Java, C++ slip in popularity as domain-specific languages spread

Mixed signs for the two programming languages, but expert sees good signs for at least one veteran

Are Java and C++ slipping in popularity? One language index says they are, although both skill sets still are in demand for developer jobs.

The Tiobe Index this month has both languages plunging to depths they've never reached before. "Java and C++ are at an all-time low in the Tiobe index since its start in the year 2001. This doesn't necessarily mean that Java and C++ are on their way out. There is still a huge demand for these programming languages," Tiobe says. Based on a formula that analyzes searches on languages on a number of sites, Java's rating in the September index was 14.14 percent; C++ had a rating of 4.67 percent. Overall, Java ranked second in popularity, while C++ came in fourth.

Tiobe believes the spread of domain-specific languages in fields such as biomedical and statistical programming could be reducing the need for general-purposes languages such as Java and C++. But Java, in particular, remains popular, Paul Jansen, Tiobe managing director, notes. "Demand for Java developers is still huge. It is still at second position in the Tiobe index," Jansen said in an email. Java trails only C, with a 16.72 percent rating.

When it comes to developer jobs, both Java and C++ remain promising. A search on the IT jobs site Monday finds 17,147 openings related to Java. A similar search on C++, which also mixes in C-related jobs, finds 16,713 jobs. (By contrast, a search on Python-related jobs turns up 5,329 jobs and another on Perl produced 4,368 listings.) Still, Jansen sees optimism for at least one language: "I don't expect C++ to bounce back; Java might bounce back."

"The trends that I see at our customer sites is migration from C to C++ because C doesn't scale," Jansen says. "But on the other hand a lot of companies migrate from C++ to languages with a garbage collector to solve problems with memory management. The influx from C to C++ is lower than the out-flux from C++ to languages with garbage collection."

C++ also requires a greater understanding of programming than other languages, Jansen explains. (C++ founder Bjarne Stroustrup, in a recent interview, concurred with this viewpoint.) Also, the cost of ownership of C++ is higher than Java, according to Jansen: "Almost all good Java tools are open source, i.e. for free, whereas in the C++ market people are used to paying money for good tools."

The rival PyPL Popularity of Programming Language index, which analyzes how often language tutorials are searched on in Google, has Java as its top-rated language, with a 27.2 percent share in August. C++ was ranked fifth, with an 8.8 percent share. Java's share was up slightly during a 12-month assessment, while C++ was down during that same period.

Apple's new Swift language, which rocketed to prominence in the July Tiobe index, only to slip last month, gained momentum again in the Tiobe index, jumping from 23rd place last month to the 18th spot this month, albeit with a share of only 0.85. "Swift is rising again," Jansen says. "I expect it to go up and down for some time around position 20, then gradually entering the top 10 if Apple's popularity remains at the same level."

Elsewhere in the Tiobe index, Objective-C, Apple's predecessor to Swift, placed third with a 9.94 percent share while C# finished fifth (4.35 percent). In PyPL's index, finishing second through fourth were PHP (12.8 percent share), Python (10.7 percent), and C# (9.8 percent).

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