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How to Talk Tech: What Is C#?

If you’ve started around with the devs for the first time recently, you could be forgiven for wondering if all the software engineers are in a band. After all, they may seem very concerned about writing a new piece in C-sharp.

Put your bass from college away, rock star: It’s not a band.

Confused? We’re tech experts, so we’ll explain why C# went from a music-lesson quiz answer to an important programming language for software developers to know, especially when it comes to Microsoft Windows applications.

What is the purpose of C#?

C# isn’t the newest kid on the block — Microsoft first released it in 2000 as a part of .NET, its cross-platform, open-source programming platform. The main goal of C# was to provide a modern and efficient language for developing Windows application, Windows services and web applications. 

At first, .NET’s class libraries were run by a compiled system called Simple Managed C. But in 1999, the renowned developer Anders Hejlsberg began work on what he originally called the C-like Object-Oriented Language, or Cool. When Microsoft announced .NET and its first dedicated programming language the following year, it had been renamed C# and .NET’s libraries and ASP.NET had all been fully converted to C#.

To create a worthy companion language to .NET, Microsoft and Hejlsberg designed C# with simplicity and ease of use in mind. The language has clean syntax, which makes it easy for developers to write and understand code. When C# first came out in 2000, it was adopted for Windows desktop applications, Windows services and web applications. It has more recently caught on for video games (as part of Unity, mostly) and mobile (via Xamarian).

At first, there was some controversy about whether Hejlsberg had basically copied Java — the latter’s creator even publicly sniped at C#, saying it was a less safe, less efficient version of his own language. Hejlsberg responded by saying that C# was based on C++, not Java. Since then, no one’s accused C# of being a Java clone, as they’ve completely diverged since C# 2.0 came out in 2005. Both C# and Java have memory management through garbage collection, but Java achieves cross platform support by using the Java Virtual Machine, or JVM. .NET, on the other hand, has its Common Language Runtime that Just In Time (JIT) compiles code into native machine code.

What is C# used for today?

Just like anything else, C# has come a long way since its initial release over two decades ago. Updates have added new features and capabilities meant to maintain C#’s ranking as one of the most versatile and powerful programming languages available in a programmer’s arsenal.

Developers still consider C# a top choice for building Windows desktop applications, especially since it has a rich set of libraries and tools with which developers can create highly interactive and user-friendly applications that run smoothly on Windows operating systems. 

Another popular use for C# is building mobile apps for Android and iOS mobile platforms. This can be done using the Xamarin framework, which allows developers to write code in C# that can be easily converted to run on Android and iOS.

What are C#’s strengths?

Developers like C#’s strong type system and an easy-to-learn syntax, which makes it a popular choice for developing enterprise applications and desktop applications. It also offers modern programming features such as LINQ, delegates and lambdas, making it easier to write more efficient and concise code. 

As a statically typed language, C# catches many errors at compile-time, reducing the number of runtime errors. This can lead to improved application stability and reduced development time. 

Interoperability is a strength for C#. Most applications that need a specific driver have one for C#, and it also interoperates well with any web application. For cross-platform support, .NET Core makes it easy to run your application on Windows or Linux. There is also a large community based around making C# interoperable.

Additionally, C# is part of the .NET framework, which provides a vast library of pre-built functionality, making it easier to build complex applications without having to write everything from scratch. C# is widely supported by Microsoft, meaning that it has a large community of developers and a wealth of resources available. 

What are C#’s weaknesses?

Any programming language has its own set of weaknesses, and C# is no exception. One of the main weaknesses of C# is its performance and memory consumption compared to other natively compiled languages, especially for system-level programming and gaming development — that is, when it’s compiled to run on the .NET Framework runtime (and not .NET Core, in which is it is actually faster, especially when Ahead of Time (AOT) compiled). Also on .NET Framework runtime, C# is considered a memory-intensive language, as it relies heavily on the .NET framework and its libraries, which can cause increased memory usage and longer startup times. 

C# can have a steeper learning curve compared to other popular programming languages, especially for developers coming from a background in dynamically typed languages. 

Who uses C#?

Many big corporations use C# for their software. Not surprisingly, Microsoft, which created C# in the first place, extensively uses the language as the bones of popular products such as Windows, Visual Studio and the Xbox gaming system. 

Other big corporations like Dell, BMW, and Airbus also use C# for building applications related to their core business operations. Financial companies have notably taken a liking to C#, including big names such as JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, for developing their trading systems and financial software. FinTech companies prize its versatility and reliability for building complex applications and systems.

And if you end up forming that company band anyway, yes, you can use C# to create a program that can be the backing musician.


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