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Types of Tokens in C with Examples

Definition of Tokens

In C programming language, tokens refer to the basic building blocks of the language. Tokens are the smallest individual units or elements of a C program.

Importance of Tokens

The importance of tokens in the C programming language can be summarized as follows:

  • Tokens form the building blocks of a C program and allow the programmer to express complex logic concisely and efficiently.
  • By understanding the different types of tokens, a programmer can write more readable and maintainable code.
  • The syntax of a C program is determined by the arrangement and use of different tokens, making it easier for compilers to parse and interpret the code.
  • Knowledge of tokens is essential for debugging and troubleshooting C programs, as errors often arise due to incorrect use or arrangement of tokens.
  • C tokens are used in various programming contexts, including embedded systems, operating systems, and high-performance computing, making them essential to computer science education and training.

Basic Types of Tokens in C

A. Keywords

C keywords are reserved words with specific meanings that cannot be used as identifiers (variable names, function names, etc.).

There are 32 keywords in the C programming language. Here is the table:


Note that some of these keywords have different meanings depending on their context, and some of them are only used sometimes in modern programming practices.

Here are some examples of how keywords are used in C code:

1. The int keyword is used to declare a variable of type integer:

int age;

2. The if keyword is used to start a conditional statement:

if (age >= 18) 
    printf("You are an adult.\n");

3. The while  keyword is used to start a loop that executes while a condition is true:

while (age < 18) 
    printf("You are too young to vote.\n");

4. The switch keyword is used to start a switch statement that allows you to select one of several code blocks to execute:

switch (age) 
    case 16:
        printf("You can get a driver's license.\n");
    case 18:
        printf("You can vote.\n");
        printf("You are not old enough for anything.\n");

5. The return keyword is used to exit a function and return a value:

int add(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;

6. The typedef keyword is used to define a new type based on an existing type:

typedef unsigned char byte;
byte myByte = 0x12;

Note that these are just a few examples of how keywords are used in C code, and there are many other ways to use them depending on the specific context and purpose of the code.

B. Identifier

In programming, an identifier is a name assigned to a variable, function, or other program entity. Identifiers are used to refer to these entities in the code.

Here are the naming rules for identifiers in the C programming language:

  • An identifier must begin with a letter (upper or lower case) or an underscore (_). It cannot begin with a number.
  • After the first character, an identifier can consist of letters, numbers, or underscores. No other special characters are allowed.
  • Identifiers are case-sensitive, which means that "myVariable" and "myvariable" are two different identifiers.
  • An identifier cannot be a reserved keyword. For example, you cannot name a variable "int" or "while" because these are reserved keywords in C.
  • Identifiers should be meaningful and descriptive. For example, instead of using a variable name like "x", it's better to use a name that describes its purpose, like "age" or "counter".
  • The length of an identifier is not limited to C, but it is a good practice to keep them reasonably short and easy to read.

Examples of Identifiers

Valid identifiers in C:

int myVariable;
double _temperature;
char my_name;
int counter1;

Invalid identifiers in C:

int 3x; // cannot begin with a number
double my-variable; // contains a hyphen (not allowed)
char int; // "int" is a reserved keyword
int thisVariableNameIsWayTooLongAndDifficultToRead; // too long and hard to read


Constants in programming refer to fixed values that do not change during the execution of the program. In C programming language, constants are values explicitly specified in the code, and their value cannot be altered during runtime.

Here are the types of constants in C:

1. Integer Constants: Integer constants are whole numbers, either positive or negative, without a decimal point. They can be represented in decimal, octal, or hexadecimal format.

For example:

int x = 10;        // decimal integer constant
int y = 012;       // octal integer constant (10 in decimal)
int z = 0xA;       // hexadecimal integer constant (10 in decimal)

2. Floating Point Constants: Floating-point constants represent real numbers with a decimal point. They can be represented in standard or exponential notation.

For example:

float a = 3.14;    // standard floating-point constant
float b = 2E-5;    // exponential notation (0.00002 in decimal)

3. Character Constants: Character constants represent a single character enclosed in quotes. For example:

char c = 'A';      // character constant

4. String Constants: String constants represent characters enclosed in double quotes. For example:

char str[] = "Hello, world!";  // string constant

5. Enumeration Constants: Enumeration constants are named values representing a group of related constants. For example:

enum days {Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday}; // enumeration constant

Note that constants are useful in programming because they allow us to use fixed values that do not change during program execution. It makes the code more readable, easier to maintain, and less prone to errors.


Operators in programming are symbols or keywords that perform various operations on one or more operands. In C programming language, operators can be classified into several types based on functionality.

Here are the types of operators in C:

1. Arithmetic Operators: Arithmetic operators perform arithmetic operations on numeric operands. These include addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*), division (/), and modulus (%).

2. Logical Operators: Logical operators are used to performing logical operations on Boolean operands. These include logical AND (&&), logical OR (||), and logical NOT (!).

3. Bitwise Operators: Bitwise operators are used to perform operations on individual bits of numeric operands. These include bitwise AND (&), bitwise OR (|), bitwise XOR (^), bitwise NOT (~), left shift (<<), and right shift (>>).

4. Assignment Operators: Assignment operators are used to assign a value to a variable. These include simple assignment (=), addition assignment (+=), subtraction assignment (-=), multiplication assignment (*=), division assignment (/=), and modulus assignment (%=).

5. Relational Operators: Relational operators are used to comparing the values of two operands. These include equal to (==), not equal to (!=), greater than (>), less than (<), greater than or equal to (>=), and less than or equal to (<=).

6. Increment and Decrement Operators: Increment and decrement operators are used to increase or decrease the value of an operand by 1. These include increment (++), decrement (--), pre-increment (++i), and pre-decrement (--i).

Examples of operators in C:

int x = 10;
int y = 20;
int z = x + y;          // arithmetic operator
int a = (x < y) && (y > 15);    // logical operator
int b = x & y;          // bitwise operator
x += 5;                 // assignment operator
int c = (x == y);       // relational operator
x++;                    // increment operator
y--;                    // decrement operator

Note that operators are essential in programming because they allow us to perform various operations on data.

Special Symbols

Special symbols in programming are characters or punctuation marks used to group or separate code elements. In the C programming language, several special symbols are commonly used. Here are some examples:

1. Braces: Braces group statements into a single code block. They are represented by the symbols "{" and "}". For example:

int x = 10;
if (x > 5) 
    printf("x is greater than 5");

2. Parentheses: Parentheses are used to group expressions and function arguments. They are represented by the symbols "(" and ")". For example:

nt x = (5 + 3) * 2;
printf("x is %d", x);

3. Comma: The comma separates elements in a list or sequence of expressions. For example:

int a = 10, b = 20, c = 30;
printf("a = %d, b = %d, c = %d", a, b, c);

4. Semicolon: The semicolon terminates a statement in C. It is placed at the end of each statement. For example:

int x = 10;
printf("x is %d", x);   // statement terminated by semicolon

Note that these special symbols are critical in writing C code as they provide structure and meaning to the program.

Final thoughts on using tokens in C programming

Understanding the different types of tokens in the C programming language is crucial in writing efficient, error-free code. Each token type serves a specific purpose and must be used appropriately. Misusing tokens can result in syntax or logical errors, which can be difficult to debug.

Tokens define and manipulate data in C programming, perform calculations, and control programme flow. They enable programmers to create complex, powerful programmes capable of performing a wide range of tasks.

In conclusion, learning and mastering tokens in the C programming language is essential for any aspiring programmer, and it provides a solid foundation for developing efficient, effective, scalable programs. By understanding how tokens work and how to use them effectively, programmers can create high-quality code that is easy to read, understand, and maintain.