Why Aren't There C Conferences?

This article was discussed on Hacker News.

Most widely-used programming languages have at least one regular conference dedicated to discussing it. Heck, even Lisp has one. It’s a place to talk about the latest developments of the language, recent and upcoming standards, and so on. However, C is a notable exception. Despite its role as the foundation of the entire software ecosystem, there aren’t any regular conferences about C. I have a couple of theories about why.

First, C is so fundamental and ubiquitous that a conference about C would be too general. There are so many different uses ranging across embedded development, operating system kernels, systems programming, application development, and, most recently, web development (WebAssembly). It’s just not a cohesive enough topic. Any conference that might be about C is instead focused on some particular subset of its application. It’s not a C conference, it’s a database conference, or an embedded conference, or a Linux conference, or a BSD conference, etc.

Second, C has a tendency to be conservative, changing and growing very slowly. This is a feature, and one that is often undervalued by developers. (In fact, I’d personally like to see a future revision that makes the C language specification smaller and simpler, rather than accumulate more features.) The last major revision to C happened in 1999 (C99). There was a minor revision in 2011 (C11), and an even smaller revision in 2018 (C17). If there was a C conference, recent changes to the language wouldn’t be a very fruitful topic.

However, the tooling has advanced significantly in recent years, especially with the advent of LLVM and Clang. This is largely driven by the C++ community, and C has significantly benefited as a side effect due to its overlap. Those are topics worthy of conferences, but these are really C++ conferences.

The closest thing we have to a C conference every year is CppCon. A lot of CppCon isn’t really just about C++, and the subjects of many of the talks are easily applied to C, since C++ builds so much upon C. In a sense, a subset of CppCon could be considered a C conference. That’s what I’m looking for when I watch the CppCon presentations each year on YouTube.

Starting last year, I began a list of all the talks that I thought would be useful to C programmers. Some are entirely relevant to C, others just have significant portions that are relevant to C. When someone asks about where they can find a C conference, I send them my list.

I’m sharing them here so you can bookmark this page and never return again.

2017

Here’s the list for CppCon 2017. These are roughly ordered from highest to lowest recommendation:

2018

The final CppCon 2018 videos were uploaded this week, so my 2018 listing can be complete:

There were three talks strictly about C++ that I thought were interesting from a language design perspective. So I think they’re worth recommending, too. (In fact, they’re a sort of ammo against using C++ due to its insane complexity.)

Bonus

Finally, here are a few more good presentations from other C++ conferences which you can just pretend are about C:

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Chris Wellons