Main image of article Programming Languages on the Rise: Swift, Go, and... Perl?

The latest edition of the TIOBE Index, which attempts to gauge the popularity of the world’s programming languages, reveals something fascinating: Go, Swift, Perl and R have gained substantial ground over the past year. But can any of them challenge more popular languages (such as C, Java, and Python) for TIOBE’s top slots?

It’s worth nothing that Go, Swift, and R were among the languages that developers generally wanted to learn next, according to HackerRank’s 2020 Developer Skills Report (which surveyed 116,000 developers worldwide). Go also ranked highly on IEEE Spectrum’s recent list of the top programming languages for the web

The TIOBE Index just reinforces that these are languages to watch. “The programming language R continues to rise and is on schedule to become TIOBE's programming language of the year 2020,” Paul Jansen, CEO of TIOBE Software, wrote in a note accompanying the data. “It is also interesting to follow the on-going fight for position #10 in the TIOBE index between Go, Swift and SQL. Swift lost 2 positions this month (from #10 to #12). SQL took over and is back in the top 10 this time. Also worth noting is Groovy's re-entrance in the TIOBE index top 20 at the expense of Scratch and the fact that Hack entered the top 50 at position #44.” 

To generate its rankings, TIOBE crunches data from various aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. In order for a language to rank, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google. Critics complain that TIOBE more accurately measures “buzz” than actual language usage, but it’s nonetheless a useful ranking for determining what’s on developers’ (and other technologists’) minds when it comes to programming languages. 

R’s rise neatly counters the general narrative that the language, which is mainly used by researchers and data scientists for data-crunching, is slowly imploding. In July, R jumped to eighth place on TIOBE’s list, where it stayed through this month. “There are 2 trends that might boost the R language: 1) the days of commercial statistical languages and packages such as SAS, Stata and SPSS are over,” TIOBE wrote in a note accompanying the data at the time. “Universities and research institutes embrace Python and R for their [statistical] analyses, 2) lots of statistics and data mining need to be done to find a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.”

TIOBE has also claimed in the past that Perl’s future is in serious doubt, yet this latest update suggests a core of developers aren’t giving the language up. Perhaps the Perl legacy codebase is behind this endurance. Go and Swift, meanwhile, are pushed by Google and Apple developers, respectively, which gives them a significant leg up over other languages. It might be some time, though, before the dominance of Java, Python, and C are seriously threatened. 

Editor's Note: In the previous version of this article, we accidentally insinuated that Perl was younger than some popular languages we mentioned. We regret the error and blame a lack of coffee.