Interest in F# trending (slowly) upwards

The open source functional language created by Microsoft is showing some signs of becoming more popular among developers

The F# logo
Credit: The F# Software Foundation

The latest TIOBE ranking of the popularity of programming languages is out and, this month, F#, the open source functional language created and backed by Microsoft, gets noted for moving up to the 11th spot, up from 12th one year ago. This uptick in interest isn’t quite of the same magnitude of the jump F# made last year in the TIOBE index, when it went from 69th in March 2013 to 12th. Still, the authors of the TIOBE index, which is based on web searches for programming languages, wrote that they expect it to nudge its way into the top ten soon.

The TIOBE authors found no obvious reason why interest in F# is continuing to rise, at least by their measure. They offered up recent promotional efforts by the F# Software Foundation as one possible reason. Last fall, a number of major improvements to the language and to the Visual F# Tools were announced, which could also help explain some of the increased interest.

Whatever the reason for what TIOBE is seeing, I decided to see if an increase in F# interest was reflected in other measures of programming language popularity and usage. First, I looked to the latest PYPL index, also for March, which ranks languages based on Google searches for language tutorials. F# is not among the 16 languages they ranked. However, using Google Trends, which is what the PYPL authors use to generate their rankings, you can see that interest in F# has  overall, fluctuated up and down around roughly the same level for the last four years.

RedMonk’s lastest semi-annual language rankings, from January, which are based on a combination of Stack Exchange and GitHub activity, show F# ranked (roughly) around 25th. Looking at the rankings from January 2014, if anything, F# looks to be ranked a few spots lower than one year earlier.

Finally, I looked at where F# ranks among languages used in GitHub repositories. GitHut provides a nice interface for comparing languages based on (among other things) the number of active repositories. For the latest quarter, Q4 2014, F# ranked 44th among languages in terms of active repositories, just ahead of Elixir (45th) and behind Julia (43rd). F#’s share of the overall number of active GitHub repositories was up in Q4 2014 (.055%) over Q4 2013 (.048%), which was up slightly from one year before that (.041% in Q4 2012).

Looking at these results as a whole, the trends indicate that usage and popularity of F# is generally trending upwards, although at a slow rate. TIOBE’s findings that it’s (almost) a top ten language, however, seem to be the outlier. By most other metrics, F# is still a middle-of-the-pack language, though better days might eventually be coming.

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