The Basics of C Programming


The scanf function allows you to accept input from standard in, which for us is generally the keyboard. The scanf function can do a lot of different things, but can be unreliable because it doesn’t handle human errors very well. But for simple programs it’s good enough and easy to use.

The simplest application of scanf looks like this:


scanf("%d", &b);

The program will read in an integer value that the user enters on the keyboard (%d is for integers, as is printf, so b must be declared as an int) and place that value into b.

The scanf function uses the same placeholders as printf:

  • int uses %d
  • float uses %f
  • char uses %c
  • character strings (discussed later) use %s

You must put & in front of the variable used in scanf. The reason why will become clear once you learn about pointers. It is easy to forget the & sign, and when you forget it your program will almost always crash when you run it.

In general, it is best to use scanf as shown here -- to read a single value from the keyboard. Use multiple calls to scanf to read multiple values. In any real program, you will use the gets or fgets functions instead to read text a line at a time. Then you will "parse" the line to read its values. The reason that you do that is so you can detect errors in the input and handle them as you see fit.

The printf and scanf functions will take a bit of practice to be completely understood, but once mastered they are extremely useful.

Try This!

Modify this program so that it accepts three values instead of two and adds all three together:

#include <stdio.h>

int main()
    int a, b, c;
    printf("Enter the first value:");
    scanf("%d", &a);
    printf("Enter the second value:");
    scanf("%d", &b);
    c = a + b;
    printf("%d + %d = %d\n", a, b, c);
    return 0;

You can also delete the b variable in the first line of the above program and see what the compiler does when you forget to declare a variable. Delete a semicolon and see what happens. Leave out one of the braces. Remove one of the parentheses next to the main function. Make each error by itself and then run the program through the compiler to see what happens. By simulating errors like these, you can learn about different compiler errors, and that will make your typos easier to find when you make them for real.