapter ends with a "Q&A
section"--a series of questions and answers related to material
covered in the chapter. Topics addressed in these sections include:
- Frequently asked questions. I've tried to answer questions that come up frequently
in my own courses, in other books, and on newsgroups related
- Additional discussion and clarification
of tricky issues. Although
readers with experience in a variety of languages may be satisfied
with a brief explanation and a couple of examples, readers with
less experience need more.
- Side issues that don't belong in
the main flow. Some questions
raise technical issues that won't be of interest to all readers.
- Material too advanced or too esoteric
to interest the average reader.
Questions of this nature are marked with an asterisk (*). Curious
readers with a fair bit of programming experience may wish to
delve into these questions immediately; others should definitely
skip them on a first reading. Warning: These questions
often refer to topics covered in later chapters.
- Common differences among C compilers. I discuss some frequently used (but nonstandard)
features that are provided by DOS and UNIX compilers.
Some questions in Q&A sections relate
directly to specific places in the chapter; these places are
marked by a special icon to signal the reader that additional
information is available.
In addition to Q&A sections, I've included
a number of useful features, many of which are marked with simple
but distinctive icons.
alert readers to common pitfalls. C is famous for its traps;
documenting them all is a hopeless--if not impossible--task.
I've tried to pick out the pitfalls that are most common and/or
provide a hypertext-like ability to locate information. Although
many of these are pointers to topics covered later in the book,
some point to previous topics that the reader may wish to review.
patterns frequently seen in C programsare marked for quick
reference. portability tip
- Portability tips
give hints for writing programs that are independent of a particular
machine, compiler, or operating system.
cover topics that aren't strictly part of C but that every knowledgeable
C programmer should be aware of, including unsigned integers,
the IEEE floating-point standard, and Unicode. (See "Source
Code" at the bottom of this page for an example of a sidebar.)
provide valuable reference information.
Choosing illustrative programs isn't an
easy job. If programs are too brief and artificial, readers won't
get any sense of how the features are used in the real world.
On the other hand, if a program is too realistic, its point can
easily be lost in a forest of details. I've chosen a middle course,
using small, simple examples to make concepts clear when they're
first introduced, then gradually building up to complete programs.
I haven't included programs of great length; it's been my experience
that instructors don't have the time to cover them and students
don't have the patience to read them. I don't ignore the issues
that arise in the creation of large programs, thoughChapter
15 (Writing Large Programs) and Chapter 19 (Program Design) cover
them in detail.
Source code for all programs in this book is available via the
World-Wide Web at http://www.gsu.edu/~matknk/cbook. Updates,
corrections, and news about the book are also available through
this Web page.
Coverage of C++
C Programming: A Modern Approach was designed from the beginning to be completely
compatible with C++, so that readers won't develop habits they
must unlearn later. It prepares readers for C++ in three ways:
- By stressing modern design principles
such as information hiding.
- By scattering brief discussions of C++each
tagged with a special "C++" iconthroughout the
- By providing a detailed overview of C++
in Chapter 19.
C++ is complex enough to warrant its own
book. Coincidentally, I just happen to have one in preparation.
For more information, feel free to contact me, or watch my Web
page for news.
This book is designed as a primary text
for a C course at the undergraduate level. Previous programming
experience in a high-level language or assembler is helpful,
but not necessary for a computer-literate reader (an "adept
beginner," as my editor likes to put it).
Since the book is self-contained and usable
for reference as well as learning, it makes an excellent companion
text for a course in data structures, compiler design, operating
systems, computer graphics, or other courses that use C for project
work. It's also suitable for use as one of several books in a
"survey of programming languages" course.
Thanks to its Q&A sections and emphasis
on practical problems, the book will also appeal to readers who
are enrolled in a training class or who are learning C by self-study.
The book is divided into four parts:
- Basic Features of C. Chapters 1-10 cover enough of C to allow the reader
to write single-file programs using arrays and functions.
- Advanced Features of C. Chapters 11-20 build on the material in the earlier
chapters. The topics become a little harder in these chapters,
which provide in-depth coverage of pointers, strings, the preprocessor,
structures, unions, enumerations, and low-level features of C.
In addition, two chapters (15 and 19) offer guidance on program
- The Standard C Library. Chapters 21-26 focus on the C library, a large
collection of functions that come with every compiler. These
chapters are most likely to be used as reference material, although
portions are suitable for lectures.
Appendix A covers the complete syntax of C, with annotations
to explain some of the more obscure points. Appendix B gives
a complete list of C operators. Appendix C describes the differences
between Standard C and Classic C. Appendix D is an alphabetical
listing of all functions in the C library, with a thorough description
of each. Appendix E lists the ASCII character set. An annotated
bibliography points the reader toward other sources of information.
A full-blown course on C should cover Chapters
1-20 in sequence, with topics from Chapters 21-26 added as needed.
A shorter course can omit the following topics without losing
continuity: Section 9.6 (recursive functions), Section 12.4 (pointers
and multidimensional arrays), Section 14.5 (miscellaneous directives),
Section 17.7 (pointers to functions), Chapter 19 (program design),
Section 20.2 (bit-fields in structures), and Section 20.3 (other
Having a variety of good exercises is obviously
essential for a textbook. I've provided over 300 exercises at
a variety of skill levels. Some are brief drill questions. Although
these exercises aren't the most exciting (in fact, they can be
downright boring), I consider them essential for developing skill
in C, in the same way that vocabulary drill is needed in a foreign-language
text or math problems in an algebra text. In addition to drill
questions, I've included a number of short-answer questions and
programming exercises. Short-answer questions require more thought
than drill questions, although answers are usually brief. Programming
exercises ask the reader to write a short program or a piece
of a larger program.
A few exercises have nonobvious answers
(some individuals uncharitably call these "trick questions"the
nerve!). Since C programs often contain abundant examples of
such code, I feel it's necessary to provide some practice. However,
I'll play fair by marking these exercises with an asterisk (*).
Be careful with a starred exercise: either pay close attention
and think hard or skip it entirely.
Errors, Lack of (?)
I've taken great pains to ensure the accuracy
of this book. Inevitably, however, any book of this size contains
a few errors. If you spot one, please email
me or write to me at the following address:
K. N. King
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA 30303-3083
I'd also appreciate hearing about which
features you found especially helpful, which ones you could do
without, and what you'd like to see added.
Copyright © 1996 W.
W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.