What is Procedural Programming? A Beginner's Guide

What is Procedural Programming? A Beginner's Guide

If you're planning to learn how to code, then there's a high chance that you'll begin your coding journey with procedural programming.

After all, procedural programming is one of the simplest programming paradigms we use today. It is also the earliest paradigm that was developed for high-level programming.

But what exactly is procedural programming? Is it still used in software development today?

These are the questions we'll be answering today. So if you're interested, give this blog a read!

What is Procedural Programming?

Basically, procedural programming revolves around a sequence of instructions given to the computer. These sequences of instructions are known as procedures.

Since the instructions are carried out in well-defined sequences, we say that procedural programming takes a top-down approach.

In procedural programming, we divide our instructions into smaller blocks of well-defined code. These code blocks are known as functions, where each function performs a specific task.

Writing a procedural program involves calling the right function at the right time, i.e., using the appropriate function at the appropriate place within the larger code.

These functions often take data and process them to give an output. However, unlike object-oriented programming, we treat data and functions (procedure) as separate in procedural programming.

Features of Procedural Programming

The procedural paradigm consists of the following elements:

Pre-defined Functions

They are often standardized instructions that are included in the programming language itself, usually in standard libraries that are part of the language.

These functions are identified by name (say, printf, scanf, pow, etc.), and they each perform a specific task such as taking user input, displaying output on the screen, carrying out mathematical operations, etc.

Developers don't need to code each and everything from scratch because pre-defined functions can automate those tasks for us.

Local Variable

A variable is a named location in the computer memory that is used to store data. Local variables are those that are declared within a local scope.

To clarify, a local scope is a closed block or subsection of the program. The variables and other named entities defined inside that block are not valid outside of that block.

Hence, a function is also a local scope, i.e., variables defined inside a function are invalid outside that function. Using a variable outside the function or local scope will cause the entire program to fail.

Global Variable

A global variable can be used throughout the whole program since it is declared outside of all the functions and scopes that are defined inside the program.

Parameter Passing

Functions often work with data to give a certain result. Here, a function is like a machine that takes data as input and spits out a single output.

We often supply such data input by passing them as parameters to a function. These parameters could be variables, values, memory addresses, etc.

The supplied data can be either user input, values provided by the programmer, or results derived from some other operation within the program.


This is the practice of using different functions and procedures simultaneously to accomplish a single, greater task. Each procedure performs a specific task that is different from other functions. But combining their results leads to accomplishing the greater task.

Top-Down Approach

In this approach, the program is divided into smaller chunks that are executed in a sequential manner.

Benefits of Procedural Programming

There are many benefits to procedural programming, some of which are

  • Simplicity: Procedural programming is easy to understand and code due to its simple structure.
  • Reusable Code: Functions can be reused within the program again and again. This makes coding easier. It also reduces the length of the code and the time needed to write the entire program.
  • Easy Testability: The simplicity of procedural programming makes the code easy to test and debug. The shorter program length and the use of reusable code are great for quickly identifying sources of errors.
  • General Programming: The procedural paradigm is great for general use and for smaller projects.
  • Smaller Memory Requirement: Procedural programming utilizes less memory than other paradigms. This increases the efficiency of our program.
  • Team-Friendly: Multiple programmers can work on the same project simultaneously, with each programmer coding a different function. These functions can then be combined into a single project.
  • Accessibility: There are a lot of resources available to learn procedural programming since it is often the first paradigm that is taught to beginners.

Limitations of Procedural Programming

Along with the advantages, there are many disadvantages to procedural programming. Some of them are

  • Focused on Operations: Procedural programming focuses on functions and procedures more than data. This method is unsuitable for projects where data is important.
  • No Data Security: Data is exposed and accessible to multiple procedures in procedural programming. Thus, it is unsuitable for projects where we must protect data.
  • No Portability: With procedural programming, code can be reused within a single project. However, they cannot be exported to other projects. So we need to rewrite a lot of code when working on other projects.
  • Cannot Model the Real World: Since procedures are prioritized over data and objects, this paradigm cannot model the real world properly.
  • Unsuitable for Complexity: Procedural programming is unsuitable for creating large-scale and complex applications.

What is Procedural Programming Used For?

While Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) remains the most popular programming paradigm today, procedural programming still has many uses. You can use this paradigm to

  • create compilers, operating systems, kernels, etc.,
  • code system software for devices and embedded systems,
  • code server-side applications as a web developer.

Since many programming languages allow you to code in both procedural and object-oriented paradigms, you can even combine these paradigms in independent programs within the same codebase.

This is because OOP is suitable for some problems, while procedural programming is suitable for others. And there are even problems that are unsuitable for both of these paradigms and may need functional programming or some other paradigm.

Procedural Programming vs. Object-Oriented Programming

Procedural Programming

Object-Oriented Programming

Procedural Programming focuses on the sequential steps required to achieve a result.

Object-Oriented Programming focuses on the data that is used for programming.

Functions and variables are the primary programming tools.

Classes and objects are the primary programming tools.

Does not provide data security.

Provides data security.

It cannot model the real world effectively.

It can model the real world effectively.

It is not suitable for large and complex apps.

It is suitable for large and complex apps.

It is suitable for parallel programming.

It is not suitable for parallel programming.

C, Basic, Fortran, Pascal, etc., are examples of procedural languages.

C++, Java, Python, JavaScript, etc., are examples of object-oriented languages.

Procedural Programming vs. Functional Programming

Procedural Programming

Functional Programming

Procedural Programming focuses on the sequential steps required to achieve a result.

Functional Programming focuses on functions and function calls to achieve a result.

Focuses on how to get the result.

Focuses on what result we should get.

The statements should be executed in a particular order.

The statements can be executed in any order.

Functions are not treated as data.

Functions are treated as data.

Data here are mutable, which means they can be changed.

The data here are immutable, which means they cannot be changed once created.

Uses looping statements such as for and while loops.

Uses function recursion for looping.

It can implement user input without many problems.

It has difficulty in implementing uncertain elements such as user input.

C, Basic, Fortran, Pascal, etc., are examples of procedural languages.

Scala, Clojure, Haskell, Erlang, F#, etc., are examples of functional languages.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is an example of software that would be best implemented in procedural programming?

We often use procedural programming to code operating systems and kernels and create system software for embedded systems such as cameras, microwaves, etc.

2. Is C++ a procedural programming language?

No, C++ is an object-oriented programming language. However, it also supports procedural programming and functional programming.

3. Is Python OOP or Procedural?

No, Python is an OOP language. However, it also supports procedural programming and functional programming.

4. Why is OOP better than procedural programming?

OOP is better than procedural programming because

  • it provides data security by hiding sensitive data from users,
  • it can be used to model objects in the real world,
  • and it can be used to create complicated large-scale applications.

Procedural programming cannot accomplish the tasks above.