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Functions - C's Building Blocks

Some programmers might consider it a bit early to introduce the C function - but we think you can't get to it soon enough. It isn't a difficult idea and it is incredibly useful. You could say that you only really start to find out what C programming is all about when you start using functions.

C functions are the equivalent of what in other languages would be called subroutines or procedures. If you are familiar with another language you also need to know that C only has functions, so don't spend time looking for the definition of subroutines or procedures - in C the function does everything!

A function is simply a chunk of C code (statements) that you have grouped together and given a name. The value of doing this is that you can use that "chunk" of code repeatedly simply by writing its name. For example, if you want to create a function that prints the word "Hello" on the screen and adds one to variable called total then the chunk of C code that you want to turn into a function is just:


total = total + l;

To turn it into a function you simply wrap the code in a pair of curly brackets to convert it into a single compound statement and write the name that you want to give it in front of the brackets:




total = total + 1;


Don't worry for now about the curved brackets after the function's name. Once you have defined your function you can use it within a program:





In this program the instruction demo (); is entirely equivalent to writing out all of the statements in the function. What we have done is to create an new C function and this, of course, is the power of functions. When you are first introduced to the idea of functions, or their equivalent in other languages, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that they are only useful when you want to use a block of code more than once.

Functions are useful here but they have a more important purpose. If you are creating a long program then functions allow you to split it into "bite-sized" chunks which you can work on in isolation. As every C programmer knows, "functions are the building blocks of programs."