Stroustrup: Why the 35-year-old C++ still dominates 'real' dev

C++ inventor details the language's latest changes and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of its competitors

Bjarne Stroustrup designed the C++ language in 1979, and the general-purpose language for systems programming has become a mainstay for developers everywhere, despite competition from Java, JavaScript, Python, Go, and Apple's newly unveiled Swift.

Now a technologist at Morgan Stanley and a professor at both Columbia University and Texas A&M University, Stroustrup spoke with InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill about C++'s role today and about other happenings in software development, including Google's Go and Apple's Swift languages.

InfoWorld: Where do you see the role of C++ today, when you have popular scripting languages like Python and JavaScript along with languages like Java and even Google's Go? How does C++ manage to survive, thrive, and grow in such a diverse landscape with all these different languages?

Stroustrup: That's a good question. People have been predicting its demise quite enthusiastically for more than 20 years, but it's still growing. Basically, nothing that can handle complexity runs as fast as C++. If you go to some embedded areas, if you go to image processing, if you go to some telecom applications, if you go to some financial applications, C++ rules. You don't see it much if you're into looking at apps and such, that's not where you find it. It's things like Google, Amazon, search engines, where you really need performance, that's where it is.

InfoWorld: Google's Go language is getting attention lately. What's your perspective on Google Go?

Stroustrup: It seems to be one of these languages that can do a few things elegantly. [But languages] focused on doing those things elegantly lose the edge in performance and lose a little bit in generality. But of course, we have to see what happens.

InfoWorld: Some of these new scripting languages are intended for easy consumption by developers. Would you say C++ requires more attention than that?

Stroustrup: Oh, definitely. C++ is designed for fairly hardcore applications, and it's always been used together with some scripting language or other. When I started, I used C++ for anything that required a real programming language and real performance. Then I used the Unix shell as my scripting language. That was how it [was done], and that's also the way things are done in most of the cases today. [C++ is for] high performance, high reliability, small footprint, low energy consumption, all of these good things. I'm not saying hobbyists, I'm not saying quick apps. That's not our domain.

InfoWorld: Apple debuted its Swift language on June 2. Do you think the fact that it has Apple's backing it means it's going to be a significant language that developers are going to have to pay attention to?

Stroustrup: I think so. They paid attention to Objective-C, and now Swift is moving into that exact domain again.

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