What Is C++ and Why Is It Still Relevant?

The History Behind C++

C++ was created by Bjarne Stroustrup in 1979, to serve as an extension to the general-purpose, object-oriented programming language C. Over the years, C++ has played a crucial role in the development of operating systems, web browsers, databases, and games. 

C++ was standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1998 as ISO/IEC 14882:1998 and most recently ratified the latest version in December 2017 as ISO/IEC 14882:2017. And although many believe that languages such as C++ are antiquated and have little use in modern computing, that sentiment is wrong.

Let’s dig in deeper and find out what makes C++ stand out and why it’s still relevant.

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C++ Most Common Applications

The first question you might ask yourself is, “Why C++?” After all, there are so many languages that are better suited for today’s service-first, mobile-centric world. And although C++ isn’t found in mobile apps or web applications, it has quite an important listing of applications and use cases that still depend upon this aging language. What applications, you ask? Consider the following.

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Games

C++ is the language used to build most console and Windows games. If you have any plans on working with large gaming companies, having C++ in your toolkit is unavoidable. There are a number of reasons why C++ is such a good language for games. One reason is that it gives you plenty of control over memory management. C++ also has a vast number of libraries that can be used for designing complex graphics. 

One of the main reasons why C++ is so widespread among game developers is because it’s used in many of the game engines. For example, Sony’s Unreal engine and the Unity Engine are both built with C++. Considering the complexity of game engines, having them prebuilt takes a lot of the work out of development. Because those engines have been built with the help of C++, you’ll need to know that language to make use of the engines. And some engines, such as Unreal, only work with C++. So if you want to use the Unreal engine, you must know C++. 

Desktop applications

Because C++ includes all of the necessary libraries and tools, it makes it easier to develop GUI desktop applications. In fact, many of the most popular desktop applications on the market are developed with C++. Applications like:

  • Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, and Illustrator
  • Web browsers like Firefox and Chrome
  • Email clients like Thunderbird
  • Autodesk Maya 3D software system
  • Many banking applications (such as Infosys Finacle)
  • MySQL database
  • 12dPL civil engineering and surveying applications
  • ImageSystems’ TrackEye
  • MongoDB
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Operating Systems

Although the Windows kernel is written in C, most everything else is written in C++. That includes the Windows desktop. On the Apple side of things, the macOS device drivers and its Finder application are written in C++. Lesser known operating systems that benefit from C++ are HaikuOS, Symbian OS, and IBM OS/400. As well, the KDE desktop environment (for the Linux operating system) is written in C++.

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The Cloud

You might not think that a language that has been around as long as C++ would have any relevance to the cloud. It does. In fact, because many cloud storage systems are so closely tied to hardware, they greatly benefit from C++ (as it lies so close to the hardware layer). C++ also provides outstanding multithread support, so it’s highly capable of delivering both concurrent applications and load balancing/tolerance.

That does not mean you can easily develop for the cloud with C++. Since using networks is not a part of the C++ standard, you’ll have to integrate libraries for TCP/IP. But for short-lived computationally-intensive functions, C++ is an outstanding option.

The Perks of C++ Development

Although it might have been easy to write C++ off as an antiquated language that has little to no relevance in modern computing, it should be obvious now that claiming that is far from the truth. Not only does C++ still inform desktop application design: it’s integral to the gaming market and has made headway into both the cloud and mobile platforms.

Popularity

Because C++ enjoys such wide usage, it shouldn’t be much of a leap in logic to understand that it’s a fairly popular language. In fact, according to the TIOBE index, C++ ranks fourth in usage (behind C, Java, and Python). And, according to Salary.com, the average salary of C++ developers is $78,473 (as of June 2020). The typical salary range for a C++ developer ranges from $71,562 and $84,088. 

In comparison, C++ developers average considerably less than JavaScript developers (with JS developers pulling in between $91,582 and $113,418). But given JavaScript is the most popular programming language on the planet at the moment, C++ isn’t doing too poorly.  

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Portability

One very useful aspect of applications written in C++ is that they are portable. So if you develop an application in C++, it’ll run on most platforms that support the language. This is possible, in part, because C++ has compilers for just about every platform available. Of course, if your program requires a graphical element, you will have to make use of platform-specific toolkits (such as OpenGL for Linux).

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Embedded systems

Embedded systems are everywhere: In your refrigerator, on your wrist, in your car, GPS systems — just about every piece of electronics that has become “smart.” Because C++ is so good at working with hardware, it makes for an ideal language for embedded systems. 

In fact, at one point there was a dialect of C++, called Embedded C++, that was specifically designed for embedded systems. Embedded C++ was defined by a group of CPU manufacturers (NEX, Hitachi, Fujitsu, and Toshiba) to address the shortcomings of C++ for embedded systems. A restricted subset of C++, based on EC++, was adopted by Apple and used to create all I/O Kit device drivers for macOS, iPadOS, and iOS.

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