Starting a new project

How to:

At the heart of any C project is the source code. A typical starting point involves creating a main file, often named main.c, which houses the entry point of a program. In addition, a Makefile is essential for managing compilation to streamline project builds.

Here’s a minimal example:

  1. Setting up “main.c”: This file contains the main function, the program’s entry point.

    // main.c
    #include <stdio.h>
    int main() {
        printf("Hello, world!\n");
        return 0;
  2. Creating a Makefile: Automates the build process, making it easy to compile your project with a single command.

    # Makefile
    all: main
    main: main.c
        gcc -o main main.c
        rm -f main

In a terminal, running make compiles main.c into an executable named main, and running ./main should output:

Hello, world!

Deep Dive

Initiating a project in C is not just about writing code; it’s about setting a solid foundation for project management. This practice evolved from the early days of programming, drawing from the need to organize and streamline the process of compiling large, complex systems from the UNIX world. The GNU Make system, introduced in the ’80s, revolutionized this by automating the build process, making it a critical tool in modern C projects. However, the rise of integrated development environments (IDEs) and other high-level programming languages introduced different project initialization practices that might include more automated build systems, dependency management, and version control integration from the start. Despite these advancements, the simplicity and control offered by a Makefile and a well-organized source code directory remain invaluable, especially for systems-level programming where efficiency and resource management are paramount. Nonetheless, for larger projects, tools like CMake or Meson are becoming preferable for their ability to handle complex builds and cross-platform compatibility, suggesting a trend towards more sophisticated project initiation tools in the C ecosystem.