C is often used for “system programming”, including implementing operating systems and embedded system applications, due to a combination of desirable characteristics such as code portability and efficiency, ability to access specific hardware addresses, ability to pun types to match externally imposed data access requirements, and low run-time demand on system resources. C can also be used for website programming using CGI as a “gateway” for information between the Web application, the server, and the browser. Some reasons for choosing C over interpreted languages are its speed, stability, and near-universal availability.

One consequence of C’s wide availability and efficiency is that compilers, libraries, and interpreters of other programming languages are often implemented in C. The primary implementations of Python (CPython), Perl 5, and PHP are all written in C.

Due to its thin layer of abstraction and low overhead, C allows efficient implementations of algorithms and data structures, which is useful for programs that perform a lot of computations. For example, the GNU Multi-Precision Library, the GNU Scientific Library, Mathematica and MATLAB are completely or partially written in C.

C is sometimes used as an intermediate language by implementations of other languages. This approach may be used for portability or convenience; by using C as an intermediate language, it is not necessary to develop machine-specific code generators. However, C was designed as a programming language, not as a compiler target language, and is thus less than ideal for use as an intermediate language. This has led to development of C-based intermediate languages such as C–.

C has also been widely used to implement end-user applications, but much of that development has shifted to newer languages.


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