R, Swift soar in language search popularity in 2014

Stalwarts like Java, PHP, and C++ remain highly popular but are dropping in Tiobe's year-end ratings

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When it comes to programming language trends, 2014 has shown that big data and Web programming are hot and anything Apple touches will gain traction.

This month's Tiobe Index of language search popularity -- which tracks how many search queries are made for various programming languages on the Web -- cites the statistical language R and Apple's Swift language, introduced in June, as candidates for Tiobe's Language of the Year, awarded to the language with the biggest year-over-year gain. R's gain was 1.38 percentage points this year, thanks to a boost from big data application development. Meanwhile, Swift, in half a year, now has a 1.06 percent share in the index.

JavaScript, ranked seventh in the index with a 2.43 percent share, and Google's Dart language (22, 0.84 percent) have gained momentum and are candidates to win the award, though Dart is a rival to JavaScript in Web programming. "The growth of Dart and JavaScript has indeed to do with the growth in Web development," Tiobe Managing Director Paul Jansen said in an email. "Not because there are more websites, but because websites are getting more and more dynamic, thus needing more client-side programming."

The index also shows Visual Basic with the largest delta for the year, but it's excluded from consideration for Tiobe's award because it has been introduced as a split from the general Basic entry. A final assessment to judge this year's winner will be made January 1.

Biggest "losers" of the year have been PHP, Java, and C++. In this month's index, PHP is down 2.53 percentage points over last December, while Java has dropped 2.35 points and C++ 2.16 points. But ratings for these languages still exceed R, Swift, JavaScript, and Dart; Java, with a rating of 14.96 percent, remains in second place in the index behind C, with a 17.59 percent rating. "I think Java and C++ will improve a bit before [the] 1st of January -- they have a short term uptrend -- but PHP will most probably be the language that lost most this year."

However, PHP has its champions and detractors. The rival PyPL Popularity of programming language index has PHP ranked second, with a 12.3 percent share, right behind another Tiobe "loser," Java, with a 26.2 percent share.

Jansen said it might seem that all top languages have lost ground in Tiobe's index due to a change in how ratings are calculated made about a year and and a half ago. "Before that time, we made sure that the first 50 languages added up to 100 percent. Now all languages -- more than 200 -- add up to 100 percent. So the same pie must be shared with more languages."

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