Lesson-2 Constant, Variables and Data Types


As every natural language has a basic character set, computer languages also have a character set, rules to define words. Words are used to form statements. These in turn are used to write the programs.

Computer programs usually work with different types of data and need a way to store the values being used. These values can be numbers or characters. C language has two ways of storing number values—variables and constants—with many options for each. Constants and variables are the fundamental elements of each program. Simply speaking, a program is nothing else than defining them and manipulating them. A variable is a data storage location that has a value that can change during program execution. In contrast, a constant has a fixed value that can’t change.

This unit is concerned with the basic elements used to construct simple C program statements. These elements include the C character set, identifiers and keywords, data types, constants, variables and arrays, declaration and naming conventions of variables.


When you write a program, you express C source files as text lines containing characters from the character set. When a program executes in the target environment, it uses characters from the character set. These character sets are related, but need not have the same encoding or all the same members.

Every character set contains a distinct code value for each character in the basic C character set. A character set can also contain additional characters with other code values. The C language character set has alphabets, numbers, and special characters as shown below:

  • Alphabets including both lowercase and uppercase alphabets - A-Z and a-z.

  • Numbers 0-9

  • Special characters include:

                        ;           :           {          ,          ‘          “          |

                        }          >          <          /          \           ~          _

                        [           ]           !          $          ?         *         +

                        =          (           )          -           %        #          ^

                        @        &        .


Identifiers are the names given to various program elements such as constants, variables, function names and arrays etc. Every element in the program has its own distinct name but one cannot select any name unless it conforms to valid name in C language. Let us study first, the rules to define names or identifiers.

2.3.1 Rules for Forming Identifiers

Identifiers are defined according to the following rules:

1. It consists of letters and digits.

2. First character must be an alphabet or underscore.

3. Both upper and lower cases are allowed. Same text of different case is not equivalent,

for example: TEXT is not same as text.

4. Except the special character underscore ( _ ), no other special symbols can be used.

For example, some valid identifiers are shown below:






For example, some invalid identifiers are shown below:

            123                  First character to be alphabet.

            “X.”                 Not allowed.

            order-no           Hyphen not allowed.

            error flag          Blank space not allowed.

2.3.2 Keywords

Keywords are reserved words which have standard, predefined meaning in C. They cannot be used as program-defined identifiers.

The lists of C keywords are as follows:


Note: Generally all keywords are in lower case although uppercase of same names can be used as identifiers.


To store data inside the computer we need to first identify the type of data elements we need in our program. There are several different types of data, which may be represented differently within the computer memory. The data type specifies two things:

1. Permissible range of values that it can store.

2. Memory requirement to store a data type.

C Language provides four basic data types viz. int, char, float and double. Using these, we can store data in simple ways as single elements or we can group them together and use different ways (to be discussed later) to store them as per requirement. The four basic data types are described in the following table 2.1

Table 2.1: Basic Data Types







2 Bytes

− 32,768 to 32,767



1 Byte

− 128 to 128


Floating point number

4 bytes

3.4e − 38 to 3.4e +38


Floating point number with higher precision

8 bytes

1.7e − 308 to 1.7e + 308

Memory requirements or size of data associated with a data type indicates the range of numbers that can be stored in the data item of that type.


Short, long, signed, unsigned are called the data type qualifiers and can be used with any data type. A short int requires less space than int and long int may require more space than int. If int and short int takes 2 bytes, then long int takes 4 bytes.

Unsigned bits use all bits for magnitude; therefore, this type of number can be larger. For example signed int ranges from –32768 to +32767 and unsigned int ranges from 0 to 65,535. Similarly, char data type of data is used to store a character. It requires 1 byte. Signed char values range from –128 to 127 and unsigned char value range from 0 to 255. These can be summarized as follows:

Table 2.2: Data Types qualifiers

Data type

Size (bytes)


Short int or int


−32768 to 32767

Long int


−2147483648 to 2147483647

Signed int


−32768 to 32767

Unsigned int


0 to 65535

Signed char


−128 to 127

Unsigned char


0 to 255


Variable is an identifier whose value changes from time to time during execution. It is a named data storage location in your computer’s memory. By using a variable’s name in your program, you are, in effect, referring to the data stored there. A variable represents a single data item i.e. a numeric quantity or a character constant or a string constant. Note that a value must be assigned to the variables at some point of time in the program which is termed as assignment statement. The variable can then be accessed later in the program. If the variable is accessed before it is assigned a value, it may give garbage value. The data type of a variable doesn’t change whereas the value assigned to can change. All variables have three essential attributes:

• the name

• the value

• the memory, where the value is stored.

For example, in the following C program a, b, c, d are the variables but variable e is not declared and is used before declaration. After compiling the source code and look what gives?

void main( )


                  int a, b, c;

                  char d;

                  a = 3;

                  b = 5;

                  c = a + b;

                  d = ‘a’;





After compiling the code, this will generate the message that variable e not defined.


Before any data can be stored in the memory, we must assign a name to these locations of memory. For this we make declarations. Declaration associates a group of identifiers with a specific data type. All of them need to be declared before they appear in program statements, else accessing the variables results in junk values or a diagnostic error. The syntax for declaring variables is as follows:

data- type variable-name(s);

For example,

        int a;

      short int a, b;

      int c, d;

      long c, f;

      float r1, r2;


When variables are declared initial, values can be assigned to them in two ways:

  • Within a Type declaration

The value is assigned at the declaration time.

For example,

int a = 10;

float b = 0.4 e –5;

char c = ‘a’;

b) Using Assignment statement

  • The values are assigned just after the declarations are made.

For example,

a = 10;

b = 0.4 e –5;

c = ‘a’;


A constant is an identifier whose value cannot be changed throughout the execution of a program whereas the variable value keeps on changing. In C there are four basic types of constants. They are:

1. Integer constants

2. Floating point constants

3. Character constants

4. String constants

Integer and Floating Point constants are numeric constants and represent numbers.

Rules to form Integer and Floating Point Constants

  • No comma or blank space is allowed in a constant.

  • It can be preceded by – (minus) sign if desired.

  • The value should lie within a minimum and maximum permissible range decided by the word size of the computer.

2.9.1 Integer Constants

Further, these constant can be classified according to the base of the numbers as:

1. Decimal integer constants

These consist of digits 0 through 9 and first digit should not be 0.

For example,

1                443                  32767

are valid decimal integer constants.

2. Invalid Decimal integer Constants

12 ,45                    , not allowed

36.0                      Illegal char.

1 010                     Blank space not allowed

10 – 10                  Illegal char –

0900                      The first digit should not be a zero

3. Octal integer constants

      These consist of digits 0 through 7. The first digit must be zero in order to identify the constant as an octal number.

Valid Octal INTEGER constants are:

0                01                    0743                0777

Invalid Octal integer constants are:

743                        does not begin with 0

0438                      illegal character 8

0777.77                 illegal char .

4. Hexadecimal integer constants 42 Variables and Constants

These constants begin with 0x or OX and are followed by combination of digits taken from hexadecimal digits 0 to 9, a to f or A to F.

Valid Hexadecimal integer constants are:

OX0                       OX1                 OXF77                         Oxabcd.

Invalid Hexadecimal integer constants are:

OBEF                     x is not included

Ox.4bff                  illegal char (.)

OXGBC                 illegal char G

Maximum values these constants can have are as follows:

Integer constants                    Maximum value

Decimal integer                              32767

Octal integer                                  77777

Hexadecimal integer                      7FFF

Unsigned integer constants: Exceed the ordinary integer by magnitude of 2, they are not negative. A character U or u is prefixed to number to make it unsigned.

Long Integer constants: These are used to exceed the magnitude of ordinary integers and are appended By L.

For example,

50000U                 decimal unsigned.

1234567889L        decimal long.

0123456L              octal long.

0777777U               octal unsigned.

2.9.2 Floating Point Constants

What is a base 10 number containing decimal point or an exponent.

Examples of valid floating point numbers are:

0.                           1.

000.2                     5.61123456

50000.1                 0.000741

1.6667E+3                         0.006e-3

Examples of Invalid Floating Point numbers are:

1                            decimal or exponent required.

1,00.0                    comma not allowed.

2E+10.2                 exponent is written after integer quantity.

3E 10                     no blank space.

A Floating Point number taking the value of 5 x 104 can be represented as:

5000.                     5e4

5e+4                      5E4

5.0e+4                   .5e5

The magnitude of floating point numbers range from 3.4E –38 to a maximum of 3.4E+38, through 0.0. They are taken as double precision numbers. Floating Point constants occupy 2 words = 8 bytes.

2.9.3 Character Constants

This constant is a single character enclosed in apostrophes ‘ ’ .

For example, some of the character constants are shown below:

‘A’,            ‘x’,       ‘3’,       ‘$’

‘\0’ is a null character having value zero.

Character constants have integer values associated depending on the character set adopted for the computer. ASCII character set is in use which uses 7-bit code with 27 = 128 different characters. The digits 0-9 are having ASCII value of 48-56 and ‘A’ have ASCII value from 65 and ‘a’ having value 97 are sequentially ordered. For example,

‘A’ has 65,                         blank has 32


There are some non-printable characters that can be printed by preceding them with ‘\’ backslash character. Within character constants and string literals, you can write a variety of escape sequences. Each escape sequence determines the code value for a single character. You can use escape sequences to represent character codes:

  • you cannot otherwise write (such as \n)

  • that can be difficult to read properly (such as \t)

  • that might change value in different target character sets (such as \a)

  • that must not change in value among different target environments (such as \0)

The following is the list of the escape sequences:

          Character                              Escape Sequence

                        "                                   \"

                        '                                   \'

                        ?                                  \?

                        \                                   \\

                        BEL                             \a

                        BS                                \b

                        FF                                \f

                        NL                               \n

                        CR                               \r

                        HT                               \t

                        VT                               \v

2.9.4 String Constants

It consists of sequence of characters enclosed within double quotes. For example,

“Red”                    “Blue Sea”                   “41213*(I+3)”.


Symbolic Constant is a name that substitutes for a sequence of characters or a numeric constant, a character constant or a string constant. When program is compiled each occurrence of a symbolic constant is replaced by its corresponding character sequence. The syntax is as follows:

#define name text

Where name implies symbolic name in caps.

      Text implies value or the text.

For example,

            #define printf print

            #define MAX 100

            #define TRUE 1

            #define FALSE 0

            #define SIZE 10

The # character is used for preprocessor commands. A preprocessor is a system program, which comes into action prior to Compiler, and it replaces the replacement text by the actual text. This will allow correct use of the statement printf.

Advantages of using Symbolic Constants are:

• They can be used to assign names to values

• Replacement of value has to be done at one place and wherever the name appears in the text it gets the value by execution of the preprocessor. This saves time. If the Symbolic Constant appears 20 times in the program; it needs to be changed at one place only.

Last modified: Monday, 28 October 2013, 9:55 AM