Java vs. C: Which Should You Learn?

Java vs. C. Why learn one over the other? It depends on your goals. Read this comparison to decide which programming language to learn.

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by Sharon Wilfong

Published August 5, 2022

Reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

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Before deciding between Java vs. C, ask yourself why you want to learn to code. Are you interested in mobile technology, web development, or game design? Do you enjoy creating the steps to make something function properly?

Software developers design computer applications, websites, games, databases, and programs. Systems software developers create operating systems that control most consumer electronics, including cell phones and automobiles.

According to the Tiobe index, Python, C, Java, and C++ shared almost 50% of the market in July 2022. Java and C are two of many programming languages developers and programmers use.

People also choose to use one or the other for specific reasons. To that end, as you're researching Java vs. C, it's good to take note of popular courses and languages.

The Tiobe index indicates a programming language's popularity, counting skilled engineers worldwide, courses, and third-party vendors. Popular languages typically have robust communities and resources.

What Is Java?

Sun Microsystems released Java in 1995. In 2021, Statista data indicated it was among the most used programming languages worldwide. So, what is Java, and why do developers and programmers use it?

Java is an object-oriented language (OOL) that makes complex problems, testing, and troubleshooting easier. Back-end developers use this server-side language because it's reliable, fast, and secure.

Java supports several concepts, including objects, classes, inheritance, and encapsulation. For example, objects have states, such as a color or name, and behaviors like eating or jogging.

Developers and programmers can create objects in Java using classes to define attributes, behaviors, and inheritance for reusable code that allows for differences. The Java programming language and Java Runtime Environment (JRE) are popular for developing enterprise software, app development, and data analytics.

The JRE is the underlying technology that facilitates communication between Java programming and an operating system. It provides resources, class libraries, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), and supporting files to run Java software.

What Is C?

Bell Labs and Dennis Ritchie developed C in the early 1970s for the UNIX operating system. Today, C runs under various operating systems and hardware platforms.

What is C, and why is it still in use? C is a procedural language that specifies a series of steps to solve a problem. C structure features include sequence, selection, iteration, subroutines, and blocks. C can handle low-level activities and features typically provided in assembly or machine language.

As the program evolved, C released different versions, including C++, to expand C, adding more options. For example, the primary C language is not an OOL, as it doesn't support class, encapsulation, or inheritance.

However, C++ is an object-oriented extension of C with almost the same syntax. The most significant difference between the two is that C++ supports classes and objects.

Software developers use C for operating systems, graphical user interfaces, and compiler design applications.

Java vs. C

Java and C are two of the top programming languages today, but they are significantly different. Here's a look into what distinguishes them from one another.

High-Level vs. Low Level

When it comes to high-level vs. low-level languages, high-level programming languages are easier to learn. They're closer to natural language than low-level languages.

However, machines can't interpret Java and other high-level languages, so they need an interpreter or compiler to translate. Java uses compilation and interpretation.

It can compile code into machine language for the JVM using bytecode to run on any computer with an interpreter. A Java-written software program could also compile directly into a computer's machine language.

However, using Java and Java bytecode makes this language platform-independent and network-compatible. It also maintains security and allows programming in a high-level object-oriented language.

Conversely, C supports low-level assembly language and machine languages that are more challenging for programmers and developers to write. These bitwise operations are faster because they don't require translation.

Most C operations take less than ten seconds to translate into machine instructions. By comparison, high-level languages often require multiple instructions to implement an operation.

Procedural vs. Object-Oriented

A procedural language is a computer programming language that follows a set of commands in order. In contrast, object-oriented languages use objects that contain data (attributes and code) with instructions.

Procedural programming uses small divisions, called functions, while object-oriented programming divides the parts into objects. Additionally, procedural programming takes a top-down approach, and object-oriented programming takes a bottom-up approach.

Basically, a bottom-up model focuses on identifying and resolving minor problems first, then integrating them to solve more significant problems. Top-down models focus on breaking bigger problems into smaller ones and repeating the process for each situation.

Also, in procedural programming, the function is more important than the data, and the opposite is true of object-oriented programming. Another consideration is that procedural programming is less secure while object-oriented programming hides data, so it's more secure.

Object-oriented programming uses abstraction, enabling programmers to abstract (hide) details from users. For example, an ATM withdrawal uses various system configurations, but users don't see those underlying processes.

Memory

There are three types of C runtime memory: static/global, stack, and heap. Global and static memory is allocated for the lifetime of the program, while the stack stores types of variables with a fixed lifetime.

Stacks are in a section of RAM that grows and shrinks while the program runs. The heap allocates a block of dynamic memory using dynamic memory allocation.

In Java, memory management is automatic and involves two main parts: the JVM memory structure and the garbage collector. JVM creates runtime data in a heap for program execution, and garbage collection ensures the heap has sufficient free space.

Speed

The answer isn't straightforward regarding C vs. Java and the question of speed. Instead, it's about the end result and the fact that programming languages, platforms, and processes continue to evolve.

Historically, the C programming language provides faster processing, as it is a low-level code and a compiled language that doesn't need interpretation. Java is a high-level language containing layers of code that must process before it reaches the hardware.

Java needs a compiler to interpret it into a lower-level language, which typically makes it slower than C. However, some compilers produce more efficient code by removing unnecessary artifacts.

Java vs. C Careers

C is useful for various enterprise, gaming, and Android development applications. It's at the center of many major operating systems. C is an excellent option if you want to build a solid foundation in software development.

Software developers and engineers are in demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS projects a 22% growth from 2020-2030, with around 189,200 on average openings yearly. These professionals typically need a bachelor's degree in software engineering, information technology, or computer science.

On the other hand, if you want to create mobile apps, Java could be a great choice. According to the BLS, jobs for web developers and digital designers are also in demand. The BLS projects the need for these roles to grow by 13% between 2020-2030.

How to Learn Java or C

Coding bootcamps are one of the quickest ways to learn a new programming language, and there are many online options. Many coding bootcamps provide curricula specifically to meet the requirements for software and web development jobs.

For example, the Software Guild's full-time Java bootcamp takes 12 weeks, and the school partners with over 450 employers. Similarly, you can learn C by completing a bootcamp.

Or, you can start by taking a free or inexpensive course online to familiarize yourself with the basics. If you decide you want a broader education, consider earning a bachelor's degree in computer programming or computer science.

Frequently Asked Questions About C vs. Java

Is C or Java easier to learn?

It's a general consensus that Java is easier to learn because its syntax is closer to natural language than C. What's more, Java already has many built-in features to use, including graphics and sound.

The Java language is the third most popular and used language in the world in Jul 2022, according to the Tiobe index. However, it is worth noting that third is its lowest position since 2001.

Popularity is important because it means there's a vibrant community you can look to for support. There are also many ways to learn Java, from YouTube, to free online courses and intensive coding bootcamps.

What is the difference between C++ and C#?

C++ and C# are evolutions of the C programming language developed to expand the language's capabilities. Like C, C++ is a low-level programming language. However, it has object-oriented features added to its base language.

C++ is also much more lightweight than C#, which needs translation before it can compile. C++ compiles down to machine code, following specific architecture.

In contrast, C# is a high-level language that uses a compiler and runs in a virtual machine. In addition, C#'s virtual machine provides automatic memory management, while C++ needs manual memory management.

Their uses also vary. For example, C++ is widely used in gaming, while C# programmers use the language to create applications.

Does a C programmer or Java programmer get paid more?

According to Indeed, as of July 2022, Java developers made slightly more than C developers, earning an average base salary of $105,680 per year. C developers made an average base salary of $101,490 per year, as per Indeed July 2022 data.

The average pay for both languages varies greatly depending on the programmer's skill level, where they live, and their work experience.

Feature Image: Audtakorn Sutarmjam / EyeEm / Getty Images

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