4.1. Changes

The single worst feature of Old C was that there was no way to declare the number and types of a function's arguments and to have the compiler check that the use of the function was consistent with its declaration. Although it didn't do a lot of damage to the success of C, it did result in portability and maintainability problems that we all could have done without.

The Standard has changed that state of affairs. You can now declare functions in a way that allows their use to be checked, and which is also largely compatible with the old style (so old programs still work, provided they had no errors before). Another useful feature is a portable way of using functions with a variable number of arguments, like printf, which used to be non-portable; the only way to implement it relied upon intimate knowledge of the hardware involved.

The Standard's way of fixing this problem was in large measure to plagiarize from C++, which had already tried out the new ideas in practice. This model has been so successful that lots of ‘Old’ C compilers adopted it on their way to conforming to the Standard.

The Standard still retains compatibility with Old C function declarations, but that is purely for the benefit of existing programs. Any new programs should make full use of the much tighter checking that the Standard permits and strenuously avoid the old syntax (which may disappear one day).


1. Stroustrup B. (1991). The C++ Programming Language 2nd edn. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley