Python vs C: important differences you should know

With the world of software development changing so rapidly it can be hard to stay abreast with the array of programming languages available at your disposal. After all, not all programming languages were built equally and their use cases vary depending on the task at hand. 

While new languages often try to solve novel issues that can seem difficult to approach with existing and mature programming languages, sometimes the trade-off of adopting a newer language can be unfavourable. 

Two programming languages that come to mind in this regard are Python and C. Both of these languages were designed for very different use cases and both are extremely popular among the software development community. 

So what are some of the key differences between the two and under which circumstances would one be favourable over the other?

Overview of Python and C

Between Python and C, Python is fairly new compared to C which has been around for several decades. While there are similarities between the languages, they are quite different at the core. 

Python was first released in 1991 and has gained a massive following over the last decade, Python is currently the world’s most popular programming language according to the PYPL (2022) index. 

C on the other hand is much older, it is arguably one of the oldest programming languages and it was first released in mid-1972. Based on the PYPL (2022) index C falls a little short of popularity compared to Python, which is currently ranked as the world’s 6th most popular language.

Usage of Python and C

Python is a general purpose programming language which makes it very useful to develop software. Python has exploded in popularity among data scientists and back-end development given how well it can be used to build data driven applications. It has been widely adopted as the “go to” language for developing applications that require some component of artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

C is a low-level structural programming language which allows developers to write code closer to the machine. C can be used to write much larger and complicated applications compared to Python, including operating systems and native software that can be installed on an array of machines. Given that C is a low-level language, developers are afforded the opportunity to write code that takes into account memory management as well.

Syntax of programming languages

When it comes to the syntax of programming languages, developers usually prefer a language which adopts a readable and easy to understand syntax, this enables more efficient code to be written. However, this often results in a trade-off like many things in programming. 

Programming language syntax is a huge consideration in determining whether or not to use a given programming language. Between C and Python, C has a much harder programming syntax and even a novice Python programmer will most likely agree with this. 

With that said, as mentioned before, it is possible to build much more intricate applications with C. For example, one major benefit of C being a low level programming language, it can be used to create software for popular microcontrollers such as the Arduino, which is commonly used in internet of things projects (IoT) to gather environmental data from various sensors. 

In contrast, Python is a lot more human readable and probably one of the easiest programming languages to learn if you are just getting started. It is also worth noting that some complex programs written in C can easily be written in just a few lines of code when using Python.

Variable declaration when working with Python and C

One of the first most notable differences when working with Python and C is the approach in declaring variables. Since variables are usually one of the key concepts learned with any programming language, it becomes quite obvious how each of these programming languages handle things like variable declaration differently. 

In C, variables are declared using a static approach, this implies that before a variable is created, the data type must first be declared and cannot be changed at a later stage. 

While this approach does lack flexibility, it helps reduce the likelihood of unexpected errors and the amount of time it requires to debug an application. Variable declaration is a lot more dynamic in Python. When declaring a variable, there is no need to specify the data type as Python is able to automatically infer the data type when a variable is created. This is very similar to JavaScript – the programming language of the web, which is just as easy to learn as Python. 

Since variables are handled in a more dynamic fashion, it makes it a lot more flexible to update them throughout a program. This also affords developers to write more efficient code, however the chances of running into bugs are higher.

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