Whether you code as part of your job or just dabble as a hobby, it’s a really versatile language that can be used for everything from simple bits of code to entire pieces of graphical application software.
But despite being fast, adaptable and suitable for use on a wide range of different operating systems, there are some disadvantages to using C++ as well. It can be a pretty tricky language to get your head around if you are new to code, and some common programming projects just aren’t very compatible with this kind of object-orientated language.
In this blog post, we go over all of the advantages and disadvantages of using C++, as well as offering advice on when you should use this programming language and when another choice might be better.
What is C++?
C++ is one of the most adaptable and flexible high-level programming languages out there, originally developed by Bjarne Stroustrup who worked at Bell Labs in the United States. Stroustrup created C++ as an extension of the C programming language, seeking a new, object-orientated language instead of a procedure-orientated one.
So many programmers and software developers use C++ in their work, particularly when building graphical applications, that now it is often described as the ‘swiss pocket knife’ of coding languages. It’s a cross-platform, general-purpose language that is incredibly versatile, used to build everything from web browsers to cloud storage systems.
C++ is a compiled programming language, which means that the user is able to write code and organise data in a way that they understand. After code has been written, the coding platform or compiler translates it into a language that the computer can easily follow. This makes C++ an incredibly quick language to run, which is one of its key advantages.
Advantages of C++
C++ was created in the first place to be an object-oriented language, which makes it easier to sort data whilst writing by treating it as an object. This characteristic also means that concepts such as polymorphism, classes, and data abstraction allow the code to be reused, which saves the programmer a lot of time and can make the coding process more straightforward.
C++ is a portable programming language, so it can be used to run the same program on different interfaces or operating systems no matter what you used to write the code initially. This can be very beneficial if you are working on a coding project as part of a team and need to switch devices or allow other programmers access to your work, as it doesn’t matter what operating system they have.
Because C is a language that is relatively low-level, C++ can also be used for low-level manipulation. This can be very useful in certain projects where you need code to work well with the hardware, such as when you’re building a compiler or an embedded system.
Another of the advantages of C++ is that the links between C and C++ also mean that the two languages are pretty compatible, so any error-free C program can run as a C++ program if you need it to.
The style of C++ is multi-paradigm, which describes how the structure and procedure of the program functions and means that you can write code in different styles. As well as being object-orientated, it is also a generic language that allows you to write to-be-specified-later types of algorithms and imperative programming, which means that certain statements in the code can change a program’s state.
Because C++ is so versatile it has a massive amount of scalability and can run on a very large scale or a very small one. This is great, as once you have learnt how to use the language you can build a huge variety of different programs.
When you are coding in C++ you have control over how the memory is managed, which some programmers may see as an advantage. It works with the help of dynamic memory allocation, which uses pointers to create more efficient memory usage.
Finally, there is a large community of users who program using C++ all over the world. This means that there is a very large network of support and plenty of free tutorials and guides available online, which can be very useful when you are starting out.
Disadvantages of C++
The main disadvantage of C++ is that it is a very complex programming language to learn. If you are new to learning to code and are not familiar with any other object-orientated programming languages then it can take a very long time to understand, which limits what you can do with it to begin with.
Many people also see this difficulty as one of the main C++ limitations, as the language is pretty inaccessible unless you’re an accomplished programmer, meaning that it gets ignored in favour of other, simpler languages.
One of the key features that make C++ a distinctive programming language is the use of pointers. Whilst these are very useful, they can take up a lot of system memory which is not ideal when you’re working on large projects. Pointers can also be tricky to get your head around, and using them incorrectly can cause your whole system to crash or behave strangely, which is a major drawback.
Another of the disadvantages of C++ is that using an object-oriented programming language like C++ comes with several security issues because of features like pointers, friend functions and global variables.
Although having control of managing memory is seen as an advantage by many people, having to manually allocate memory using pointers can be very time consuming and easy to forget when you are in the middle of coding. If you’re not used to doing this then this manual memory management is a big disadvantage of C++, as there is no garbage collector feature to automatically filter out unnecessary data.
Finally, when you’re coding in C++ the language is unable to support built-in code threads. This is a key C++ disadvantage as the majority of other languages have this function, and it can make your process a lot slower and more complicated.
When Should I use C++?
As well as understanding the advantages and disadvantages of using C++, it is also very useful to know what kind of projects are best suited for the language and when it is best to use C++ to code.
First of all, bear in mind that C++ is notoriously a difficult programming language to get to grips with. If you’re already familiar and comfortable with the language then you can use it for a wide variety of different projects, but if you’re trying to learn the language before you do anything with it, you’ll probably have to set aside a lot of time before you feel confident.
However, the learning curve with coding in C++ is steep, so once you’ve mastered the basics you’ll find everything else falls into place much easier.
If you’re looking to develop software or code that runs quickly, C++ is an excellent choice because it is a pre-compiled language. Any software or program that needs speed as one of its key features is well-suited to C++, at least in part, as this will ensure that it runs quickly and efficiently.
Whilst C++ is a very versatile language that can be used for most kinds of programming projects, there are several types of projects that are particularly compatible and you should consider using C++ for.
Because of its fast speed and closeness to low-level machine languages, C++ is a great choice when you are building web browsers or operating systems. Microsoft and Linux are both built using C++, along with some elements of Apple’s iOS system.
Many coding compilers are also built using C++ as their backend language because of its low-level similarities.
These similarities to low-level hardware languages also mean that C++ is a great choice when you are creating embedded systems. Again, the fast running speed of the language is a key advantage here.
Another key type of software that C++ is particularly good for is 3D and visual design programs that are used for digital drawings, models and designs. Game development software is also commonly coded with C++, as the language works well alongside all of the complexities of an online game and can carry out multilayer networking.
To summarise, here are the key C++ advantages and disadvantages.
- Portable programming language which can be used to run the same program across multiple operating systems
- Good for low-level manipulation thanks to its close relation to machine languages
- Very compatible with programs written in C
- Multi-paradigm programming language allowing a variety of different styles of coding in one program
- Full control over memory allocation using pointers when coding
- An object-oriented language, allows code to be reused which saves time
- Pre-compiled, making code written in C++ very fast to run
- Lots of scalability, so can be used for a variety of large and small coding projects
- C++ is a very popular programming language so there is a large community of programmers, tutorials and guides on the internet that can offer support and help
- Object-orientated programming languages have several security issues which means that programs written in C++ aren’t as safe as others
- The pointers that are used in C++ take up a lot of memory which is not always suitable for some devices
- Cannot support built-in code threads
- The object orientation systems are considered quite basic in comparison to other languages
- If you have data that points to the same place from different starting points, the code tends to get mixed up and malfunction
- Having to manually control memory allocation can be a pain if you’re used to automatic memory management
- C++ lacks a garbage collector, so unnecessary data is not filtered out and can take up a lot of space
- Many people consider C++ to be a difficult programming language to learn, making it quite inaccessible to beginners and time-consuming to teach yourself
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