Is Julia the next big programming language? MIT thinks so, as version 1.0 lands

Released in 2012, Julia is designed to combine the speed of C with the usability of Python, the dynamism of Ruby, the mathematical prowess of MatLab, and the statistical chops of R.

Julia, the MIT-created programming language for developers "who want it all", hit its milestone 1.0 release this month — with MIT highlighting its rapid adoption in the six short years since its launch.

Released in 2012, Julia is designed to combine the speed of C with the usability of Python, the dynamism of Ruby, the mathematical prowess of MatLab, and the statistical chops of R.

"The release of Julia 1.0 signals that Julia is now ready to change the technical world by combining the high-level productivity and ease of use of Python and R with the lightning-fast speed of C++," says MIT professor Alan Edelman.

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The breadth of Julia's capabilities and ability to spread workloads across hundreds of thousands of processing cores have led to its use for everything from machine learning to large-scale supercomputer simulation.

MIT says Julia is the only high-level dynamic programming language in the "petaflop club," having been used to simulate 188 million stars, galaxies, and other astronomical objects on Cori, the world's 10th-most powerful supercomputer. The simulation ran in just 14.6 minutes, using 650,000 Intel Knights Landing Xeon Phi cores to handle 1.5 petaflops (quadrillion floating-point operations per second).

Other uses for Julia include powering self-driving cars and 3-D printers, as well as applications in precision medicine, augmented reality, genomics, machine learning, and risk management.

At MIT, researchers have used Julia to develop the Next-Generation Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS-X), to optimize school bus routing for Boston Public Schools, and for robot navigation and movement.

Developed and incubated at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), Julia is a free and open-source language with more than 700 active open-source contributors, 1,900 registered packages, two million downloads, and a reported 101 percent annual rate of download growth.

While Julia has not yet cracked the top-10 lists of the most popular programming languages, both developer-focused analyst RedMonk and the TIOBE programming index have highlighted fast-growing adoption of Julia by developers, with RedMonk adding that a major tech vendor has recently expressed interest in the language.

Julia is already used by various major companies, including Aviva, BlackRock, Capital One, and Netflix, as well as by more than 700 universities and research institutions.

Julia's chameleon-like nature caters to many different use cases. It is dynamically typed, but with support for optional type declarations. It "feels like a scripting language", but can be compiled to "efficient native code" for multiple platforms via LLVM.

It is able to express many object-oriented and functional programming patterns using its multiple dispatch paradigm. It also has a syntax well-suited to mathematical operations, with many numeric datatypes and built-in support for parallelism.

Find out more about Julia here and download it for free here.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Julia, the MIT-created programming language for developers who "want it all" has hit its milestone 1.0 release.
  • MIT says the language has the potential to "change the technical world", by combining the advantages of many existing languages.

The Cori supercomputer was used to run the Celeste astronomical simulation, which was built using Julia code.

Image: National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center

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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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