From PHP to Perl: What's hot, what's not in scripting languages

Scripting languages now do 'real' programming -- so the race is on to get developers on board with just-in-time compilers and other advanced tools

Scripting languages are the hot technology today for application and Web development -- no longer the backwater afterthought of the early days running in a pokey interpreter. Nor are scripting languages any longer merely the tool used for quick-and-dirty patching (someone once called Perl the duct tape of the Internet, and it stuck so well that Perl lovers wear the label proudly). No, today, scripting languages are popular for "real" programming work. In fact, entire systems and large-scale enterprise-grade projects are built from them.

To confuse matters more, many so-called compiled languages are now bundled with just-in-time compilers that make them as agile as scripting languages. First, Java got Java Server Pages, allowing programmers to tweak Web pages just like PHP and Cold Fusion programmers could. Lately Java programmers have been using Groovy, a language that's structurally integrated with Java and runs on the JVM. The main draw? It has more of a scripting language syntax.

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And so developers have lots of choices and much religious battle to wade through. To help you figure out where to place your scripting language bets, we surveyed programmers, commit logs, search engine traffic, and book sales data from O'Reilly. What follows is a barometer of scripting languages -- JavaScript, ActionScript, Perl, Python, Ruby, Scala, R, PHP, and Java -- with our best-guess forecast of which languages are rising and falling in scripting hipness.

Hot scripting language: JavaScript

Few scripting languages are as polarizing as JavaScript. But love it or hate it, it's hard to debate the fact that JavaScript has had a renaissance of late, making it the lingua franca of the client-side Web. JavaScript performance has exploded in recent years thanks to an arms race among browser vendors to build the fastest JavaScript engine, and the server side now has a powerful scripting tool in Node.js.

Thanks to its powerful libraries and the ongoing emphasis on JavaScript performance tuning among browser vendors, JavaScript is shedding a long-worn reputation as a lightweight tool for hack programmers. "The JavaScript renaissance is the redemption of what was once seen as a script-kiddie language," says Simon St. Laurent, senior editor at O'Reilly Books. "There really is a nice language hidden inside."

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