[Courses] C Programming For Absolute Beginners, Lesson 1: Setting Up, First Program

Carla Schroder carla at bratgrrl.com
Sun Feb 5 08:56:59 UTC 2012

## C Programming For Absolute Beginners, Lesson 1: Setting Up, First Program 

Prequisites: Please know your Linux basics, how to use a text editor, the bash 
shell, and how to find and install software.

You need gcc, the GNU Compiler Collection. Your favorite Linux distribution 
should pull in any dependencies like cpp, binutils, and glibc, the GNU shared 
C library. libc6 is the same as glibc version 2, and you should see libc6 
installed on your system as libc.so.6 or libc.so. Yes, we love naming 
confusion on Linux don't we. 

Coders need good typing skills. There are many free typing tutors, and if you 
spend ten minutes per day practicing you'll see your typing skills improve 

You'll need some patience and persistence. Anyone can learn to do anything, 
including become a good coder. Everyone taking this course comes from different 
backgrounds and levels of experience, so don't compare yourself to your fellow 
students, or think you're too slow or too stupid or have the wrong kind of 
brain. Learning anything isn't about raw blazing brilliant talent, but working 
at it. Everyone who is a good coder has invested a lot of time and effort.

Lessons run weekly, every Sunday, and I estimate about 16 weeks.

All lessons and messages are archived at 

## Lesson 1: Setting Up, First Program ##

I recommend typing rather than copy-and-pasting the examples, because it 
trains your eyes to see details, and when you're writing code details are 
everything. If you miss a single character such as a semi-colon or curly brace 
your code will not work correctly.

C is a compiled language. Writing the code is just the first step; then it must 
be compiled using a program called a compiler, like gcc.

code > compile > executable binary

This creates an executable binary, which is our actual program. (This is a 
very simplified explanation, which is all we need for the moment.) 

The classic beginning program is always a "Hello World!" program, or something 
similar. It's a fast and easy way to learn the basic steps of write code, 
compile code, and then run the resulting executable. Type this example source 
code into a text editor and name it whatever you want, except test, because 
Linux already has a command called test. My example is called welcome.c. It 
must have the .c extension so that gcc knows this is a C source code file:

#include <stdio.h>
  printf( "Hello, and welcome to the Beginning C Course!\n" );

Now compile it:

$ gcc -o welcome welcome.c

The -o option means "give the output file this name." If you don't name your 
output file gcc will call it a.out. 

And now you can run your new compiled program:

$ ./welcome
Hello, and welcome to the Beginning C Course!

You must prepend your new command with ./ when you are running it from inside 
its directory. If you go up one level, then you just need the normal filepath, 
for example if I put welcome in my cfiles directory:

$ cfiles/welcome

Or you can put it in a directory that is your path. Run echo $PATH to see all 
of your paths:

$ echo $PATH

This means that any command placed in any of these directories can be run 
without typing out the full filepath, because the bash shell knows to look in 
these directories when you enter a command. When you're writing your own code 
it can be helpful to create a directory in your home directory to store your 
executables, to avoid permissions hassles. Then put your new directory in your 
path by adding a line to your ~/.profile, like this:


Then logout and log back in. Copy welcome to your new directory, and the which 
command will see it:

$ which welcome

And you can run it like any other command, with just the command name:

$ welcome

You can read your nice plain-text source code file, but a binary executable is 
a different kettle of clams. You can read it with the hexdump command, which 
spits out giant blobs of hexadecimal:

$ hexdump welcome 
0000000 457f 464c 0101 0001 0000 0000 0000 0000
0000010 0002 0003 0001 0000 8300 0804 0034 0000

A more useful command for binary files is strings, which extracts all of the 
text strings:

$ strings  welcome 
Hello, and welcome to the Beginning C Course!

## Explaining the Source Code File ##

Now let's dissect our new source code file. #include <stdio.h> is a 
preprocessor directive that tells gcc to include the code from the header file 
stdio.h in our little program. A preprocessor directive always starts with the 
pound sign, and you can have more than one. stdio.h is plain-text source code, 
so you can read it. stdio.h is a standard C library header that is used in 
pretty much all C programs because it handles input and output-- input from 
files and the keyboard, and output to files or the screen. Code libraries are 
wonderful things because we can re-use them and not start over completely from 
scratch every time we write a new program.

The next part is the function main, which is the first function executed in a C 
program. All C programs must start with the main() function. A function is a 
block of code dedicated to performing a particular task. A function is made up 
of statements, which are instructions, which end in semi-colons. Our example 
main() function includes two statements:

    printf( "Hello, and welcome to the Beginning C Course!\n" );

printf is a built-in C function that formats and prints the text in the 
parentheses to the screen. The parentheses enclose the arguments, or values, 
that are passed to the function. A function must always be followed by a set 
of parentheses, even when there are no arguments. Any text string in an 
argument must be enclosed in double quotes. \n is a newline, and a semi-colon 
terminates the statement.

getchar(); is a hack. I don't recall if this is a Windows behavior, or if it 
happens in some Linux environments; at any rate on some systems when our 
little example program finishes running the whole terminal closes, so all you 
see is a quick flash and it's gone. getchar(); makes the program wait for a key 
press before it closes. If you don't need getchar(); you can delete it, or 
comment it out. There are two ways to comment C code. This way comments a 
single line:

// getchar();

This way comments a multi-line block:


Or all on one line:

/* getchar(); */

Well that's all for today. But don't be sad because there is homework! Please 
feel free to share your own discoveries, thoughts, and questions on the list.

1. Enter more text for the printf function to work on, and try different 
formatting options from man printf.

2. Look up the spec for stdio.h, and see what the various macros and functions  
in the spec look like in your own stdio.h file.

3. Make errors on purpose in your source code file and see what the compiler 

Thank you all, and I'm looking forward to some good discussion!

Carla Schroder, ace Linux guru and howto author
541-932-4817 PT
carla at tuxcomputing.com

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