Part F - Refinements


Explain procedural programming using nontechnical terminology to inform a business person

"A coding standard should be based firmly on the extensive and rich software development literature, bringing together rules, guidelines and best practices that would otherwise be left scattered throughout many sources"
(Sutter, Alexandrescu, 2005)

The C Standards | Structured Programs | Static Analysis | Guidelines | Exercises

Mature languages attract international standards.  These standards promote uniformity across host platforms.  Committees of compiler writers, academics, applications developers and representatives from various national organizations review, discuss, negotiate and reach consensus on which elements should be included in the standard definition.  Elements that are excluded are called extensions.  Compiler writers include their extensions in their own implementations of the agreed standard. 

A standard definition enables developers to write programs with the expectation that they will compile and run on a wide variety of platforms that support the standard.  By avoiding the use of extensions, we increase the portability of our software.  We call standard-compliant software highly portable

This chapter reviews the C standards that have been defined throughout the language's history, introduces some coding guidelines and describes utilities available for analyzing the degree of portability.

The C Standards

Dennis Ritchie created the C language between 1969 and 1973, while working at AT&T Bell Labs.  Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie published their original description of the language in the classic book entitled "The C Programming Language" in 1978.  They published a second edition in 1988. 

Since then, the C language has undergone three 'standard' definitions: one in 1989, one in 1999 and the latest in 2011. 


In 1982, the American National Standards Institute formed committee X3J11 to propose the first standard for C.  An international group converted this standard with minor modifications into the ISO/IEC 9899:1990 standard, which ANSI subsequently adopted.  This was called Standard C to distinguish it from Kernighan and Ritchie C (K & R C, in short).

Standard C introduced:

  • function prototypes
  • a standard library
  • whitespace before #
  • new keywords

In 1995, ANSI introduced some amendments to Standard C, called C95, which included new conversion specifiers for printf() and scanf() and more library functions.


ISO/IEC approved the second international standard in 1999: ISO/IEC 9899:1999 (C99). 

C99 introduced:

  • long long data type
  • _Bool data type
  • _Complex data type
  • complex arithmetic
  • variable-length arrays
  • // C++ style comments
  • better support for floating-point types, including math functions for all types


ISO/IEC approved the third international standard in 2011: ISO/IEC 9899:2011 (C11). 

C11 introduced:

  • multithreading support
  • improved Unicode support
  • bounds checking interfaces
  • a create and open mode ("x") for fopen()
  • removal of gets()
  • optional support for complex arithmetic
  • optional support for variable-length arrays

The optional support applies to features that had been mandatory under the C99 standard. 

Structured Programs

Software engineers have advocated certain paradigms for developing software.  The Structured Programming paradigm achieves clarity by distinguishing high-level coding techniques from low-level assembly language coding techniques.  The principles of this paradigm apply to coding in many languages, including C.  They may be summarized as follows:

  • a structured program consists solely of three constructs: sequences, selections, and iterations
  • each structured construct exhibits a single entry point and a single exit point
  • statements that jump outside a construct are not allowed with certain exceptions (switch case constructs in the C language)

The following style points highlight structured properties of program code:

  • indent and align code to reveal the structure of the logic
  • indent the code consistently within a structured construct
  • separate constructs by blank lines to improve clarity

Static Analysis

Static analysis of a program can reveal code that might not be portable.  Tools for static analysis flag suspicious code.  Some popular tools for C language programs include:

  • lint - the original analyzer written by Stephen Johnson in 1979
  • Parasoft C/C++ test - plugins for Visual Studio and Eclipse IDEs
  • Splint - a modern open source version of lint

Lint Checking

Consider the following program

 // Lint Checking
 // lint.c

 #include <stdio.h>

 int main(void)
         char c;

         c = getchar();

         if (c == EOF)
                 printf("End of data\n");
                 printf("You entered %c\n", c); 

         return 0;

Under normal settings, the gcc and cl compilers will not issue any warning or error messages.  If this program compiles under either of these compilers and the user enters the "end of data" key-combination, the output will be

 End of data

If this program compiles under an AIX compiler and the user enters "end of data" key-combination, the output will be

 You entered ÿ

AIX compilers store char with a range of 0 to 255, while gcc and cl store char with a range -127 to 127.  To resolve the ambiguity, we declare c as int.

 // Lint Checking
 // lint.c

 #include <stdio.h>

 int main(void)
         int c;

         c = getchar();

         if (c == EOF)
                 printf("End of data\n");
                 printf("You entered %c\n", c); 

         return 0;

To identify this portability issue on an AIX platform, we can pass the source code through the lint code checker:

 lint lint.c
 "lint.c", line 13: warning: comparison of
           unsigned with negative constant 

To identify this portability issue on a cl platform, we change the compiler warning level options to /W4 (warning level 4) and /WX (treat all warnings as errors).

 cl lint.c /W4 /WX

 lint.c(11) : error C2220: warning treated as error 
              - no object file generated
 lint.c(11) : warning C4244: '=' : conversion from
              'int' to 'char', possible loss
              of data


You can find documentation on lint code checkers at


Many organizations establish their own guidelines for maintaining consistency and continuity throughout the life cycle of the applications written by several developers.  Guidelines differ from standards in the scope of their applicability: they are less prescriptive than standards. 

Examples of institutional guidelines include:

Examples of common features in these guidelines include:

  • #includes should follow the header comments
  • #defines should follow the #includes
  • #define constants should be in all CAPS
  • avoid names that differ in case only
  • avoid names that look like each other
  • constants should be of the same data type as the variables that the constants initialize
  • avoid declarations that shadow declarations at a higher level
  • avoid assuming the ASCII collating sequence
  • split compound conditions into one simple condition per line
  • avoid defaulting a test condition to non-zero
  • compare to FALSE rather than TRUE
  • comment each fall through in a switch case:
  • attach unary operators to their operand without spaces
  • compare a pointer to NULL instead of to 0
  • avoid assumptions about parameter passing and the order of their evaluation
  • avoid possible side effects such as a[i] = b[i++];


  • Read Wikipedia on Structured Programming
  • Analyze your solutions to your assignments using a lint code checker

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