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Programming Languages: Everyone Has a Favorite One


Paul Jansen is managing director of TIOBE Software (www.tiobe.com). He can be contacted at Paul.Jansen@tiobe.com.


DDJ: Paul, can you tell us about the TIOBE Programming Community Index?

PJ: The TIOBE index tries to measure the popularity of programming languages by monitoring their web presence. The most popular search engines Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and YouTube are used to calculate these figures. YouTube has been added recently as an experiment (and only counts for 4 percent of the total). Since the TIOBE index has been published now for more than 6 years, it gives an interesting picture about trends in the area of programming languages. I started the index because I was curious to know whether my programming skills were still up to date and to know for which programming languages our company should create development tools. It is amazing to see that programming languages are something very personal. Every day we receive e-mails from people that are unhappy with the position of "their" specific language in the index. I am also a bit overwhelmed about the vast and constant traffic this index generates.

DDJ: Which language has moved to the top of the heap, so to speak, in terms of popularity, and why do you think this is the case?

PJ: If we take a look at the top 10 programming languages, not much has happened the last five years. Only Python entered the top 10, replacing COBOL. This comes as a surprise because the IT world is moving so fast that in most areas, the market is usually completely changed in five years time. Python managed to reach the top 10 because it is the truly object-oriented successor of Perl. Other winners of the last couple of years are Visual Basic, Ruby, JavaScript, C#, and D (a successor of C++). I expect in five years time there will be two main languages: Java and C#, closely followed by good-old Visual Basic. There is no new paradigm foreseen.

DDJ: Which languages seem to be losing ground?

PJ: C and C++ are definitely losing ground. There is a simple explanation for this. Languages without automated garbage collection are getting out of fashion. The chance of running into all kinds of memory problems is gradually outweighing the performance penalty you have to pay for garbage collection. Another language that has had its day is Perl. It was once the standard language for every system administrator and build manager, but now everyone has been waiting on a new major release for more than seven years. That is considered far too long.

DDJ: On the flip side, what other languages seem to be moving into the limelight?

PJ: It is interesting to observe that dynamically typed object-oriented (scripting) languages are evolving the most. A new language has hardly arrived on the scene, only to be immediately replaced by another new emerging language. I think this has to do with the increase in web programming. The web programming area demands a language that is easy to learn, powerful, and secure. New languages pop up every day, trying to be leaner and meaner than their predecessors. A couple of years ago, Ruby was rediscovered (thanks to Rails). Recently, Lua was the hype, but now other scripting languages such as ActionScript, Groovy, and Factor are about to claim a top 20 position. There is quite some talk on the Internet about the NBL (next big language). But although those web-programming languages generate a lot of attention, there is never a real breakthrough.

DDJ: What are the benefits of introducing coding standards into an organization? And how does an organization choose a standard that is a "right fit" for its development goals?

PJ: Coding standards help to improve the general quality of software. A good coding standard focuses on best programming practices (avoiding known language pitfalls), not only on style and naming conventions. Every language has its constructions that are perfectly

legitimate according to its language definition but will lead to reliability, security, or maintainability problems. Coding standards help engineers to stick

to a subset of a programming language to make sure that these problems do not occur. The advantage of introducing coding standards as a means to improve quality is that—once it is in place—it does not change too often. This is in contrast with dynamic testing. Every change in your program calls for a change in your dynamic tests. In short, dynamic tests are far more labor intensive than coding standards. On the other hand, coding standards can only take care of nonfunctional defects. Bugs concerning incorrectly implemented requirements remain undetected. The best way to start with coding standards is to download a code checker and tweak it to your needs. It is our experience that if you do not check the rules of your coding standard automatically, the coding standard will soon end as a dusty document on some shelf.


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