Tiobe vs PYPL

The search for the best programming language of 2014

JAXenter Editorial Team
Trophy image via Shutterstock

The time has come to declare the most popular programming language of 2014. What are the different language rankings saying? And how reliable is their data?

When it comes to deciding which programming languages are the best, there’s no shortage of industry rankings – or opinions, for that matter. Tiobe, PYPL, various GitHub and StackOverflow statistics as well as analyses from companies like Red Hat – plenty of different parties want to have their own say in this ongoing debate.

Tiobe recently released its list of the most popular languages in December, which also contains many candidates for Tiobe’s “Programming Language of the Year” award: among others, R and Swift make an appearance. But what are the other ranking specialists saying?

The Top 6: Tiobe vs. PYPL

To evaluate a language’s popularity, the Tiobe Ranking uses the number of times a programming language has been searched for via search engine. What we’re talking about is not a qualitative analysis, but rather a quantitative one. Instead of assessing a language’s actual use throughout the industry, Tiobe analyses various search engines using a fixed algorithm.

There’s little movement in Tiobe’s current annual comparison (which runs from December 2013 to December 2014). C is still occupying pole position, while Java, Objective-C, C++, C# and PHP are in 2nd to 6th places respectively.

SEE ALSO: GitHut and Tiobe: the top 20 programming languages

But if we take a look at PYPL (Popularity of Programming Language Index), we get a completely different picture of the industry. This ranking uses Google Trends to show how often tutorials for a specific language are being searched for (using Google).

PYPL’s Top 6 looks slightly different:

  1. Java
  2. PHP
  3. Python
  4. C#
  5. C++
  6. C

You’ll have noticed that PHP jumps from 6th to 2nd place in the PYPL ranking, while Objective-C has failed to make the cut. Why? It appears not as many developers are searching Google for “Objective-C tutorials”.

Language of the Year?

Let’s take a look at the less established languages. What are the “most improved pupils” of IT this past year?

The front-runner on Tiobe is the analytical language R with an increase of 1.38%. Apple’s new language Swift (+1.06%), JavaScript (+0.58%) and Dart (+0.83%) are also in with a chance for the title of “Language of the Year”. At the commencement of 2015, Tiobe will award this to the language that achieves the biggest growth in the past 12 months.

Turning back to PYPL, it’s interesting to see Swift showing up in 9th place. Even if there’s a different level of growth (+3.6%), the fact that Swift has made it into the Top 20 is most likely a confirmation that this successor to Objective-C is off to a promising start in Apple’s developer community.

But we can’t pretend that either of these rankings are a genuine assessment of the actual popularity of programming languages. Instead, it’s an analysis of searches that are used to generate the rankings. Lennart Regebro’s claim that everybody is wrong! (about language popularity) shows all the holes and problems with the above ranking methods that are based purely on searches.

R, Swift and Dart

A newcomer to the ranking scene is GitHut, which analyses the amount of code per programming language on GitHub. This ranking shows JavaScript in the lead as the most active of all programming languages. R takes 12th place, up since the first quarter of 2014 (according to GitHut, there’s been a growth of 1.43%). Swift is ranked all the way down at 21st. Anyone looking for Dart in this ranking won’t find it.

However, R, Swift and Dart do perform well in the ranking, which compares GitHub to StackOverflow.

Do we have a winner?

It seems the only thing we can conclude from these rankings is that each one needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although there’s no single winner in all rankings, it’s clear that R, Dart and Swift have all been enjoying major growth throughout 2014.

Which one deserves to be called the “Programming Language of the Year”? There’s no easy way to find out.

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