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C# vs. C++: Which programming language should you choose?

If you’re new to programming, it can be hard to decide where to start. There are just so many programming languages to choose from. Some are named so similarly that it is hard to know the difference between them, like C# and C++.

Learning a programming language takes some time and study, so it helps to know which one will work better for you before you start, although the knowledge you gain from learning one language will help you learn other languages more easily in the future. In this article, we will look at C++ and C# to help you determine which programming language is for you.

History of C++ and C#

C++ is older than C# by quite a few years. C++ was created as an extension of the C programming language in 1985 by Bjarne Stroustrup. He wanted to add features and object-oriented capabilities to the C language while retaining the speed and efficiency for which it was famous. Making the language object-oriented meant that code written in it would be more modular, less complex, and reusable. It would also save development time. The popularity of C++ took off, and it became the language of choice for applications where performance was a necessity.

C# is actually another extension of the C language. Microsoft released it to compete with the Java programming language in 2000 and designed it to run on Microsoft's .NET framework. It is also an object-oriented language with all the benefits that it brings. For many years, it only ran on the Windows operating system and was one of the most popular programming languages on that platform. Now, C# can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux using the .NET core runtime, and it has become a popular language on all of these platforms.

How are C++ and C# similar?

Considering that both C++ and C# are extensions of the C programming language, there are some similarities between the two languages:

  • Based on the C programming language: This means that the syntax of both languages is similar. They both use brackets to divide code into blocks and require semicolons at the end of lines.
  • Object-oriented: Both of these languages are object-oriented. This means you can write code in both languages that are modular, flexible, and reusable.
  • Compiled: Both C++ and C# are compiled languages. This means that once you are done writing the code, you must run it through a compiler that turns it into an executable file that can run by itself on the platform it was compiled for. For example, you can create a .exe file in either language to run on Windows.

How is C# different from C++?

While there are a few similarities between C# and C++, there are also a lot of differences:

  • Performance: C++ code is much more performant than C# code. C++ applications are compiled to interact directly with the hardware in a specific operating system. C# applications are compiled for the .NET runtime, which can add more overhead and slow applications down because it adds a layer between your code and the hardware.
  • Compiler warnings: C++ will let you compile any code if the syntax is correct. But it is a low-level language, so it is possible to write code that can damage the operating system and hardware. C# provides compiler warnings that will notify you when you write code that can cause issues.
  • Garbage collection: C# handles your memory for you and automatically removes objects from memory when they are no longer needed. In C++, you must handle this memory management yourself and can easily create memory leaks if you are new to the language.
  • Binary size: Although both languages compile your code into a binary file, they do so differently. C++ applications are compiled for a specific platform and include only those libraries necessary for your code to run on that platform. C# is designed for use with the .NET framework. Much is included in the compiled binary, even if your specific code doesn't need some of the framework, so C++ executables are smaller than C# executables.

Because of these differences, there are also differences in what type of applications each language is suited for. We will look at that next.

Which language should you use: C# or C++?

Usually, this decision comes down to whether you need high-performance software or a quicker, easier development process. If performance is your top priority, then C++ is the way to go. If performance doesn't matter that much, you prefer not to get bogged down coding the details of everything, and you want the project done quickly, then you should go with C#.

Desktop applications

C# was originally designed for Windows, and it uses the .NET framework. This framework comes with all the pre-built tools you need to create the graphical user interface (GUI) for a desktop application. While it is possible to make desktop applications using C++, it involves a lot more time and complexity. You will have to use a third-party GUI library, which can be as complex as the programming language itself. For that reason, C# is usually the better choice for desktop software.

Game development

Video games are both processor- and memory-intensive, and 3D video games must interact with the GPU of the computer. The performance that C++ brings to applications makes it one of the most popular programming languages used in game development. You can use C# for game development with the Unity framework, but most of the top video games are written in C++.

Web development

While a website's performance does matter, the speed that a language like C++ adds is not worth the time it would take to develop a web application using it. For web development, C# is one of the top choices for creating web applications on both the Windows and Linux platforms.

IoT devices

IoT devices include smartwatches, TVs, cars, appliances, medical devices, and more. These devices have limited computing resources because the hardware is embedded inside the device. C++ allows developers to control processes at the hardware level and, in most cases, is the only language you can use on these devices.

Learn more about C# and C++

If you want to learn a higher-level programming language that does some of the work — like memory management — for you and you lean towards building desktop applications, web applications, and server software for Linux or Windows, then C# may be for you. You can get started today with Learn C#.

If you want to learn a high-performance lower-level programming language used to program operating systems, video games, and all sorts of hardware, then you might want to go with C++ and our Learn C++ course. You can also read more about what C++ is used for on on our blog.

What did you decide? C# or C++? Of course, you can always learn both!

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Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller has been a full-stack, mobile, and machine learning developer for two decades and has written code for companies both big and small, both startups and established businesses.

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C# vs. C++: Which programming language should you choose?
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