A Brief History of C Programming

C was not the very first programming language. But for the shake of C programming language, the programming world has been changed entirely. It is very interesting to know about the development of the C programming language. Here we will discuss the brief history of C programming language.

C is a widely known general-purpose programming language. But initially, it was not intended to be a general-purpose language. C was specially designed for the development of the UNIX operating system. It was developed by Dennis M. Ritchie in 1972 at the Bell Laboratories. But the continuous development process of C went through a progress. Let’s talk about the initial development of the C programming language.

Initial Development

The first version of the Unix operating system was written in assembly language by Dennis M. Ritchie. Then it was implemented on a PDP-7 minicomputer. To develop utility programs for the operating system, programming languages is a must. Thompson – co-designer of UNIX operating system tried to make utility programs by implementing a Fortran compiler. But it did not work.

After then Thompson modified the syntax of BCPL language. The modified version is known as B programming language. Using B, Thompson wrote some utility programs which was very slow. At the time, to cope with this problem, Dennis M. Ritchie started to improve the B programming language. Eventually, Dennis M. Ritchie discovered the traditional version of the C programming language. Finally, the 4th version of Unix kernel was implemented by C programming language.

As already said, C was not the first programming language. Let’s see programming languages that were designed before modern C.

Year Languages Developed by
1957 Fortran John Backus
1960 Algol International Group
1967 BCPL Martin Richard
1970 B (Impr. version of BCPL) Ken Thompson
1972 C (Impr. version of B) Dennis Ritchie
1978 K&R C Kernighan & Dennis Ritchie
1989 ANSI C ANSI Standard
1990 ISO C ISO Standards
1999 C99 Standardization Committee

K&R C Model

In 1978, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan developed a new standard version of C. And the first version of “The C Programming Language” was based on K&R C. It is a standard version of old C programming language. K&R C programming introduced several high-level features including:

  • unsigned int data type
  • int data type
  • compound assignment operators
  • struct or union data types for function
  • void function
  • Standard I/O library etc.


During 1970-1980, C was implemented in a variety of microcomputer, minicomputer and mainframe computer. But because of the problem of Standardization of C programming language, it was not fully portable. Then for the shake of Standardization, ANSI formed a committee named X3J11. And the committee developed the standard version of C programming with a specification manual for Standardization. This version of C is still known as ANSI C or C89.

After then with some more changes, In 1990, ANSI adopted by the  ISO (International Organization for Standardization) to distribute the C programming language widely with universal standards. This version of C programming language is known as ANSI/ISO C or C90.

In general, C89 and C90 are the same in features, syntax, and standards.


This is the period of modern C programming language comes with lots of features and standard library functions. Below the timeline is responsible for the development of modern C programming language.

  • In 1999, ISO released another version of C programming language known as C99. This version introduces some new features like one-line comment, new data types (long long int, complex), inline functions, etc.
  • In 2011, The C committee released another version of C. The development of this version started in 2017. And before the final release, it was informally known as C1X.
  •  The latest and current version of C programming is C18. It introduced some new features and fixed some defates found in the C11.

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