Programming in C

Comments C Language

Comments are used to indicate something to the person reading the code. Comments are treated like a blank by the compiler and do not change anything in the code’s actual meaning. There are two syntaxes used for comments in C, the original /* */ and the slightly newer //. Some documentation systems use specially formatted comments to help produce the documentation for code.

Commenting using the preprocessor

Large chunks of code can also be “commented out” using the preprocessor directives #if 0 and #endif. This is useful when the code contains multi-line comments that otherwise would not nest.

#if 0 /* Starts the "comment", anything from here on is removed by preprocessor */

/* A large amount of code with multi-line comments */

int foo()


/* lots of code */


/* ... some comment describing the if statement ... */ if (someTest) {

/* some more comments */

return 1;


return 0;


#endif /* 0 */

/* code from here on is "uncommented" (included in compiled executable) */


/* */ delimited comments

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A comment starts with a forward slash followed immediately by an asterisk (/), and ends as soon as an asterisk immediately followed by a forward slash (/) is encountered. Everything in between these character combinations is a comment and is treated as a blank (basically ignored) by the compiler.

/* this is a comment */

The comment above is a single line comment. Comments of this /* type can span multiple lines, like so:

/* this is a


comment */

Though it is not strictly necessary, a common style convention with multi-line comments is to put leading spaces and asterisks on the lines subsequent to the first, and the /* and */ on new lines, such that they all line up:


this is a


The extra asterisks do not have any functional effect on the comment as none of them have a related forward slash.

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These /* type of comments can be used on their own line, at the end of a code line, or even within lines of code:

/* this comment is on its own line */

if (x && y) { /*this comment is at the end of a line */

if ((complexCondition1) /* this comment is within a line of code */ && (complexCondition2)) {

/* this comment is within an if, on its own line */



Comments cannot be nested. This is because any subsequent /* will be ignored (as part of the comment) and the first */ reached will be treated as ending the comment. The comment in the following example will not work:

/* outer comment, means this is ignored => /* attempted inner comment */ <= ends the comment, not this one => */

To comment blocks of code that contain comments of this type, that would otherwise be nested, see the Commenting using the preprocessor example below

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// delimited comments

Version ≥ C99

C99 introduced the use of C++-style single-line comments. This type of comment starts with two forward slashes and runs to the end of a line:

// this is a comment

This type of comment does not allow multi-line comments, though it is possible to make a comment block by adding several single line comments one after the other:

  • each of these lines are a single-line comment
  • note how each must start with
  • the double forward-slash

This type of comment may be used on its own line or at the end of a code line. However, because they run to the end of the line, they may not be used within a code line

// this comment is on its own line

if (x && y) { // this comment is at the end of a line // this comment is within an if, on its own line


Possible pitfall due to trigraphs

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While writing // delimited comments, it is possible to make a typographical error that affects their expected operation. If one types:

 int x = 20; // Why did I do this??/

The / at the end was a typo but now will get interpreted into . This is because the ??/ forms a trigraph.

The ??/ trigraph is actually a longhand notation for \, which is the line continuation symbol. This means that the compiler thinks the next line is a continuation of the current line, that is, a continuation of the comment, which may not be what is intended.

int foo = 20; // Start at 20 ??/

int bar = 0;

//  The following will cause a compilation error (undeclared variable 'bar')

//  because 'int bar = 0;' is part of the comment on the preceding line

bar += foo;


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