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Table of contents
Features of the Algorithm
Algorithm Analysis
Posterior analysis
Algorithm Complexity
Time Complexity
Space Complexity
How to Write an Algorithm?
Types of Algorithms Used in C Language
Sorting Algorithms
Searching Algorithms
Graph Algorithms
Cryptographic Algorithms
Advantages of the Algorithms
Disadvantages of the Algorithms
Frequently Asked Questions 
What is the most efficient sorting algorithm in C?
How can I choose the right algorithm for my C program?
Are there universal algorithms that work best for all programming needs?
Last Updated: Apr 20, 2024

Algorithm in C Programming

Author Pallavi singh
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Algorithms are a set of steps or instructions that help solve problems in computer programming. They are the building blocks of any program & play a crucial role in developing efficient & effective software solutions. Algorithms take an input, perform some operations on it, & produce the desired output. 

Algorithm in C Programming

In this article, we will explore the features, analysis, complexity, writing process, types, advantages, & disadvantages of algorithms in C programming.

Features of the Algorithm

Algorithms in C programming are distinguished by several key features that make them fundamental to creating effective & efficient software. Here’s a detailed look at these features:

  • Definiteness: Each step of an algorithm is clear & unambiguous. In C programming, this means that every operation, from variable declaration to loops and conditionals, must be precisely defined to avoid errors during execution.
  • Finiteness: Algorithms must have a finite number of steps. This ensures that they eventually terminate & produce a result after executing their defined steps a certain number of times.
  • Input: Algorithms take zero or more inputs. In the context of C programming, these inputs could be data like numbers, array elements, or any valid data type, provided to the algorithm to process a specific task.
  • Output: For every input, an algorithm should produce at least one output. This output is the result of processing the given inputs through the set of well-defined instructions.
  • Effectiveness: Each step of an algorithm must be basic enough to be carried out, in principle, by a person using only pencil & paper. While computers process these steps much faster, the concept emphasizes that steps should be simple & executable.
  • Generality: The algorithm should be applicable to a set of problems rather than a single problem. This means the algorithm can solve general cases and isn't tailored to specific inputs.
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Algorithm Analysis

Understanding how algorithms perform under various conditions is crucial. Algorithm analysis in C programming helps determine how efficient an algorithm is in terms of time and space required. There are two main types of analysis:


This type of analysis estimates the resources an algorithm requires before it is implemented. It involves looking at the algorithm's structure and theoretically evaluating the operations it performs without running the algorithm on any specific hardware.

Posterior analysis

Unlike prior-analysis, posterior analysis is performed after the algorithm has been implemented. It measures the actual running time and space used by the algorithm when it is executed on specific hardware. This data helps in understanding the practical efficiency of the algorithm.

These analyses are essential for comparing different algorithms and selecting the most appropriate one based on performance metrics such as time and space complexity. This selection process is vital for developing efficient software that performs well on various devices and under different usage conditions.

Algorithm Complexity

Algorithm complexity is a critical concept in C programming, helping programmers understand the efficiency of an algorithm. It refers to the amount of computational resources an algorithm requires as the size of the input data increases. Algorithm complexity is typically expressed in two forms:

Time Complexity

This measures the time an algorithm takes to complete as a function of the length of the input. It is crucial because it helps predict the time it takes for an algorithm to run and thus influences the overall performance of a program. Time complexity is often represented using Big O notation, which describes the upper limit of the execution time as the input size grows.

Space Complexity

Besides time, algorithms also consume physical space in the form of memory. Space complexity measures the total amount of memory space required by an algorithm as a function of the input size. This includes space for input data, additional variables, and temporary data storage.

Understanding these complexities helps in choosing the right algorithm for a problem, especially when dealing with large data sets or systems with limited memory resources. It ensures that the software not only functions correctly but does so efficiently.

How to Write an Algorithm?

Writing an algorithm in C programming involves a clear understanding of the problem you are trying to solve and translating that understanding into a series of well-defined steps. Here’s a basic guide on how to approach writing an algorithm:

  • Understand the Problem: Before you begin, make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the problem. What are the inputs? What is the desired output? What are the constraints?
  • Outline the Steps: Write down the steps needed to solve the problem in a logical order. Think about each action and how it contributes to solving the problem.
  • Start with Pseudocode: Before coding in C, start with pseudocode. Pseudocode is a way to describe how your algorithm will work, using plain language. This step helps you organize your thoughts and plan the logic without worrying about syntax.
  • Translate to C Code: Once your pseudocode is ready, translate it into actual C code. Begin by defining your variables, then implement the steps you outlined, using C programming constructs like loops, if-else statements, and functions.
  • Test the Algorithm: After writing your code, test it with various inputs to ensure it works correctly. Look for edge cases and try to break your algorithm to find any hidden bugs.
  • Optimize: Once your algorithm works, look for ways to make it more efficient. Can you reduce the time complexity? Is there a way to use less memory?

Here’s a simple example to illustrate how to write an algorithm in C:

  • C


#include <stdio.h>

// Function to add two numbers

int addNumbers(int a, int b) {

   return a + b; // returns the sum of a and b


int main() {

   int num1, num2, sum;

   printf("Enter two numbers: ");

   scanf("%d %d", &num1, &num2); // inputs two integers

   sum = addNumbers(num1, num2); // calling the function

   printf("Sum = %d", sum); // outputs the sum

   return 0;



Enter two numbers: 5 6
Sum = 11

In this example, the algorithm for adding two numbers is implemented in a simple function called addNumbers, demonstrating a basic structure of an algorithm in C.

Types of Algorithms Used in C Language

Sorting Algorithms

These are designed to arrange data in a specific order. Popular sorting algorithms include:

  • Bubble Sort: It repeatedly steps through the list, compares adjacent elements, and swaps them if they are in the wrong order. It's simple but not suitable for large data sets due to its high time complexity.
  • Quick Sort: Uses a divide-and-conquer approach to select a 'pivot' element and partition the other elements into those less than the pivot and those greater before sorting the partitions. This is often faster for large data sets.

Searching Algorithms

These algorithms are used to find specific data within a set. Common searching algorithms in C include:

  • Linear Search: Checks every element in the list until it finds the target value. It’s straightforward but slow for large lists.
  • Binary Search: More efficient than linear search, it works on sorted arrays by repeatedly dividing the search interval in half.

Graph Algorithms

Useful for problems involving networks, such as social connections or pathways in maps. Examples include:

  • Dijkstra’s Algorithm: Finds the shortest path between nodes in a graph.
  • Depth-First Search (DFS) & Breadth-First Search (BFS): These help in traversing or searching tree or graph data structures.

Cryptographic Algorithms

These are crucial for ensuring secure communication. In C programming, you might encounter:

  • RSA Algorithm: A public-key cryptosystem for secure data transmission.
  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard): Widely used for secure data encryption.

Advantages of the Algorithms

  • Precision: Algorithms provide a clear set of instructions to solve a problem, ensuring that every step is precisely defined and followed, which minimizes errors during execution.
  • Efficiency: Well-designed algorithms can significantly speed up the processing of data, allowing programs to perform complex tasks more quickly. This is especially important in applications where time is critical, such as real-time processing.
  • Reusability: Once an algorithm has been created, it can be reused in different parts of a program or even in different programs. This reusability makes development faster and more efficient as programmers can leverage existing, tested code.
  • Scalability: Algorithms designed to handle increasing amounts of data efficiently make it easier to scale applications as user demand grows.
  • Predictability: With algorithms, the outcome of a process is predictable given the same input. This predictability is crucial for debugging and improving software applications, as it allows developers to anticipate and rectify potential issues.
  • Optimization: Algorithms can be optimized to enhance performance, such as reducing the time or memory usage, which contributes to the overall effectiveness of a software application.

Disadvantages of the Algorithms

  • Complexity: Some algorithms, especially those that solve complex problems, can be difficult to understand and implement correctly. This complexity can lead to errors in coding and may require significant time to debug and validate.
  • Resource Consumption: Highly complex algorithms may require a lot of memory or processor time, which can be a disadvantage in resource-constrained environments such as mobile devices or embedded systems.
  • Overhead: Designing and maintaining efficient algorithms can introduce additional overhead. Developers might need to spend considerable time analyzing and optimizing algorithms to achieve the desired efficiency.
  • Dependency on Data: The performance of some algorithms, particularly those used for sorting and searching, can vary significantly with the nature of the input data. For example, quicksort can perform poorly if the data is already sorted or nearly sorted.
  • Scalability Issues: While algorithms are generally designed to be scalable, some might not perform well when scaled up to handle very large data sets or when operating in distributed computing environments.
  • Adaptability: Some algorithms are not easily adaptable to new problems or requirements. They might be designed for specific scenarios and might not perform well outside their intended use case without significant modifications.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the most efficient sorting algorithm in C?

The efficiency of a sorting algorithm can depend on the context and data. Quick sort is generally considered highly efficient for large datasets due to its average-case time complexity of O(n log n), but merge sort is preferred for stability and consistent performance across different types of data.

How can I choose the right algorithm for my C program?

Consider the nature of the problem, the size of the data set, and the computational resources available. Analyze both time and space complexity of algorithms to ensure they fit within your program's constraints and performance goals.

Are there universal algorithms that work best for all programming needs?

No, there is no one-size-fits-all algorithm. Each algorithm has its strengths and weaknesses and is suited to particular types of problems and data conditions. It's crucial to understand the specific requirements and constraints of your application before choosing an algorithm.


In this article, we have learned about the fundamental role of algorithms in C programming, covering their features, types, complexities, and practical examples. We explored the advantages that make algorithms an important tools for developing efficient software and discussed the disadvantages that require careful consideration during the development process. 

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