5 Key Differences Between C and Embedded C Language with Applications

The IoT Academy
4 min readSep 14



When it comes to programming languages for embedded systems, C and Embedded C are two commonly used options. Both languages share many similarities due to their C heritage, but they also exhibit significant differences that make them suitable for distinct purposes. In this article, we will explore the five key differences between C and Embedded C, along with their respective applications.

C and Embedded C are fundamentally different from one another because C develops general-purpose applications whereas Embedded C develops embedded systems. Operating systems, hardware drivers, databases, and other types of applications can all be made using the general-purpose, high-level programming language C. Embedded C is an evolution of C, though. It is specifically utilized for developing embedded systems.

What is C programming language?

C programming for embedded systems is a specialized domain within the broader world of programming. At its core, C programming is a versatile and widely used programming language known for its simplicity and efficiency. It is a high-level language that allows developers to write code that can run on a variety of platforms, from personal computers to servers. C’s strength lies in its ability to provide a high level of control over the hardware while maintaining a clean and structured codebase.

What is Embedded C programming language?

Embedded C programming language is a specialized variant of the C programming language tailored for programming embedded systems. Embedded systems are integrated into various devices and equipment, from home appliances to automotive control systems and medical devices. These systems often have limited resources, strict real-time constraints, and the need for precise hardware control. Basic Embedded C programs are designed to address these challenges by providing developers with the tools and techniques required to create efficient and reliable software for embedded systems.

What are the main differences between C and embedded C?

The main difference between the two stems from their distinct programming environments and intended applications. Understanding the differences is important for developers venturing into the world of embedded systems programming.

Here are 5 key differences between C and Embedded C language as follows:


Embedded C is inherently more hardware-dependent than C. Embedded systems often involve microcontrollers or microprocessors with specific hardware components. Embedded C allows developers to interact directly with these hardware components, such as GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins, timers, and interrupts. This low-level hardware control is essential in embedded systems programming, where precise control over hardware is critical.

Programming Environment:

The most fundamental difference between C and Embedded C lies in their intended programming environments.

C is a general-purpose programming language that can be used for a wide range of applications, from desktop software to system-level programming. In contrast, Embedded C is a variant of the C language tailored specifically for embedded systems, which are specialized computing systems with dedicated functions.


The program can be compiled and run in C using the standard compilers. GCC (GNU Compiler Collection), Borland turbo C, and Intel C++ are three common compilers for running C language programs.

Specific compilers that can provide particular hardware/microcontroller-based output are utilized for embedded C. Keil compiler, BiPOM ELECTRONIC, and Green Hill Software are popular compilers for running embedded C language programs.

Memory Constraints:

Embedded systems often operate in resource-constrained environments with limited memory and processing power. Embedded C is optimized for such scenarios, offering more control over memory allocation and efficient code execution. Developers need to manage memory efficiently to ensure that an embedded system operates reliably and within its resource limitations.

In contrast, C programs typically run on systems with more abundant resources, making memory management less critical.

Libraries and Functions:

C boasts a rich standard library and extensive functions for various purposes, making it suitable for a wide array of applications.

However, embedded systems might not have the luxury of space and resources to include a full standard library. Embedded C, therefore, often includes a minimal set of libraries tailored to the specific needs of the embedded system. Developers working in embedded C may need to write custom functions to perform tasks that are typically handled by standard library functions in C.

What are the applications of C and Embedded C languages?

Now that we’ve highlighted the key differences between C and Embedded C, let’s explore some typical applications for each language:


  • Desktop software development
  • System-level programming (e.g., operating systems)
  • Scientific and engineering simulations
  • Web development
  • General-purpose software applications

Embedded C:

  • Microcontroller and microprocessor programming
  • Automotive control systems (e.g., engine control units)
  • Industrial automation and robotics
  • Medical devices (e.g., pacemakers)
  • Consumer electronics (e.g., smart appliances)


In conclusion, the difference between C and Embedded C is not just a matter of syntax or style; it’s a fundamental distinction in purpose and approach. While C serves as a versatile language suitable for a broad spectrum of applications, Embedded C narrows its focus to the unique challenges and constraints of embedded systems. These differences encompass hardware interaction, memory management, library support, and programming environment. Developers must recognize that the choice between C and Embedded C hinges on the specific requirements of their projects, with the understanding that each language offers its own set of advantages and limitations.

By comprehending the nuances of the differences between C and Embedded C, programmers can navigate the intricate landscape of embedded systems development with confidence and precision, ultimately delivering robust and efficient solutions for the diverse array of applications in this dynamic field.



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