January 07, 2013, 6:31 PM —
Information technology may thrive on the new, but it is heavily supported by a programming language more than 40 years old.
In the most recent compilation of the Tiobe Index of the world's most popular programming languages, four out of the top five positions are occupied by the C programming language and variants of C.
Tiobe's index, compiled each month, estimates the popularity of programming languages by the number of mentions they generate on the Internet. While only a rough approximation of the actual use of a language, Tiobe's index nonetheless can identify large-scale trends in programming language usage.
For January 2013, C and other programming languages based on C accounted for more than 43% of all Web mentions of programming languages, per Tiobe's index.
At Tiobe's top spot is the C language itself, accounting for just over 17.8% of the programming language references on the Web. After a decade of waxing and waning in popularity, the language supplanted Java last year as the world's most widely cited programming language.
Java closely followed C, with a 17.4% share. Following Java is Objective-C, climbing two positions to the number-three ranking from this month a year ago, thanks almost exclusively to the continued success of Apple. Objective-C is Apple's preferred language for creating applications for its iOS and OS X operating systems.
Also in the top 5 were C++ -- an object-oriented update to C that, according to Tiobe, has seen a renaissance of late thanks to Microsoft -- and Microsoft's own C#, also object oriented. C# is the only C variant in the top five that has slipped in popularity from a year ago, a decline Tiobe attributes to Microsoft's current weakness in the mobile market.
Dennis Ritchie at AT&T Bell Labs first developed C as a general-purpose procedural programming language between 1969 and 1973. The language provides low-level access to hardware memory through pointers, a feature useful for writing fast programs even if pointers themselves can be difficult to implement for many new programmers. Java, in part, was developed to automate many of the low-level programming chores -- such as reclaiming memory no longer being used -- that languages like C required.