Bjarne Stroustrup on the name C++ and common criticisms of the language

& (verbiage overflow)Sat 29 October 2011RSSSearchSubscribe

From an interview by Naomi Hamilton:

> **Where does the name C++ come from?** > >

As "C with Classes" (my ancestor to C++) became popular within Bell Labs, some people found that name too much of a mouthful and started to call it C. This meant that they needed to qualify what they meant when they wanted to refer to Dennis Ritchie's language, so they used "Old C", "Straight C", and such. Somebody found that disrespectful to Dennis (neither Dennis nor I felt that) and one day I received a "request" though Bell Labs management channels to find a better name. As a result, we referred to C++ as C84 for a while. That didn't do much good, so I asked around for suggestions and picked C++ from the resulting list. Everybody agreed that semantically ++C would have been even better, but I thought that would create too many problems for non-geeks.

How do you respond to criticism of the language, such as that it has inherited the flaws of C and that it has a very large feature set which makes it 'bloated'?

C++ inherited the weaknesses and the strengths of C++ [sic; dpb: does he mean C?], and I think that we have done a decent job at compensating for the weaknesses without compromising the strengths. C is not a simple language (its ISO standard is more than 500 pages) and most modern languages are bigger still. Obviously, C++ (like C) is "bloated" compared to toy languages, but not really that big compared to other modern languages. There are solid practical reasons why all the languages used for serious industrial work today are "bloated" - the tasks for which they are used are large and complex beyond the imaginations of ivory tower types.

Another reason for the unpleasantly large size of modern language is the need for stability. I wrote C++ code 20 years ago that still runs today and I'm confident that it will still compile and run 20 years from now. People who build large infrastructure projects need such stability. However, to remain modern and to meet new challenges, a language must grow (either in language features or in foundation libraries), but if you remove anything, you break code. Thus, languages that are built with serious concern for their users (such as C++ and C) tend to accrete features over the decades, tend to become bloated. The alternative is beautiful languages for which you have to rewrite your code every five years.

Finally, C++ deliberately and from day #1 supported more than one programming style and the interaction of those programming styles. If you think that there is one style of programming that is best for all applications and all people - say, object-oriented programming - then you have an opportunity for simplification. However, I firmly believe that the best solutions - the most readable, maintainable, efficient, etc., solutions - to large classes of problems require more than one of the popular programming styles - say, both object-oriented programming and generic programming - so the size of C++ cannot be minimized by supporting just one programming style. This use of combinations of styles of programming is a key part of my view of C++ and a major part of its strength.

Bjarne Stroustrup, interviewed by Naomi Hamilton, "The A-Z of Programming Languages: C++: Bjarne Stroustrup of C++ fame dissects the history of his famed programming language," Computer World, 20080625, accessed 20111029.


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