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8 of the most popular programming languages

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8 of the most popular programming languages

Languages like Python, C, and JavaScript have topped lists in recent years. Which ones did people gravitate toward the most in 2020?

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Programming languages continue to evolve and morph each year as they are used in more diverse applications by a wider swath of people. 

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Languages like Python, C, JavaScript, C++, Java and many others have topped the lists of most popular programming languages in recent years, dominating rankings as millions use them for a variety of tasks. 

The popularity of languages is reflected in rankings put together by organizations like TIOBE but is also illustrated in what courses are most popular on tech education platforms like Pluralsight. TIOBE tracks language popularity by monitoring the amount of courses on it and the number of engineers using it. 

“There are a number of different ways to measure popularity, such as the languages that are used for programs that run in the largest number of devices, the languages in which the most programs are written, the languages in which the most lines of code are written,” said Benjamin Goldberg, an associate professor in the computer science department at New York University. 

“[There are also] the languages that most computer science students and programmers are taught and/or want to learn, and maybe even the languages that employers are most looking for experience with,” said Goldberg, who is also the director of graduate studies for the MS programs in computer science and in information systems.

SEE: Top 5 programming languages for systems admins to learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

According to TIOBE’s list, C, Java, C++ and Python have been the most popular languages since 2002. C#, Visual Basic and JavaScript have also battled for top spots. 

1. C: C and Java have long traded spots at the top of the TIOBE rankings. Created as a successor to “B” by Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson in 1972, the language has quickly become the most widely used programming language of all. Courses centered around C also ranked in the top 10 on Pluralsight. 

“I tend to write lots of C code, especially when I teach practical courses such as Operating Systems or Computer Systems Organization. C is especially pervasive and is used for systems software on the vast majority of computing devices. In the computer science courses that teach how computing works ‘under the hood,’ C is the language of choice,” Goldberg said. 

“Systems software that is primarily written in C includes most operating systems (Windows, Linux, some of iOS, and the Linux kernel used by Android devices) and telecommunications software for wireless (cellular, Wi-Fi) and wired networks (routers, ethernet controllers, etc.). It is also used in the microprocessors embedded in everything from toasters to TVs to automobiles.”

2. Java: Last year, it was revealed that there are more than 7 million Java developers across the world, putting it in a close third behind Python’s reported 8.2 million developers and at least 11.7 million active JavaScript developers. 

“Java also runs on a large number of devices, since Android apps and much of the Android system is written in Java,” Goldberg explained. 

3. Python: According to SlashData, Python is most popular with machine learning and IoT app-focused developers. The language came in third on TIOBE’s rankings and its CEO, Paul Jansen, wrote that Python will likely be programming language of the year 2020 after securing the year’s highest increase in ratings. 

“Within colleges and universities, the most popular languages for teaching introductory classes seem to be Java and Python. They are relatively easy to teach and learn, particularly Python, and provide fewer pitfalls for novice programmers than, say, C,” Goldberg said. 

“Data science is a very popular field of study these days and there are lots of DS classes that use Python packages for machine learning and other related topics. For this reason, one sees lots of students that want to learn Python and lots of employers looking for graduates with a data science background and with python experience.”

4. C++: C++ has seen a steady decline in popularity since firmly holding on to the third spot for much of the 2000s, according to TIOBE. While it has only been surpassed by Python in the last two years, Visual Basic is gaining steam. 

5. C#: After briefly surpassing C++ in the rankings in 2012, C# eventually settled into place behind more popular languages like Python, Java, and C. 

The SlashData report estimated that there are about 6.7 million C# developers worldwide focused primarily on gaming, AR and VR. 

6. JavaScript: JavaScript turned 25 this year and continues to be one of the most enduringly popular languages ever created. 

“In terms of the language that is used for programs on the largest number of devices, certainly its JavaScript,” Goldberg said. 

“By a substantial margin, JavaScript is used to write the largest number of programs. This is because most substantial webpages have at least some JavaScript embedded in them, thus each such web page can be considered to contain a small program that is executed by a browser (including browsers built into mobile apps on phones and tablets).”

7. PHP: PHP has seen a dip in popularity in recent years, both in TIOBE’s ranking and in terms of interest in courses on sites like Pluralsight. It was named language of the year in 2004 and reached its peak of interest in 2010. But since a big dip in 2014, it has held firm with nearly 6 million developers.

8. R: In just one year, R was able to jump seven spots on TIOBE’s rankings. The rise in popularity is due in part to its use by data engineers, who have become widely sought after as every business looks to use its data for business intelligence and analytics.  

“Universities and research institutes embrace Python and R for their statistical analyses. Lots of statistics and data mining needs to be done to find a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. As a consequence, statistical programming languages that are easy to learn and use, gain popularity now,” Jansen wrote in July.

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