2. Compiling and Running Your First Program

In this chapter, you are introduced to the C language so that you can see what programming in C is all about. What better way to gain an appreciation for this language than by taking a look at an actual program written in C?

This chapter is short, but you’ll be surprised at how much ground you can cover in a brief chapter, including

  • Writing your first program.
  • Modifying it to change its output.
  • Understanding the main() function.
  • Outputting information with the printf() function
  • Improving your program’s readability with comments

To begin with, you’ll choose a rather simple example—a program that displays the phrase “Programming is fun.” in your window. Program 2.1 shows a C program to accomplish this task.

Program 2.1 Writing Your First C Program

In the C programming language, lowercase and uppercase letters are distinct. In addition, in C, it does not matter where on the line you begin typing—you can begin typing your statement at any position on the line. This fact can be used to your advantage in developing programs that are easier to read. Tab characters are often used by programmers as a convenient way to indent lines.

Compiling Your Program

Returning to your first C program, you first need to type it into a file. Any text editor can be used for this purpose. Unix users often use an editor such as vi or emacs.

C compilers recognize filenames that end in the two characters “.” and “c” as C programs. So, assume you type Program 2.1 into a file called prog1.c. Next, you need to compile the program.

Using the GNU C compiler, this can be as simple as issuing the gcc command at the terminal followed by the filename, like this:

$ gcc prog1.c

If you’re using the standard Unix C compiler, the command is cc instead of gcc. Here, the text you typed is entered in bold. The dollar sign is your command prompt if you’re compiling your C program from the command line. Your actual command prompt might be some characters other than the dollar sign.

If you make any mistakes keying in your program, the compiler lists them after you enter the gcc command, typically identifying the line numbers from your program that contain the errors. If, instead, another command prompt appears, as is shown in the preceding example, no errors were found in your program.

When the compiler compiles and links your program, it creates an executable version of your program. Using the GNU or standard C compiler, this program is called a.out by default. Under Windows, it is often called a.exe instead.

Running Your Program

You can now run the executable by simply typing its name on the command line:1

1. If you get an error like this: a.out: No such file or directory, then it probably means the current directory is not in your PATH. You can either add it to your PATH or type the following at the command prompt: ./a.out.

$ a.out
Programming is fun.

You can also specify a different name for the executable file at the time the program is compiled. This is done with the –o (that’s the letter O) option, which is followed by the name of the executable. For example, the command line

$ gcc prog1.c –o prog1

compiles the program prog1.c, placing the executable in the file prog1, which can subsequently be executed just by specifying its name:

$ prog1
Programming is fun.

Understanding Your First Program

Take a closer look at your first program. The first line of the program

#include <stdio.h>

should be included at the beginning of just about every program you write. It tells the compiler information about the printf() output routine that is used later in the program. Chapter 12, “The Preprocessor,” discusses in detail what this line does.

The line of the program that reads

int main (void)

informs the system that the name of the program is main(), and that it returns an integer value, which is abbreviated “int.” main() is a special name that indicates precisely where the program is to begin execution. The open and close parentheses immediately following main() specify that main() is the name of a function. The keyword void that is enclosed in the parentheses specifies that the function main() takes no arguments (that is, it is void of arguments). These concepts are explained in great detail in Chapter 7, “Working with Functions.”


If you’re using an IDE, you may find that it generates a template main() for you. In such a case, you may find the first line of main() looks more like this:

int main(int argc, char *argv[])

This won’t affect your program’s operation, so just ignore the differences for now.

Now that you have identified main() to the system, you are ready to specify precisely what this routine is to perform. This is done by enclosing all program statements of the routine within a pair of curly braces. All program statements included between the braces are taken as part of the main() routine by the system. In Program 2.1, you have only two such statements. This statement specifies that a routine named printf() is to be invoked or called. The parameter or argument to be passed to the printf() routine is the string of characters

"Programming is fun.\n"

The printf() routine is a function in the C library that simply prints or displays its argument (or arguments, as you will see shortly) on your screen. The last two characters in the string, namely the backslash (\) and the letter n, are known collectively as the newline character. A newline character tells the system to do precisely what its name implies—that is, go to a new line. Any characters to be printed after the newline character then appear on the next line of the display. In fact, the newline character is similar in concept to the carriage return key on a typewriter. (Remember those?)

All program statements in C must be terminated by a semicolon (;). This is the reason for the semicolon that appears immediately following the closing parenthesis of the printf() call.

The last statement in main() that reads

return 0;

says to finish execution of main(), and return to the system a status value of 0. You can use any integer here. Zero is used by convention to indicate that the program completed successfully—that is, without running into any errors. Different numbers can be used to indicate different types of error conditions that occurred (such as a file not being found). This exit status can be tested by other programs (such as the Unix shell) to see whether the program ran successfully.

Now that you’ve finished analyzing your first program, you can modify it to also display the phrase “And programming in C is even more fun.” This can be done by the simple addition of another call to the printf() routine, as shown in Program 2.2. Remember that every C program statement must be terminated by a semicolon.

Program 2.2

If you type in Program 2.2 and then compile and execute it, you can expect the following output in your program’s output window, sometimes called the “console.”

Program 2.2 Output

Programming is fun.
And programming in C is even more fun.

As you will see from the next program example, it is not necessary to make a separate call to the printf() routine for each line of output. Study the program listed in Program 2.3 and try to predict the results before examining the output. (No cheating now!)

Program 2.3 Displaying Multiple Lines of Output

Program 2.3 Output


Displaying the Values of Variables

The printf() routine is the most commonly used routine in this book. This is because it provides an easy and convenient means to display program results. Not only can simple phrases be displayed, but the values of variables and the results of computations can also be displayed. In fact, Program 2.4 uses the printf() routine to display the results of adding two numbers, namely 50 and 25.

Program 2.4 Displaying Variables

Program 2.4 Output

The sum of 50 and 25 is 75

In Program 2.4, the first C program statement declares the variable sum to be of type integer. C requires that all program variables be declared before they are used in a program. The declaration of a variable specifies to the C compiler how a particular variable will be used by the program. This information is needed by the compiler to generate the correct instructions to store and retrieve values into and out of the variable. A variable declared as type int can only be used to hold integral values; that is, values without decimal places. Examples of integral values are 3, 5, −20, and 0. Numbers with decimal places, such as 3.14, 2.455, and 27.0, for example, are known as floating-point numbers.

The integer variable sum is used to store the result of the addition of the two integers 50 and 25. A blank line was intentionally left following the declaration of this variable to visually separate the variable declarations of the routine from the program statements; this is strictly a matter of style. Sometimes, the addition of a single blank line in a program can help to make the program more readable.

The program statement

sum = 50 + 25;

reads as it would in most other programming languages: The number 50 is added (as indicated by the plus sign) to the number 25, and the result is stored (as indicated by the assignment operator, the equal sign) in the variable sum.

The printf() routine call in Program 2.4 now has two items or arguments enclosed within the parentheses. These arguments are separated by a comma. The first argument to the printf() routine is always the character string to be displayed. However, along with the display of the character string, you might also frequently want to have the value of certain program variables displayed. In this case, you want to have the value of the variable sum displayed at the terminal after the characters

The sum of 50 and 25 is

are displayed. The percent character inside the first argument is a special character recognized by the printf() function. The character that immediately follows the percent sign specifies what type of value is to be displayed at that point. In the preceding program, the letter i is recognized by the printf() routine as signifying that an integer value is to be displayed.2

2. Note that printf also allows you to specify %d format characters to display an integer. This book consistently uses %i throughout the remaining chapters.

Whenever the printf() routine finds the %i characters inside a character string, it automatically displays the value of the next argument to the printf() routine. Because sum is the next argument to printf(), its value is automatically displayed after the characters “The sum of 50 and 25 is ” are displayed.

Now try to predict the output from Program 2.5.

Program 2.5 Displaying Multiple Values

Program 2.5 Output

The sum of 50 and 25 is 75

The first program statement declares three variables called value1, value2, and sum all to be of type int. This statement could have equivalently been expressed using three separate declaratory statements as follows:

int value1;
int value2;
int sum;

After the three variables have been declared, the program assigns the value 50 to the variable value1 and then assigns 25 to value2. The sum of these two variables is then computed, and the result is assigned to the variable sum.

The call to the printf() routine now contains four arguments. Once again, the first argument, commonly called the format string, describes to the system how the remaining arguments are to be displayed. The value of value1 is to be displayed immediately following the display of the “The sum of ” characters. Similarly, the values of value2 and sum are to be printed at the appropriate points, as indicated by the next two occurrences of the %i characters in the format string.


The final program in this chapter (Program 2.6) introduces the concept of the comment. A comment statement is used in a program to document a program and to enhance its readability. As you will see from the following example, comments serve to tell the reader of the program—the programmer or someone else whose responsibility it is to maintain the program—just what the programmer had in mind when he or she wrote a particular program or a particular sequence of statements.

Program 2.6 Using Comments in a Program

Program 2.6 Output

The sum of 50 and 25 is 75

There are two ways to insert comments into a C program. A comment can be initiated by the two characters / and *. This marks the beginning of the comment. These types of comments have to be terminated. To end the comment, the characters * and / are used without any embedded spaces. All characters included between the opening /* and the closing */ are treated as part of the comment statement and are ignored by the C compiler. This form of comment is often used when comments span several lines in the program. The second way to add a comment to your program is by using two consecutive slash characters //. Any characters that follow these slashes up to the end of the line are ignored by the compiler.

In Program 2.6, four separate comment statements were used. This program is otherwise identical to Program 2.5. Admittedly, this is a contrived example because only the first comment at the head of the program is useful. (Yes, it is possible to insert so many comments into a program that the readability of the program is actually degraded instead of improved!)

The intelligent use of comment statements inside a program cannot be overemphasized. Many times, a programmer returns to a program that he coded perhaps only six months ago, only to discover to his dismay that he could not for the life of him remember the purpose of a particular routine or of a particular group of statements. A simple comment statement judiciously inserted at that particular point in the program might have saved a significant amount of time otherwise wasted on rethinking the logic of the routine or set of statements.

It is a good idea to get into the habit of inserting comment statements into the program as the program is being written or typed in. There are good reasons for this. First, it is far easier to document the program while the particular program logic is still fresh in your mind than it is to go back and rethink the logic after the program has been completed. Second, by inserting comments into the program at such an early stage of the game, you get to reap the benefits of the comments during the debug phase, when program logic errors are being isolated and debugged. A comment can not only help you read through the program, but it can also help point the way to the source of the logic mistake. Finally, I have yet to discover a programmer who actually enjoyed documenting a program. In fact, after you have finished debugging your program, you will probably not relish the idea of going back to the program to insert comments. Inserting comments while developing the program makes this sometimes-tedious task a bit easier to swallow.

This concludes this introductory chapter on developing programs in C. By now, you should have a good feel as to what is involved in writing a program in C, and you should be able to develop a small program on your own. In the next chapter, you begin to learn some of the finer intricacies of this wonderfully powerful and flexible programming language. But first, try your hand at the following exercises to make certain you understand the concepts presented in this chapter.


Quiz Loads Here


Video Review

Understanding Our First Program


1. Type in and run the six programs presented in this chapter. Compare the output produced by each program with the output presented after each program in the text.

2. Write a program that prints the following text.

1. In C, lowercase letters are significant.

2. main() is where program execution begins.

3. Opening and closing braces enclose program statements in a routine.

4. All program statements must be terminated by a semicolon.

3. What output would you expect from the following program?

#include <stdio.h>

int main (void)
    printf ("Testing...");
    printf ("....1");
    printf ("...2");
    printf ("..3");
    printf ("\n");

    return 0;

4. Write a program that subtracts the value 15 from 87 and displays the result, together with an appropriate message, at the terminal.

5. Identify the syntactic errors in the following program. Then type in and run the corrected program to ensure you have correctly identified all the mistakes.

#include <stdio.h>

int main (Void)
        INT  sum;
        sum = 25 + 37 - 19
        /* DISPLAY RESULTS //
        printf ("The answer is %i\n" sum);
        return 0;

6. What output might you expect from the following program?

#include <stdio.h>

int main (void)
      int answer, result;

      answer = 100;
      result = answer - 10;
      printf ("The result is %i\n", result + 5);

      return 0;