Main image of article Latest TIOBE Contender: Scratch, The Learning Language

The TIOBE Index updates its popular programming-language rankings every month, and usually the updated list offers few surprises: Java, C, Python, and the other “big” languages usually stay in their lead positions, with a bit of movement by smaller contenders such as Kotlin and Swift further down the list. But this month, there’s a new competitor breaking into the Top 20.

That language, Scratch, is designed to teach people how to program. Is its presence strange? Not really, according to TIOBE’s note accompanying the data: “Since computers are [becoming] more and more an integral part of life, it is actually quite logical that languages to teach children programming are getting popular.”

What’s notable, TIOBE added, is how Scratch seems to have beaten out another training-language contender: “Some years ago there was competition between Scratch and Alice [about] which language would become the new ‘Logo’ programming language of the modern ages. Alice is now at position #90 of the TIOBE index so it seems clear who has won.” Scratch is also boosted by companies such as Google, which is always a big help when it comes to generalized adoption (just take a look at Kotlin). 

Scratch has made appearances on TIOBE’s list before. Back in ye olden days of 2017, for instance, it popped into the Top 20; so its recent re-appearance isn’t all that surprising, considering. 

For those who’ve never heard of Scratch, it’s a visual programming language developed by MIT Media Lab. It even has a mascot: A cute feline known as “The Scratch Cat.” In addition to a robust online community, Scratch owes its enduring popularity to its ease of use; the interface is really friendly, providing instructors with a good way to introduce students to the fundamentals of programming. (It’s also available for Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, and Android, which makes it especially useful for classes that have students on multiple operating systems.)

In order to create its rankings, TIOBE leverages data from a variety of aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. 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 have complained over the years that this methodology isn’t a “true” measure of a language’s popularity, because it’s focusing on “chatter” rather than actual use. 

However, buzz around a language is key to its adoption; why else would developers try out something new? For those who are just beginning their programming career, give Scratch a look if you’re trying to nail down the basics of the craft.