Fourth time’s the charm: Tiobe declares Python programming language of 2020

Tiobe programming language 2020

It’s the beginning of the month, so software quality company Tiobe has done its usual magic and released the January 2021 edition of its programming community index – but not without also taking a look at 2020 and making some predictions about the year ahead.

Tiobe CEO Paul Jansen used the new index to award Python the title of Tiobe programming language of the year, making it the only one to receive that honour four times since its  inception in 2003. The title is always given to the language that gained most popularity within a year (according to the Tiobe measures, that is), so Python’s jump of 2.01% in 2020 was enough to outpace C++, which was able to register an increase in interest of 1.99%. 

Looking for explanations for the growing interest, Jansen cited a surge in adoption in mobile application and embedded system development, which he attributes to “the ease of learning the language and its high productivity”.

Last year’s winner C came in third on the list and leads the January edition of the index, followed by Java, which lost 4.93 per cent this year, and champion Python. Hopes that the latter will dethrone C any time soon are dispersed by Jansen because of C’s superior performance. “So I guess it will certainly take some years for Python to become the new number 1 in the TIOBE index”.

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Looking beyond the top three, the current index lists C++, C#, Visual Basic, JavaScript, PHP, R, and Groovy. Compared to this time last year, R and Groovy made the biggest leaps, with the statistical computing language sliding from place 18 in January 2020 to 9 now, and Groovy jumping from 23 to 10. Groovy’s popularity gain might be surprising to some, however the language is used for scripting in CI/CD tool Jenkins, so a continued interest in pipeline automation could have helped the JVM language.

Those more interested in hot languages of the future should keep an eye on dynamic programming language Julia, which is currently gaining followers amongst researchers doing scientific or numerical computing. According to Jansen, a jump from position 47 to 23 in the last 12 months makes it top candidate for an entry into the top 20 of the list and maybe even staying there. Other options include Dart and Rust, though “both of them touched the top 20 already without being able to stay for a longer time”.

An updated Tiobe index is released once a month and is meant to be an indicator of a programming language’s popularity. It is calculated by counting hits for the search query +”<language> programming” in the 25 highest ranked websites of Amazon’s SEO and competitive analysis software Alexa, which are mainly localised Google offerings. This should be taken into consideration when basing strategic decisions on the index, since new releases or especially grave bugs can of course temporarily hoist a language’s position.

To put the Tiobe results into perspective, it’s always worth checking alternative indices such as RedMonk’s programming language rankings or PYPL, the PopularitY of Programming Language index. The latter is calculated by “by analyzing how often language tutorials are searched on Google,” and was just updated as well.

Currently PYPL sees Python as the world’s most popular language, noting that interest grew by 1.2 per cent since January 2020. It is also the language that could attract most interest in the last 5 years (18.5%) while Java seems to have lost the most in that time span (-8.5%). 

Like Tiobe, PYPL saw growing interest in C/C++, Julia, and Rust in 2020, though Ada and Lua gained quite a bit as well. Groovy, however, seems to be on the decline there, having lost a share of 0.1% when compared to last January. The current PYPL Top 10 sees Python followed by Java, JavaScript, C#, C/C++, PHP, R, Objective-C, Swift, and TypeScript.

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