[TUHS] History of popularity of C

Toby Thain toby at telegraphics.com.au
Sat May 23 00:59:27 AEST 2020

On 2020-05-22 7:09 AM, arnold at skeeve.com wrote:
> Tyler Adams <coppero1237 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> So, now Im curious about embedded systems. In my limited experience, every
>> "embedded system" I programmed for from 2002-2011 had C as its primary
>> language. After 2011, I stopped programming embedded systems, so I don't
>> know after that. Why was C so dominant in this space?
> First of all, because C is the (almost) perfect language for embedded
> systems - tight code generated, language close to the metal, etc. etc.

To my recollection, in 1985 C wasn't firstly considered an embedded
language; it was considered an applications language (so was assembly,
but we could say that was tapering off).

I believe the explosion in popularity was due to that lesson from Unix,
that you could have a single portable language for both "system" code
and applications code, with a modern looking syntax, that could be self
hosted and compiled to reasonably efficient machine code.

All those tradeoffs and definitions are very different 40 years later,
of course. (And C was far from the first or only language that met those
criteria before 1975. It just happened to take off.)

>> Is it because adding
>> a backend to gcc was free, C was already well known, and C was sufficiently
>> performant?
> Cygnus Solutions (Hi John!) had a lot to do with this. They specialized
> in porting GCC to different processors used in embedded systems and
> provided support.

Having to get a paid consultant doesn't exactly argue for the idea that
C compilers were "easy" - plus it's almost a decade after the period of
high growth. So this doesn't seem strong support for the thesis quoted
by OP.


> Arnold

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