Is C strongly typed?

0 votes
asked Jan 9, 2009 by sydius

To quote Wikipedia:

Two commonly used languages that support many kinds of implicit conversion are C and C++, and it is sometimes claimed that these are weakly typed languages. However, others argue that these languages place enough restrictions on how operands of different types can be mixed, that the two should be regarded as strongly typed languages.

Is there a more definitive answer?

16 Answers

0 votes
answered Jan 9, 2009 by mannicken

In my opinion, C/C++ are strongly typed. The type of hacks that allow types to be converted (void*) are there because of C's closeness to the machine. In other words, you can call assembler commands from Pascal and manipulate pointers and Pascal is still regarded as a strongly typed language. You can call assembler and C executables from Java through JNI but it doesn't make Java weakly typed.

C just has assembler "embedded" in it with raw pointers and such.

0 votes
answered Jan 9, 2009 by michael-burr

C is more strongly typed than Javascript and less strongly typed than Ada.

I'd say it falls more into the strongly typed side of the continuum. but someone else might disagree (even if they're wrong).

How's that for definitive?

0 votes
answered Jan 10, 2009 by adam-rosenfield

It's hard to classify every language into 'weakly' or 'strongly' typed -- it's more of a continuum. But, in comparison to other languages, C is fairly strongly typed. Every object has a compile-time type, and the compiler will let you know (loudly) if you're doing something with an object that its type doesn't let you do. For example, you can't call functions with the wrong types of parameters, access struct/union members which don't exist, etc.

But there are a few weaknesses. One major weakness is typecasts - they essentially say that you're going to be mucking around with the types of objects, and the compiler should be quiet (when it can). void* is also another weakness -- it's a generic pointer to an unknown type, and when you use them, you have to be extra careful that you're doing the right thing. The compiler can't statically check most uses of void*. void* can also be converted to a pointer to any type without a cast (only in C, not in C++), which is another weakness.

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answered Jan 10, 2009 by bobbyshaftoe

What is the reason for your query? The reason I ask is this is sort of a minor difference and your particular usage of "strongly-typed" might need more or less clarification. I would definitely say that Java and other languages have tighter restrictions on implicit type conversation.

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answered Jan 10, 2009 by jules

The literature isn't clear about this. I think that strongly typed isn't yes/no, there are varying degrees of strong typing.

A programming language has a specification of how it executes programs. Sometimes it's not clear how to execute with certain programs. For example, programs that try to subtract a string from a number. Or programs that divide by zero. There are several ways to deal with these conditions. Some languages have rules for dealing with these errors (for example they throw an exception). Other languages just don't have rules to deal with these situations. Those languages generally have type systems to prevent compiling programs that lead to unspecified behavior. And there also exist languages that have unspecified behavior and don't have a type system to prevent these errors at compile time (if you write a program that hits unspecified behavior it might launch the missiles).


Languages that specify what happens at runtime in every case (like adding a number to a string) are called dynamically typed. Languages that prevent executing programs with errors at compile time are statically typed. Languages that don't specify what happens and also don't have a type system to prevent errors are called weakly typed.

So is Java statically typed? Yes, because its type system disallows subtracting a string from a number. No, because it allows you to divide by zero. You could prevent division by zero at compile time with a type system. For example by creating a number type that can't be zero (e.g. NonZeroInt), and only allow to divide by numbers that have this type.

So is C strongly typed or weakly typed? C is strongly typed because the type system disallows some type errors. But it's weakly typed in other cases when it's undefined what happens (and the type system doesn't protect you).

0 votes
answered Jan 10, 2009 by bcs

I'd say it is strongly types as every expression has a type that is not a function of it's value; e.i. it can be known before runtime.

OTOH I'm not sure that is the correct description of strongly typed. The only stronger claim I can see reason for a language to make would be the assurance that you can't subvert the type system at runtime via reinterpret type casts, unions, calling into other languages, pointers, assembly language, etc. Languages like this exist but are so crippled that they seem to not be of much interest to programmers outside of high assurance and academia. As pointed out by someone, to really do that right you start needing to have types like nonZeroInt and whatnot. Yuck.

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answered Jan 10, 2009 by mipadi

C is considered to be weakly typed, because you can convert any type to any other type through a cast, without a compiler error. You can read more about the issue here.

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answered Jan 10, 2009 by cervo

C is considered statically typed (you can't have a variable change from int to float). Once a variable is declared it is stuck that way.

But it is considered weakly typed because the types can be flip flopped.

What is 0? '\0', FALSE, 0.0, etc..

in many languages you can't say IF (variable) because conditions will only take boolean values from boolean expressions. These are more strongly typed. The same applies to going between characters and integers.

basically c has two main simple data types, integers and floating point numbers (though various precisions). Everything else booleans, enums (not simple but it fits), etc. are implemented as one of those. Even characters are basically integers.

Compare to other languages where there are string types, enum types that can only be assigned to the defined values, boolean types where only expressions that generate booleans or true/false can be used.

But you can argue that compared to Perl C is strongly typed. So it is one of those famous arguments (vi vs emacs, linux vs windows, etc.). C# is stronger typed than C. Basically you can argue either way. And your answers will probably go both ways :) Also some textbooks/web pages will say C is weakly typed, and some will say C is strongly typed. If you go to wikipedia the C entry says "partially weak typing". I would say compared to Python C is weakly typed. So Python/C#, C, Perl on the continuum.

0 votes
answered Jan 10, 2009 by robert-gamble

It is difficult to provide a concrete answer when there isn't a concrete definition of "strongly typed". I would say that C is strongly typed in that every variable and every expression has a type but weakly typed in that it allows you to change types using casts and to reinterpret the representation of one type as another.

0 votes
answered Jan 10, 2009 by yfeldblum

There is a continuum with multiple parallel avenues between "weakly typed" and "strongly typed", two terms which are not even well defined.

C is statically typed, in that the compiler knows what the declared type of every local variable and struct member is.

Dynamically typed languages might still be strongly typed, if each object has a specific type but there is no way for the compiler to know that type.

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