Java, JavaScript still highly ranked languages

Coming up fast: Assembly, CoffeeScript, and Visual Basic

Redmonk has updated its semi-annual ranking of programming languages, and while there wasn't a lot of movement among the usual leaders in the list, languages like Visual Basic and CoffeeScript have shot up in their popularity since the rankings were first introduced in 2010.

It's a little hard to definitively rank programming languages; you could count the number of projects using each language, and rank those with the most projects as being the most popular. Or you could measure the size of a language's 'community,' and use that as a marker for its popularity.

Redmonk uses a method originally developed by developer Drew Conway, which ranks using a little bit of both methods.

"To do this, [Conway] compared the traction of the languages on both GitHub and StackOverflow, communities that are both popular with developers and yet have somewhat distinct communities. GitHub’s rankings are based on GitHub’s own stacking of the individual languages, while the languages on StackOverflow are ranked according to the volume of tags associated with each language," explained [Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

Conway's original analysis was done in December 2010, with Redmonk following up in September 2011, February 2011, and now this month's rankings.

The list, which includes interpreted and compiled languages alike, still shows a strong showing for JavaScript and Java, a language some analysts were writing off back in 2010. O'Grady doesn't see that in his numbers. Indeed, Java has risen in the ranks by two places from Conway's original 2010 analysis to this week's rankings.

Comparing the original rankings to the most recent results sees some interesting trends in the past two years. Clojure, Emacs Lisp, ActionScript, Lua, and Perl have all dropped at least three places in the ranks, with all but Perl and ActionScript dropping out of the Top 20 list altogether.

The success stories are just as dramatic: besides Java, ASP rose two places, and C# and Visual Basic rose five steps in rank. Meanwhile, Assembly rose six places and CoffeeScript was the big mover on this list, leaping up 18 places since 2010. VB, Assembly, and CoffeeScript also joined the Top 20 with this positive movement.

O'Grady noted the disparity between the two biggest language movers.

"What is very interesting is that the two biggest jumps come from languages that could not be more unlike one another; CoffeeScript is a simplified version of JavaScript that infuriates technologists with its technical compromises, while Assembly is as close to the bare metal as most developers today are likely to get," O'Grady wrote.

So what languages are (still) in the Top 5?

  1. JavaScript
  2. Java
  3. PHP
  4. Python
  5. Ruby

O'Grady cautions reading too much into the rankings, per se. They should serve as one datapoint in looking at the programming language landscape.

"While not strictly representative, they do confirm one of the more important developer trends observed within the past decade: fragmentation," O'Grady concluded. "As with so many areas of technology today, the programming language landscape is wildly diverse, with multiple languages being employed simultaneously by individual developers, often on the same project."

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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