Software

How one programming language is leaving rivals in the dust

The TIOBE Index of popular programming languages singles out the one language whose use grew faster than all others in 2018.

Python has been crowned the "programming language of the year" for 2018 by the TIOBE Index of popular programming languages.

The accolade recognizes the sustained growth in the use of Python, particularly in the field of data science and machine learning, where it is challenging R as the language of choice. "Python has now definitely become part of the big programming languages. For almost 20 years, C, C++ and Java are consistently in the top 3, far ahead of the rest of the pack. Python is joining these three languages now," said the analysis by TIOBE, which set out why Python was the fastest rising language in its rankings in 2018.

As for why there is so much interest in Python, the analysis singles out the wide range of uses for the language, but in particular its popularity among data scientists.

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"It is the most frequently taught first language at universities nowadays, it is number one in the statistical domain, number one in AI programming, number one in scripting and number one in writing system tests.

"Besides this, Python is also leading in web programming and scientific computing (just to name some other domains). In summary, Python is everywhere."

TIOBE describes the index as "an indicator of the popularity of programming languages", with rankings based on the number of hits each language generates in major search engines.

The index is sometimes criticized for being a rather blunt measure, likely to be influenced by a range of factors beyond a language's popularity, however TIOBE is far from the only ranking to recognize the rapid adoption of Python in 2018.

Python was in the top three of both the RedMonk Programming Language Rankings and in the top four most popular programming languages in the 2018 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, once you discount domain-specific languages like SQL and markup languages like HTML.

Recruitment data also suggests healthy demand for those with Python skills, with analysis of UK IT recruitment by IT Jobs Watch showing that Python was the fifth most commonly requested language in developer job postings in 2018.

Towards the end of 2018, a report by Cloud Academy found that Python was requested far more frequently than R in data engineer job postings, although a Kaggle survey found R was still more commonly used at work by statisticians and data scientists.

In general, however, pitting languages against each other is of limited use, as a developer's choice will be most heavily influenced by which platform they are writing for and the nature of the task they are trying to achieve. Python is also not the most popular or most in-demand by employers; that honor goes to the likes of JavaScript and Java, according to IT Jobs Watch figures.

Alongside Python's rapid rise, TIOBE also highlights big moves for a variety of languages in 2018, including: MATLAB, from 18 to 11, Java alternative Kotlin, from 39 to 31, C++ alternative Rust, from 46 to 33, data science language Julia, from 47 to 37, and JavaScript superset TypeScript, from 167 to 49. TIOBE predicts Kotlin will enter the index's top 20 for the first time in 2019, due to Google choosing it to be a first-class language for building Android apps alongside Java.

Elsewhere in the list, Ruby dropped from 11 to 18, Erlang from 23 to 50, F# from 40 to 64.

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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