As we settle into a roughly bi-annual schedule for our programming language rankings, it is now time for the second drop of the year. This being the second run since GitHub retired its own rankings forcing us to replicate them by querying the GitHub archive, we are continuing to monitor the rankings for material differences between current and past rankings. While we’ve had slightly more movement than is typical, however, by and large the results have remained fairly consistent.
One important trend worth tracking, however, is the correlation between the GitHub and Stack Overflow rankings. This is the second consecutive period in which the relationship between how popular a language is on GitHub versus Stack Overflow has weakened; this run’s .74 is in fact the lowest observed correlation to date. Historically, the number has been closer to .80. With only two datapoints indicating a weakening – and given the fact that at nearly .75, the correlation remains strong – it is premature to speculate as to cause. But it will be interesting to monitor this relationship over time; should GitHub and Stack Overflow continue to drift apart in terms of programming language traction, it would be news.
For the time being, however, the focus will remain on the current rankings. Before we continue, please keep in mind the usual caveats.
- To be included in this analysis, a language must be observable within both GitHub and Stack Overflow.
- No claims are made here that these rankings are representative of general usage more broadly. They are nothing more or less than an examination of the correlation between two populations we believe to be predictive of future use, hence their value.
- There are many potential communities that could be surveyed for this analysis. GitHub and Stack Overflow are used here first because of their size and second because of their public exposure of the data necessary for the analysis. We encourage, however, interested parties to perform their own analyses using other sources.
- All numerical rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. We rank by numbers here strictly for the sake of interest. In general, the numerical ranking is substantially less relevant than the language’s tier or grouping. In many cases, one spot on the list is not distinguishable from the next. The separation between language tiers on the plot, however, is generally representative of substantial differences in relative popularity.
- In addition, the further down the rankings one goes, the less data available to rank languages by. Beyond the top tiers of languages, depending on the snapshot, the amount of data to assess is minute, and the actual placement of languages becomes less reliable the further down the list one proceeds.
(click to embiggen the chart)
Besides the above plot, which can be difficult to parse even at full size, we offer the following numerical rankings. As will be observed, this run produced several ties which are reflected below.
6 C++ / Ruby
17 Visual Basic
19 Clojure / Groovy
- R: Advocates of R will be pleased by the language’s fourth consecutive gain in the rankings. From 18 in January of 2013 to 13 in this run, the R language continues to rise. Astute observers might note by comparing plots that this is in part due to growth on GitHub; while R has always performed well on Stack Overflow due to the volume of questions and answers, it has tended to be under-represented on GitHub. This appears to be slowly changing, however, in spite of competition from Python, issues with the runtime itself and so on.
- Go: Like R, Go is sustaining its upward trajectory in the rankings. It didn’t match its six place jump from our last run, but the language moved up another spot and sits just outside the Top 20 at 21. While we caution against reading much into the actual placement on these rankings, where differences between spots can over-represent only marginal differences in performance, we do track changes in trajectory closely. While its 21st spot, therefore, may not distinguish it materially from the languages directly above or behind it, its trendline within these rankings does. Given the movement to date, as well as the qualitative evidence we see in terms of projects moving to Go from other alternatives, it is not unreasonable to expect Go to be a Top 20 language within the next six to twelve months.
- Perl: Perl, on the other hand, is trending in the opposite direction. Its decline has been slow, to be fair, dropping from 10 only down to 12 in our latest rankings, but it’s one of the few Tier 1 languages that has experienced a decline with no offsetting growth since we have been conducting these rankings. While Perl was the glue that pulled together the early web, many believe the Perl 5 versus Perl 6 divide has fractured that userbase, and at the very least has throttled adoption. While the causative factors are debatable, however, the evidence – both quantitative and qualitative – points to a runtime that is less competitive and significant than it once was.
- Julia/Rust: Two of the first quarter’s three languages to watch – Elixir didn’t demonstrate the same improvement – continued to their rise. Each jumped 5 spots from 62/63 to 57/58. This leaves them still well outside the second tier of languages, but they continue to climb in our rankings. For differing reasons, these two languages are proving to be popular sources of investigation and experimentation, and it’s certainly possible that one or both could follow in Go’s footsteps and make their way up the rankings into the second tier of languages at a minimum.
- Swift: Making its debut on our rankings in the wake of its announcement at WWDC is Swift, which checks in at 68 on our board. Depending on your perspective, this is either low for a language this significant or impressive for a language that is a few weeks old. Either way, it seems clear that – whatever its technical issues and limitations – Swift is a language that is going to be a lot more popular, and very soon. It might be cheating, but Swift is our language to watch this quarter.
Big picture, the takeaway from the rankings is that the language diversity explored most recently by my colleague remains the norm. While the Top 20 continues to be relatively static, we do see longer term trends adding new players (e.g. Go) to this mix. Whatever the resulting mix, however, it will ultimately be a reflection of developers’ desires to use the best tool for the job.