Many applications require redistributable Visual C++ packages to function correctly. These packages are often installed independently of applications, allowing multiple applications to make use of the package while only having to install it once. These Visual C++ redistributable and runtime packages are mostly installed for standard libraries that many applications use.
The predecessor to Visual C++ was called Microsoft C/C++. There was also a Microsoft QuickC 2.5 and a Microsoft QuickC for Windows 1.0. The Visual C++ compiler is still known as Microsoft C/C++ and as of the release of Visual C++ 2013, is on version 18.0.21005.1.
Microsoft C 1.0, based on Lattice C, was Microsoft's first C product in 1983. It was not K&R C.
C 2.0 added large model support.
C 3.0 was the first version developed inside Microsoft. It was extremely compatible with K&R and the later ANSI standard. It was being used inside Microsoft (for Windows and Xenix development) in early 1984. It shipped as a product in 1985.
C 4.0 added optimizations and CodeView, a source level debugger.
C 5.0 added loop optimizations and Huge Model (arrays bigger than 64k) support. Microsoft Fortran and the first 32 bit compiler for 80386 were also part of this project.
C 5.1 released in 1988 allowed compiling programs for OS/2 1.x.
C 6.0 released in 1989. It added global flow analysis, a source browser, and a new debugger, and included an optional C++ front end.
C/C++ 7.0 was released in 1992. Added built-in support for C++ and MFC 1.0.
Visual C++ 1.0, which included MFC 2.0, was the first version of Visual C++, released in February 1993. It was Cfront 2.1 compliant and available in two editions:
Standard – replaced QuickC for Windows.
Professional – replaced C/C++ 7.0. Included the ability to build both DOS and Windows applications, an optimizing compiler, a source profiler, and the Windows 3.1 SDK. The Phar Lap 286 DOS Extender Lite was also included.
Visual C++ 1.5 was released in December 1993, included MFC 2.5, and added OLE 2.0 and ODBC support to MFC. It was the first version of Visual C++ that came only on CD-ROM.
Visual C++ 1.51 and 1.52 were available as part of a subscription service.
Visual C++ 1.52b is similar to 1.52, but does not include the Control Development Kit.
Visual C++ 1.0 (original name: Visual C++ 32-bit Edition) was the first version for 32-bit development. Although released when 16-bit 1.5 was available, it did not include support for OLE2 and ODBC. It was also available in a bundle called Visual C++ 16/32-bit Suite, which included Visual C++ 1.5.
Visual C++ 2.0, which included MFC 3.0, was the first version to be 32-bit only. In many ways, this version was ahead of its time, since Windows 95, then codenamed "Chicago", was not yet released, and Windows NT had only a small market share. As a result, this release was almost a "lost generation". Microsoft included and updated Visual C++ 1.5 as part of the 2.x releases up to 2.1, which included Visual C++ 1.52, and both 16-bit and 32-bit version of the Control Development Kit (CDK) were included. Visual C++ 2.x also supported Win32s development. It is available through Microsoft Developer Network. There was a Visual C++ 2.0 RISC Edition for MIPS and Alpha processors, as well as a cross-platform edition for the Macintosh (68000 instruction set).
Visual C++ 2.1 and 2.2 were updates for 2.0 available through subscription.
Visual C++ 4.0, released on 1995-12-11  introduced the Developer Studio IDE. Its then-novel tiled layout of non-overlapping panels — navigation panel, combination editor/source level debugger panel, and console output panel— continues through the Visual Studio product line (as of 2013). Visual C++ 4.0 included MFC 4.0, was designed for Windows 95 and Windows NT. To allow support of legacy (Windows 3.x/DOS) projects, 4.0 came bundled with the Visual C++ 1.52 installation CD. Updates available through subscription included Visual C++ 4.1, which came with the Microsoft Game SDK (later released separately as the DirectX SDK), and Visual C++ 4.2. Version number 3.0 was skipped to achieve version number parity between Visual C++ 4.0 and MFC 4.0.
Visual C++ 4.2 did not support Windows 3.x (Win32s) development. This was the final version with a cross-platform edition for the Macintosh available and it differed from the 2.x version in that it also allowed compilation for the PowerPC instruction set.
Visual C++ 5.0, which included MFC 4.21 and was released 1997-04-28, was a major upgrade from 4.2. Available in four editions:
Visual C++ 6.0 (commonly known as VC6), which included MFC 6.0, was released in 1998. The release was somewhat controversial since it did not include an expected update to MFC. Visual C++ 6.0 is still quite popular and often used to maintain legacy projects. There are, however, issues with this version under Windows XP, especially under the debugging mode (for example, the values of static variables do not display). The debugging issues can be solved with a patch called the "Visual C++ 6.0 Processor Pack". Version number: 12.00.8804
Visual C++ .NET 2002 (known also as Visual C++ 7.0), which included MFC 7.0, was released in 2002 with support for link time code generation and debugging runtime checks, .NET 1.0, and Visual C# and Managed C++. The new user interface used many of the hot keys and conventions of Visual Basic, which accounted for some of its unpopularity among C++ developers. Version number: 13.00.9466
Visual C++ .NET 2003 (known also as Visual C++ 7.1), which included MFC 7.1, was released in 2003 along with .NET 1.1 and was a major upgrade to Visual C++ .NET 2002. It was considered a patch to Visual C++ .NET 2002. Accordingly, the English language upgrade version of Visual Studio .NET 2003 shipped for minimal cost to owners of the English-language version of Visual Studio .NET 2002. This was the last version to support Windows 95 and NT 4.0 as a target. Version number: 13.10.3077
eMbedded Visual C++ in various versions was used to develop for some versions of the Windows CE operating system. Initially it replaced a development environment consisting of tools added onto Visual C++ 6.0. eMbedded Visual C++ was replaced as a separate development environment by Microsoft Visual Studio 2005.
32-bit and 64-bit versions
Visual C++ 2005 (known also as Visual C++ 8.0), which included MFC 8.0, was released in November 2005. This version supports .NET 2.0 and dropped Managed C++ for C++/CLI. Managed C++ for CLI is still available via compiler options though. It also introduced OpenMP. With Visual C++ 2005, Microsoft also introduced Team Foundation Server. Visual C++ 8.0 has problems compiling MFC AppWizard projects that were created using Visual Studio 6.0, so maintenance of legacy projects can be continued with the original IDE if rewriting was not feasible. Visual C++ 2005 is the last version to be able to target Windows 98 and Windows Me.
SP1 version also available in Microsoft Windows SDK Update for Windows Vista. Version number: 14.00.50727.762
Visual C++ 2008 (known also as Visual C++ 9.0) was released in November 2007. This version supports .NET 3.5. Managed C++ for CLI is still available via compiler options. By default, all applications compiled against the Visual C++ 2008 Runtimes (static and dynamic linking) will only work under Windows 2000 and later. A feature pack released for VC9, later included into SP1, added support for C++ TR1 library extensions.
SP1 version also available in Microsoft Windows SDK for Windows 7. Version number: 15.00.30729.01
Visual C++ 2010 (known also as Visual C++ 10.0) was released on April 12, 2010. It uses a SQL Server Compact database to store information about the source code, including IntelliSense information, for better IntelliSense and code-completion support. (However, Visual C++ 2010 does not support Intellisense for C++/CLI.) This version adds a modern C++ parallel computing library called the Parallel Patterns Library, partial support for C++11, significantly improved IntelliSense based on the Edison Design Group front end, and performance improvements to both the compiler and generated code. This version is built around .NET 4.0, but supports compiling to machine code. The partial C++11 support mainly consists of six compiler features (lambdas, rvalue references, auto, decltype, static_assert, nullptr), and some library features (e.g. moving the TR1 components from std::tr1 namespace directly to std namespace). Variadic templates were also considered, but delayed until some future version due to lower priority which stemmed from the fact that unlike other costly-to-implement features (lambda, rvalue references), this one would benefit only a minority of library writers than the majority of compiler end users. By default, all applications compiled against the Visual C++ 2010 Runtimes will only work under Windows XP SP2 and later.
RTM version, also available in Windows SDK for Windows 7 and .NET Framework 4 (WinSDK v7.1). Version number: 16.00.30319.01
SP1 version, available as part of Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1 or through the Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Service Pack 1 Compiler Update for the Windows SDK 7.1. Version number: 16.00.40219.01
Visual C++ 2012 (known also as Visual C++ 11.0) was released on August 15, 2012. Among other things, it featured improved C++11 support, and support for Windows Runtime development.
RTM version number: 17.00.50727.1
Update 1 version number: 17.00.51106.1
Update 2 version number: 17.00.60315.1
Update 3 version number: 17.00.60610.1
Update 4 version number: 17.00.61030.1
Visual C++ 2013 (known also as Visual C++ 12.0) was released on October 17, 2013, and it is currently the latest stable release. It features further C++11 and C99 support and introduces a REST SDK.
RTM version number: 18.0.21005.1
Update 2 version number: 18.00.30501
The Visual C++ compiler ABI have historically changed between major compiler releases. This is especially the case for STL containers, where container sizes have varied a lot between compiler releases. Microsoft therefore recommends against using C++ interfaces at module boundaries when one wants to enable client code compiled using a different compiler version. Instead of C++, Microsoft recommends using C or COM interfaces, that are designed to have a stable ABI between compiler releases.
Visual C++ ships with different versions of C runtime libraries. This means users can compile their code with any of the available libraries. However, this can cause some problems when using different components (DLLs, EXEs) in the same program. A typical example is a program using different libraries. The user should use the same C Run-Time for all the program's components unless the implications are understood. Microsoft recommends using the multithreaded, dynamic link library (/MD or /MDd compiler option) to avoid possible problems.
Although the product originated as an IDE for the C programming language, the compiler's support for that language conforms only to the original edition of the C standard, dating from 1989. The later revisions of the standard, C99 and C11, are not supported. According to Herb Sutter, the C compiler is only included for "historical reasons" and is not planned to be further developed. Users are advised to either use only the subset of the C language that is also valid C++, and then use the C++ compiler to compile their code, or to just use a different compiler such as Intel C++ Compiler or the GNU Compiler Collection instead. However, Visual C++ 2012 does in fact add support for various C99 features in its C mode (including designated initializers, compound literals, and the _Bool type).