Apple's Swift creeps up dev language survey – but it's bad news for VB

Fruity programming language makes headway

A new programming language survey shows Apple’s Swift breaking into the top 20 for the first time, while the future of Microsoft’s Visual Basic (VB) in the top rankings is now “unclear”.

The Redmonk consultancy published a six-monthly analysis based on Github usage and Stack Overflow discussions. The methodology is an imperfect but reasonable approach to assessing language trends, since these communities are both important and vendor-neutral.

JavaScript is top by a narrow margin, followed by Java, PHP, Python, C#, C++ and Ruby (the last three are ranked fifth).

This order is unchanged from the previous survey, and Redmonk’s Stephen O'Grady said "the simple fact is that the group of the most popular languages has changed little and shows little propensity for future change".

The points of interest are further down the rankings. In particular, Apple’s Swift (which the company said will be open source by the end of the year) has risen from 22 to 18, making the top 20 for the first time. However, O’Grady warns that the ranking may have been artificially boosted by Apple’s WWDC event in early June.

Another growing language is Google’s Go, up from 17 to 15. Since December 2014, it is possible to write complete Android apps in Go, and O’Grady speculates that if court decisions concerning Java continue to swing against Google, its usage of Go may increase.

Erlang usage is also growing slightly, thanks to its high suitability for concurrent programming, and both Julia and Rust have made small rises.

What’s on the way down? CoffeeScript, Dart and VB. VB remains popular, at number 19, although O’Grady said that “the future of VB in the Top 20 is unclear".

VB’s English-like syntax and avoidance of curly braces and semi-colons make it approachable for beginners, but the roots of its decline go back to 2000 when Microsoft announced both C# and the .NET Framework.

At the time, VB was riding high among Windows developers, and the company attempted to migrate VB developers to .NET by creating Visual Basic .NET, similar but incompatible with earlier versions. Since C# was designed for .NET, many VB developers moved in that direction rather than learning a new dialect. Today C# is much more popular, particularly among professionals.

As for C#, its future will depend to some extent on Microsoft’s success (or otherwise) in stimulating interest in Windows programming with the Windows 10 release, and in using C# and .NET on other platforms with the open source .NET Core project.®

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