The Most Popular Programming Languages of 2015

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Published on Jul. 13, 2015
The Most Popular Programming Languages of 2015


By Jake Widman

Even the most polyglot developer can’t be fluent in every computer language that might have some value. So the question of which languages to focus on is a perennial issue for many programmers. And because the popularity of different languages varies over time, it’s essential to know which languages are becoming more popular and which ones are on the decline.

We first asked which programming languages were most popular last year, when the results were dominated by C, C++, C#, Java, and JavaScript, with Python and Ruby also making strong showings, depending on whose rankings you used. But we wanted to know whether those positions still hold, and what changes might be afoot in the programming language marketplace.

So we took another look at various listings of what languages employers are looking for and what languages people are discussing. While the analysis is complicated by the fact that various indices track different metrics in different ways, it turns out that the language landscape seems to have remained fairly stable, at least at the top. C and Java have traded their top slots on at least one popular list, but remain neck and neck. Farther down the leaderboards, XML has faded in at least one instance, while Go and Swift especially are rising in other rankings.

Let’s take a closer look:

Employers want C!

“What will get me a great job?” is always an important question, and so we started with the job boards. Flip-flopping last year’s order, there are now slightly more job listings for C, C++, and C# skills (Dice lumps the three together) than for Java (which included J2EE). The margin was less than 1%, though, and Dice spokesperson Courtney Chamberlain pointed out that the two language families “very frequently compete with each other for the top spot on a month-by-month basis,” as you can see in the chart below:

Dice programming languages chartImportantly, just like last year, C and Java remain well ahead of the rest of the field, being specified almost 50% more often than JavaScript, which still holds down the Number 3 spot.

There are more changes farther down the list. Last year .NET, HTML, and XML were all pretty much tied for the 4th through 6th spots. But XML has fallen off by 17% this year, dropping it into a near-tie with CSS. Many programmers now consider JSON a superior language to XML, but since the former’s numbers aren’t big enough to make Dice’s top 10, there’s not enough data here to say if JSON’s rise is the reason for XML’s decline.

Repos and discussions tell the tale

Since 2010, industry analysis firm RedMonk has been keeping tabs on programming language activity on GitHub and Stack Overflow—the number of repositories for a language on the former, and the amount of discussion on the latter. The idea, according to RedMonk, is “to extract insights into potential future adoption trends.” RedMonk just performed its biannual analysis in June, and the top 10 languages were as follows:

  1. JavaScript
  2. Java
  3. PHP
  4. Python
  5. C#
  6. C++
  7. Ruby
  8. CSS
  9. C
  10. Objective-C

JavaScript barely beat out Java for RedMonk’s top spot, though the difference between the two is minimal. “The language’s sustained performance, however, reflects the language’s versatility and growing strategic role amongst startups and enterprises alike,” comments RedMonk cofounder Stephen O’Grady on the site. After that, “the rest of the Top 10 looks much as it has for several quarters.”

See RedMonk’s programming language-ranking chart here.

RedMonk does note significant movement among the languages further down its list. Go, for example—a language developed and used internally at Google—has moved into the top 20, coming in at number 15, while CoffeeScript, a language that compiles into JavaScript, has dropped in four out of the last five rankings and now comes in at number 22. Most dramatic has been the rise of Swift, Apple’s language for iOS and OS X development, which climbed from the 68th to 18th slot in the past year. “There is no debate that Swift is growing faster than anything else we track,” writes O’Grady, and Apple’s recent announcement that the language will become open source later this year should give it even more momentum.

See also:

Survey says…

It’s worth noting that while Dice’s job listings and RedMonk’s activity analysis produce different results, internally at least, both lists are quite stable over time.

To put it in perspective, we asked John Reed, senior executive director of staffing firm Robert Half Technology, for comment. (The company produces an annual IT Salary Guide covering trends and salary data for a wide range of IT fields—including those requiring programming skills.) “Our view of the market and the needs of our clients seem relatively consistent with [RedMonk’s] list,” Reed said. “Database analysts with NoSQL and Hadoop are in high demand right now, as well as Web developers with mobile/responsive design experience.” Reed also cited widespread need for programmers with Ruby on Rails and open source experience.

So what does all this apples-and-oranges data add up to? Well, if you want to be in the mainstream, you can’t go wrong with Java, JavaScript, and the C family. Those languages have maintained their positions atop various rankings, and we don’t see any indication they’re about to be displaced. In the next tier, there seems to be strong demand for Ruby programming, and momentum behind Swift and Go. But the good news is, programming is a seller’s market right now, and there are lots of opportunities for programmers working in a wide variety of languages.

About the Author

Jake Widman is a San Francisco-based freelance technology and science writer, covering everything from big data to quantum physics. He's a regular contributor to Computerworld,, and Photoshop User. View posts by Jake Widman.

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