The rising programming languages that JavaScript developers are learning in 2019

A new analysis of Stack Overflow data sheds light on which emerging languages web developers are focusing on.

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JavaScript has long been maligned for being unpredictable, having lacklustre performance, and for lacking the rigor needed when building large applications.

However, newer languages are waiting in the wings that address some of these criticisms and promise web developers both the performance and control that JavaScript lacks.

Microsoft's TypeScript offers a modified form of JavaScript that offers optional type checking and other features that make it easier to write large code bases without errors creeping in.

Meanwhile Rust offers a high-performance alternative to C++, which is easier to work with and that can be used with modern browsers. This compatibility with the web comes courtesy of the ability to compile Rust to WebAssembly, a binary instruction format runs in the browser. WebAssembly is noted for its performance, allowing browsers to run code at near native speed, anywhere from 10% to 800% faster than is typically possible using JavaScript.

But how many JavaScript developers are interested in these emerging languages? Fresh light has been shed by new analysis of the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, one of the most comprehensive snapshots of how programmers work, with this year's poll being taken by almost 90,000 developers across the globe. The data was parsed with the help of a tool provided by Count.

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A new analysis of this year's Stack Overflow Developer survey.

Image: Stack Overflow / Count / Nick Heath

As you can see, a sizeable proportion of JavaScript developers plan to start using TypeScript over the course of this year, some 36% of the 59,219 developers who work primarily with JavaScript.

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This reasonably strong show of support is backed up by other recent polls. Last year's State of JavaScript survey of more than 20,000 JavaScript developers found that almost half of those questioned had used TypeScript and planned to do so again, while one third had heard of it and would like to learn the language. Similarly, the latest npm survey reported that 62% of JavaScript devs were using TypeScript, up from 46% the year before.

TypeScript is also climbing the programming language popularity rankings. Analyst Redmonk found its use was "exploding", with the language rising to tenth place in both this year's Stack Overflow survey and in the TIOBE Index. TypeScript was also one of the languages that has seen the largest growth in the proportion of contributors to code repositories on GitHub over the past year. Google also chose to write its popular web framework Angular using TypeScript.

It's not hard to see why TypeScript is appealing to so many JavaScript developers. As well as offering optional benefits, with a little work, TypeScript can be used instead of JavaScript. Because it compiles to JavaScript, it can typically be used wherever the developer normally uses JavaScript, whether that be for a web app running in the browser or on a server in a Node.js environment.

Meanwhile Rust appears to be on the radar of a smaller, but still not insignificant, number of JavaScript developers. Of the almost 60,000 developers questioned in the Stack Overflow survey, about 12% expressed an interest in working with the language this year.

This more modest interest is reflected by other surveys, with just over 860 of the more than 20,000 developers questioned for the State of JavaScript Survey 2018 saying they use the language.

Those who have tried Rust, however, typically seem to like it, with the language being deemed as the most enjoyable language to use in this year's Stack Overflow poll.

Rust has been finding favor among programmers who want the high performance of C and C++ but without the overhead of manually managing memory — and all the potential for bugs that comes with that.

The team behind Rust have described it as "like a mix of Ruby, Haskell, and Scala. It has functional influences such as closures and iterators, and a rich type system similar to Haskell".

It's a similar story when it comes to the popularity of WebAssembly (WASM). Again, about 12% of JavaScript developers questioned for this year's Stack Overflow survey were planning to work with WASM over the course of this year. 

Comparatively, the State of JavaScript 2018 survey found that 1,574 developers of the more than 20,000 questioned were using WASM. The npm survey reported that JavaScript developers expressed considerable interest in learning more about the language, with 54% "paying attention and interested in its potential", which the report called "a very strong sign for WebAssembly's adoption in 2019 and beyond".

Despite this growing interest, neither Rust nor TypeScript is expected to wholly replace JavaScript , but rather to replace JavaScript where appropriate and be used alongside it by web developers.

If you're interested in finding out more about TypeScript or Rust, check out TechRepublic's round-up of the best free resources for learning TypeScript or Rust.

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