Carbon (API)

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Carbon is one of Apple Inc.'s procedural application programming interfaces (APIs) for the Macintosh operating system. It provides C programming language access to Macintosh system services. Carbon provides a good degree of backward compatibility for programs to run on the now-obsolete Mac OS 8 and 9, however these systems are no longer actively supported since Apple released the final OS 9 update in December 2001.

The transition to 64-bit Macintosh applications beginning with Mac OS X v10.5 has brought the first major limitations to Carbon. Apple does not provide compatibility between the Macintosh graphical user interface and the C programming language in the 64-bit environment, instead requiring the use of the Objective-C dialect with the Cocoa API.[1] Although Objective-C provides some significant advantages for code already written to take advantage of its Object-Oriented philosophy, the need to rewrite large amounts of legacy code has slowed the transition of Carbon-based applications, famously with Adobe Photoshop[2], which was eventually updated to Cocoa in April 2010.

This difficulty also extends to Apple's own flagship software packages, as the latest versions of Apple's iTunes[3] and Final Cut Pro (as well as the features in the Quicktime engine which power it[4]) remain written in Carbon, as of September 2010.



Carbon consists of a broad set of functions for managing files, memory, data, the user interface, and other system services. It is implemented as any other API: in Mac OS X, it is spread over several frameworks (each a structure built around a shared library), principally ApplicationServices.framework and CoreServices.framework, and in older Mac OS, it resides in a single shared library named CarbonLib.

As an umbrella term encompassing all C-language API procedures accessing Mac-specific functionality, Carbon is not designed as a discrete system. Rather, it opens nearly all the functionality of Mac OS X to developers who do not know the Objective-C language required for the broadly-equivalent Cocoa API.[5]

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