JavaJava versus C Programming Language Comparison

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Java Programming tutorials

Java and C are two of the most popular and widely used programming languages in the world. Both languages sport their own unique features and characteristics and there are quite a few significant differences between them. In this programming tutorial, we will cover the differences between Java and C in an effort to help developers choose which language is best suited for their software development needs.

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What are the Differences Between Java and C?

Below, we will look at some of the main differences between the Java and C programming languages, including:

  • Syntax
  • Portability
  • Memory Allocation
  • Object-oriented features
  • Performance and speed
  • Exception handling and errors
  • Libraries
  • Debugging

Syntax Differences Between Java and C

Java and C, despite being closely related, do have a number of syntactical differences from one another. This is partially due to the fact that C is a low-level programming language requiring manual memory management, whereas Java is a high-level programming language that automatically manages memory for developers, which we will discuss in greater detail below.

For instance, in C, programmers have to declare the data type of a variable before using it and must do so in the beginning of a block of code or start of a method. In Java, developers must also declare data types but they can declare their variables anywhere within a method or block of code. For instance, here is a code example showing how to declare a variable in C:

int exampleNum = 20;
printf("%d", exampleNum);  // prints 20 to the screen

Here is an example of how to declare a variable in Java:

public class Main {
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    int exampleNum = 20;

Both of the above code examples declares a variable named exampleNum and then uses a function to print out the value we assigned (20) to the user’s screen.

Additionally, Java has two variables types – primitive and non-primitive – and C has only the primitive type of variable.

Both C and Java require programmers to end statements using semicolons – not doing so will result in errors. Code blocks in C, however, are enclosed within curly braces { } and do not require indentation. Java, for its part, also requires code blocks to be placed between curly braces, but does require programmers to use proper indentation as well.

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A major difference (and a considerable advantage) of Java over C has to do with portability. Portability is the ability of a program written in a language to run on other platforms, systems, or architectures. Java programs, for instance, are considered highly portable, as they can run on any platform that has a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) installed. The JVM’s role is to convert Java code into machine code that can then be executed by the operating system. This process makes applications written in Java platform-independent and easy to distribute.

C, meanwhile, is less portable, and many C programs are platform-dependent. This means that they need to be compiled for each different platform, provided those systems have a C compiler (most systems do these days). Since C is a iow-level programming language that often takes advantage of hardware, it can be more difficult to make C applications portable. This can be a problem when it comes to distributing software to multiple platforms, as the code will need to be compiled separately for each platform. That being said, most C programs can run on the popular systems today, and while Java is more portable, C is technically described as being portable too – just not as portable as Java.

Memory Management and Allocations

Memory management involves working with memory allocation and memory resources and is a feature of certain low-level programming languages, such as C. The ability for programmers to directly access memory can be seen as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Manual memory management is a benefit because it lets developers tweak memory usage, which can enhance application performance. On the flipside, manual memory management is a disadvantage, because programmers have to remember to allocate memory resources, release those resources, and perform garbage collection – if they do this wrong or forget, it leads to errors, memory leaks, and segmentation faults in applications. It is also a time consuming process, which makes programmers less efficient.

Java, meanwhile, has the Java Virtual Machine, which makes memory management an automated process. This means that developers do not have to worry about allocating or deallocating memory themselves. The JVM takes care of memory allocation and garbage collection for coders, ensuring that memory is used efficiently and effectively.

Object-oriented Features

Most developers consider Java to be a fully object-oriented programming language, but this is not quite true. Instead, Java is a programming language that has Object-oriented features. The reason it is not a true OOP language has to do with the fact that it supports primitive and non-primitive data types, whereas data types in true OOP languages are objects. Still, Java does have OOP features, including classes, objects, polymorphism, encapsulation, and inheritance. These OOP features make Java code more maintainable, reusable, easier to troubleshoot, and simpler to maintain.

C, meanwhile, is not an Object-oriented programming language. Instead, C uses functions to encapsulate code, but while it can mimic some OOP principles, it is not, itself, Object-oriented. It is a procedural language, and follows the procedural paradigm.

Performance and Speed

When choosing a programming language, another element to consider is application performance and speed. C, being a low-level programming language that is compiled directly into machine code, is very fast and efficient. This is one of the reasons C has thrived and is often for systems programming, which includes applications like operating systems, device drivers, and embedded programming.

Java, for its part, is an interpreted language, meaning it runs on its own virtual machine (the aforementioned JVM) and does not get compiled in the same manner that C does. The JVM does optimize Java code, but there is still a good deal of performance overhead compared to C. In modern systems, however, and through the use of Java libraries aimed at enhancing Java performance, this difference is mostly negligible.

Exceptions Handling and Errors

Java comes with built-in support for exception handling. This allows developers to write more robust code that can recover when unexpected errors occur. In Java, when an exception is thrown, code will move to the nearest catch block, which allows for graceful recovery from errors. This is known as a try-catch block.

C has no built-in support for handling exceptions. C developers, instead, use error codes to determine when an error occurs and handle them manually through the use of conditional statements. Because of this, C code can be more difficult to read, maintain, and troubleshoot, as error handling code can easily become complicated and messy.


Java and C both have standard libraries that give developers a set of pre-built functions and classes that can be used during the software development process. That being said, the type and number of built-in libraries is quite different between the two languages.

The Java standard library has a large set of classes and functions that cover a wide range of programming tasks, which include I/O operations, security, networking, and graphical user interface (GUI) programming – to name but a few. These libraries make Java a popular choice for programmers who work with large-scale, highly scalable applications and enterprise software systems.

The C standard library, meanwhile, is smaller and focuses more on low-level programming tasks, which can include tasks for string manipulation, memory management, and file input/output. The built-in libraries offered by C make it a popular choice for systems and embedded programming, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), where low-level control over hardware is required.


Debugging can be a difficult process even for experienced and veteran programmers. Fortunately, both Java and C provide debugging tools that help programmers find (and fix) errors in their code.

For Java, the Java Virtual Machine provides a debugger developers can use to step through code, create breakpoints, and inspect variables. This process makes it much easier to identify and fix errors in Java applications.

C developers have a mix of debugging tools to choose from, including gdb and valgrind. These debugging tools have similar features to the Java debugger, such as stepping through code and variable inspection.

Final Thoughts on Java versus C

In this programming tutorial, we learned that both Java and C are popular programming languages used by software development teams the world over. They each come with their own unique features and strengths. Java is a high-level programming language with Object-oriented features. Java provides automated memory management and garbage collection, portability, and a large set of standard libraries. Java is a great choice for developers who want to develop large-scale applications and enterprise software systems, as well as video games, mobile applications, and desktop apps – to name but a few.

C, for its part, is a low-level language that gives developers direct access to, and control over, hardware. C code can be compiled directly into machine language, giving it a slight advantage in the speed and efficiency department. C is a great choice for programmers who want to create operating systems, other languages, develop systems, driver software, or embedded applications.

When making the choice between Java and C, programmers will want to consider the specific requirements of their software development projects. If you require portability, automated memory management, and want to take advantage of a large standard library, then Java is your best choice. If your project will need direct access to hardware, low-level control, and enhanced performance, then you cannot go wrong choosing C as your programming language.

Which ever path you choose, both Java and C are powerful programming languages that developer can use to program a wide range of software applications. Understanding the differences between Java and C, coders can choose the language that is best suited for their specific needs and preferences. Or, alternatively, you can always choose both!

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