Dart still far from hitting the JavaScript bullseye

TIOBE’s latest ranking of programming languages suggests Dart is making progress at JavaScript’s expense, but other data show that’s not the case

A dart board with darts far away from the bullseye
Credit: flickr/rafael-castillo

Dart, as you may know, is an open source language introduced by Google in 2011 with the goal of eventually replacing JavaScript. No small task, of course, given the ubiquity of JavaScript these days, but, based on the latest TIOBE ranking of programming languages, it appears that Dart may in fact be making gains on JavaScript. However, before you JS developers start sweating, a closer look at some other measures of programming language use indicate that Dart is not on the road to victory.

[See also: Why Java and C++ developers should sleep well at night]

First, though, the latest from TIOBE, which ranks languages based on their share of web searches for programming languages across a number of search engines. Their October index was recently released and, for the first time ever, Dart cracked the top 20, entering at #17. One year earlier, it was way down at #81. JavaScript, meanwhile, slipped a bit to #12, down from #10 a year ago. The TIOBE editors posit that Dart is making progress due to the maturity of the dart2JS compiler, which lets developers use Dart to create JavaScript that supposedly runs faster than code written directly in JS. They wrote that, based on what they’re seeing, “the Dart language seems to have a bright future.“

OK, so, clearly there’s some more interest in Dart these days, but is it translating into people writing more Dart code? And, more importantly, is JavaScript really starting to lose some steam among developers? To find out, let’s take a look at some other metrics for language use and popularity.

Dart doesn’t show up in the October Popularity of Programming Language (PYPL) index, which ranks the top 11 languages. PYPL ranks programming languages monthly based on Google searches for tutorials about a language. JavaScript is holding steady at #7 in the latest index, the same position it held one year earlier. In terms of total share of web tutorial searches, JS has hovered pretty consistently at around 7-8% over the last decade. While PYPL doesn’t tell us anything about Dart, unlike TIOBE, it doesn’t show any sign of interest in JavaScript waning.

In the most recent RedMonk Programming Language Rankings (from June), which considers a language’s popularity on Stack Exchange popularity (based on tags) and total lines of code in GitHub, JavaScript is tied with Java in the top spot. JavaScript and Java have swapped or shared the top spot in the RedMonk index since its inception three years ago, so there’s no sign of JS declining using this measure. Dart, on the other hand, is ranked #39 by RedMonk, the same spot it held in previous two rankings (RedMonk rankings come out twice a year). As RedMonk’s Stephen O’Grady wrote about Dart,

“... while solidly in the second tier at that score, it hasn’t demonstrated to date the same potential for rapid uptake that Go has – in all likelihood because its intended target, JavaScript, has sustained its overwhelming popularity.”

Finally, according to the Q3 2014 rankings by GitHut, which ranks languages based on the active repositories in GitHub, JavaScript remains the top active programming language, as it has in every quarter since Q2 2012. It has the same share of active repositories (15%) that quarter as it does in the most recent one, though it has declined from its peak of 19% in Q2 2013. Dart doesn’t make the GitHut index, which only includes the top 28 languages. However, GitHut makes their GitHub Archive queries available so I was able to look at Dart data. In Q3 2014, Dart was 88th in terms of active repositories (.11%). This is a slightly higher share than it claimed one year earlier (.09%). For Q4 2014, it’s currently at a .09% share. Dart’s share of active repositories has bounced between .08% to .12% since Q4 2012. In short, JavaScript again is holding steady in terms of GitHub repositories, and there’s no sign of steady growth (or loss) for Dart.

What to make of all this? While the TIOBE findings do seem to indicate that Dart may be making some headway at the expense of JavaScript, none of these other metrics back it up. JavaScript continues to hold a dominant position among programming languages while Dart remains well in JS’s rearview mirror, with no real signs that it's gaining. Dart may indeed overtake JavaScript someday, but that day certainly isn’t on the horizon.

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