What Is Objective-C? | Features & Differences With C, C++, and C#

JavaScript and HTML/CSS are very familiar programming languages to people even outside the coding world.

However, other programming languages deserve some recognition, too — one of them being Objective-C.

Basically, this language is used for any iPad and iPhone app.

In this article, we’ll talk more in-depth about what it is and why it’s something you might be interested in trying to learn.

What Is C and Object-Oriented Programming Language?

Let’s backtrack for a bit first.

The first C programming language was originally developed in the 1970s. But it was only in the 1980s when it was implemented in the first mainframes and microcomputers.

Since then, it has influenced other modern programming languages. In fact, you can even say C is the grandparent of object-oriented programming.

Object-oriented programming involves a group of languages that gives you a clearer structure to work with since you’re mimicking real-world building.

Other languages will give a computer a list of tasks to execute. Meanwhile, object-oriented programming languages let you handle what you can call a “virtual set of legos.”

You can group these legos and give each group an instruction to carry out.

For instance, you can use the first group to make just the stem of the flower, then use another group to make the flower itself.

What’s great about this is you can isolate the “groups of legos” from one another. This makes it EASIER to find and fix bugs. It’s also simpler to reuse codes in future programs.

C vs. C++ vs. C# vs. Objective-C: What’s the Difference?

The C family of programming languages is different from one another. We’ll discuss more below:


C is a procedural programming language based on ALGOL, BCP, and B.

It quickly grew popular because it was much easier to understand and use compared to other programming languages in those times. C allowed developers to work with hardware at a low level while still using readable syntax.

This is important since low-level languages are more complicated since they use more symbols.

But C became the FIRST language to create an operating system (Linux’s version 4) without using Assembly — the then-lowest-level language that can be used to interact with computer hardware.

Aside from the other C languages, C has served as a guide for other languages too! In fact, JavaScript, Java, Swift, and Golang even use the same syntax that C started.


C++ is a general-purpose language derived from the C programming language. It was created to add instance methods and objects to C.

This language experienced widespread adoption because programmers believed that object-oriented programming is more effective and efficient to use when dealing with big software projects.

Because of that, C++ is the most common replacement for C — in fact, it’s usually a direct replacement.

Programmers typically use C++ when they need low-level control over a system’s resources while maintaining high performance.

Thanks to that, the language is mainly used for creating operating systems, embedded systems, and web browsers. Some modern desktop applications that use C++ are Adobe programs and Microsoft Windows OSX.

Most C++ developers actually work in the game development industry.

Because of the large user base, C++ has a huge number of frameworks and libraries that can allow developers to use the language for more advanced projects — like high-performance graphics and audio digital signal processing!


C# was inspired by C rather than being directly derived from it. It’s actually a combination of C and Java.

Microsoft initially made C# a closed-source language to develop programs within their .NET framework.

But the company eventually released it as a free and open-source language that can be used for Linux and Mac OSX. 

C# is excellent for general object-oriented programming projects, regardless of their scale.

Nowadays, C# is widely used in game development and web service development.


C and Objective-C are very similar. In fact, Objective-C can do EVERYTHING that C can — although it creates a thin layer of a different syntax for creating and handling objects.

This object-oriented language can dynamically load code. Thanks to that, you can create programs of any scale.

It’s the foundation of OS-X and iOS and was mostly exclusive to Apple products.

The way Objective-C executes a code referenced by a method is different from other C family languages.

In all these languages, the method that you call becomes connected to the part of the class where it’s located when you compile the codes. Meanwhile, in Objective-C, the message is sent to the class during runtime and resolved while the app is running.

When Swift was released, the two languages became interoperable. This means that the two can run alongside each other in the same application.

What Is Objective-C Programming Language?

C and Objective-C are almost the same — except Objective-C programming language is the object-oriented language version of C language.

Despite that, developers Brad Cox and Tom Love used class libraries and the Smalltalk language as a guide for their concepts. 

NeXT first used it to make the custom programming platform OpenStep. Apple acquired NeXT later on and utilized OpenStep for their operating system.

Because of that, Objective-C became the main programming language for Apple products.

Main Features of Objective-C

It’s thanks largely to the Objective-C language features that have appealed to developers since the 1980s.

Below are some of the main features of this language:

  • Creation of data structures – There are two kinds of data structures: classes and objects. There’s no such thing as a “factory system” here. Every class is a meta-class that’s automated and managed by runtime. If you want to create an object, you just need to send a message to the class that you want to instantiate. Aside from that, you can extend classes WITHOUT using subclassing, thanks to categories.

  • Inheritance – Inheritance lets you create classes even when you already have an existing one! This feature also allows you to reuse codes. You’ll also be able to autonomously prolong the original program and create a modification while keeping the same features.

  • Encapsulation – This feature lets you limit other users from having DIRECT access to state values of the variables. You can use it to adapt to new requirements and set different variables as to write-only or read.

  • Data hiding – Data hiding is a safety feature that PROTECTS data from unwanted access. It can help prevent the risk of changes (whether accidental or deliberate) to the program.

  • Polymorphism – This includes static and dynamic typing. If you’re unsure which objects will be used at run time, dynamic typing lets you declare a variable that can be held in reference to an object. This allows for increased flexibility when coding. Meanwhile, if you’re sure about the objects that will be used at run time, static typing can be a better option.

The Components of the Objective-C Programming Language

There are two major parts of every code: the Data Types and Variables.

Below, we’ll talk about what you can specifically expect to see in an Objective-C code:

Basic Data Types

Common data types include:

Primitive Data Type

These are simple and straightforward data. Some examples are:

  • int – Short for “integer value,” this type is a whole number, which includes zero and negative numbers.

  • float – A floating point value has as many decimal places as it can hold. These values aren’t accurate, so if you need precise decimals, it’s better to use NSDecimalNumber.

  • char – This is any single character, from letters to symbols. Lowercase and uppercase letters are read as two different characters.

  • BOOL – This type is short for “boolean,” which is a 1-bit true-or-false value. Keywords like YES/NO, TRUE/FALSE, true/false, 1,0 can represent these values.

Object Data Type

These are more complex than primitive data types, giving them more complex properties and methods too. Some examples are:

  • NSString – This is essentially a group of characters strung together to make text. Instances of this type are immutable. That means that string manipulation is impossible once you’ve created and initialized an NSString object.

  • NSNumber – This is a lightweight “wrapper” class that lets a primitive data type have object-oriented features.


You can think of variables as a way to hold data together.

When you create a variable in Objective-C code, you usually do it through static typing. This involves variable declaration, where each type of data that the variable will hold is mentioned at the BEGINNING of the code.

Object variables are a bit trickier than scalar variables since you’ll need to de-reference a pointer using asterisks.

Advantages of Objective-C

Objective-C is by no means a new programming language. But it’s lasted for more than 40 years because of the following advantages:

  • Easy to use – A big reason why the language took off is it’s VERY user-friendly. It doesn’t have complex features (like templates and overloading) that other languages tend to have. Aside from that, Objective-C has a fast program feature, making programming efficient and quick.

  • Compatible with any iOS version – Because of how ingrained Objective-C is in Apple platforms, it has backward compatibility.

  • Has function-rich libraries – Objective-C’s libraries have a lot of built-in features that can make programming easier. You can also create your own features and add them to the library! This makes Objective-C programs easy to extend too without much alteration.

  • Has plenty of tools – Because of its history, Objective-C has been equipped with an abundance of tools. These include the XCode and Cocoa frameworks, and those from third-party contributors and Apple itself.

Disadvantages of Objective-C
  • Complex syntax – Modern languages have syntaxes that look like plain English, making them easier to understand. But if you compare Objective-C to any new language, you’ll notice that the lines of code are more complex.

  • Time-consuming – Aside from the complex syntax, the lines of code are LONG as well. There’s a lack of namespacing, too — for instance, variable names shouldn’t contain spaces. Instead, a variable name should only have letters, numbers, and underscores. So, you’ll need to carefully reread the whole thing to ensure that your code is correct.

  • Requires more maintenance – Objective-C is an outdated language, so you’ll need to keep updating apps developed using it.

What Is Objective-C Used For?

Objective-C is one of the oldest object-oriented languages. However, it also remains one of the MAIN programming languages in OS-X and iOS development and their applications.

Objective-C and Mobile App Development

Objective-C has been used to develop software for MANY Apple products.

It relies on behavior offered by framework classes from Cocoa and Cocoa Touch. XCode is also important in building Apple apps.

Objective-C is compatible with several mobile app development languages — such as the C family, JavaScript, and Swift. Admittedly, you’ll sometimes need to use a “bridge” (such as with JavaScript) to make things work smoothly.

Because of that, it’s also very possible to develop Objective-C programs for non-Apple operating systems or those that aren’t dependent on Apple APIs. You can do this by compiling the programs for platforms supported by GNU GCC or LLVM/Clang.

Though Objective-C isn’t a modern programming language, the scope of the things you can do with it still makes it a beginner-friendly programming language for mobile app development.

Objective-C vs. Swift Programming Language

In 2014, Apple introduced the Swift programming language.

Initially, it worked alongside Objective-C, but they eventually encouraged developers to use Swift more.

Is Objective-C or Swift Easier?

Swift is a higher-level programming language based on the C family. It’s open-source and can easily be used on different platforms — such as Linux, Windows, and Android.

Swift code is MUCH easier to write and understand. It also REDUCES the chances of making an error. This is possible thanks to runtime crash, which is triggered by possible bugs so you can fix an issue immediately.

Other Swift features include:

  • Automatic Reference Counting (ARC) – ARC automatically handles memory management, meaning you don’t have to worry if you have enough memory for your project.

  • Concise code syntax – You’ll need to type down FEWER lines of code for string manipulation, repetitive statements, and such.

  • Interactive playgrounds – You can download these playgrounds on your Apple devices to learn how to write code or be familiar with the Swift algorithm.

  • Compiler feature – This reduces classes of unsafe code, also lowering the amount of runtime crashes an app will experience.

Swift also has dynamic libraries that can help improve performance when you build apps for iOS.

With Swift, coding for any type that conforms to protocol WITHOUT knowing the specific type is possible.

Meanwhile, for Objective-C, categories run directly in compile time and can only be used to extend a certain type’s functionality.

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve answered a few more questions on Objective-C below:

Is Objective-C Still Used?

Yes, Objective-C is still used. Of course, that’s because it’s a huge part of the foundation of Apple’s operating system.

Apple still supports it since the legacy code is still fully functional, but it WON’T be getting updates anymore.

Instead, Apple encourages their developers (or aspiring developers) to learn Swift.

Is Objective-C Hard to Learn?

Despite being an old programming language, Objective-C is surprisingly NOT hard to learn.

In fact, it’s one of the easier languages beginners can learn!

That’s because it has a very fluid and dynamic runtime. The syntax might look overwhelming at first, but you’ll be able to get the hang of it easily.

While Swift is easier to write and understand when you’re used to it, it’s NOT very beginner-friendly.

This is because it has additional features that call for a lot of nuances — for instance, you can expect different behavior from classes and structures.

What Language Is Objective-C Similar To?

Objective-C is a mix of the original C programming language and Smalltalk.

Since Objective-C is syntactically an extension of C, you can say that C and Objective-C are exactly the same in some parts.

If we’re talking about alternatives you can learn, Python would be the best one.

Is Objective-C Faster Than Java?

C embedded into Objective-C is faster than Java of the same version.

But many factors go into how fast a code works — the biggest factor being the piece of hardware you’re running the code on.

Final Thoughts

The Objective-C programming language is one of the oldest programming languages with an object-oriented paradigm.

Newer programming languages have features such as memory management and easier syntax.

Despite that, Objective-C remains an important language that serves as the foundation of Apple’s operating system and inspiration for other C code families.

It’s a surprisingly beginner-friendly language to learn, too. So, if you’re interested in entering the world of programming languages, this certain one is highly recommended.

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