In October 2014, Dice published a list of 5 programming languages marked for death. “Older languages can go one of two ways,” author and developer Jeff Cogswell wrote at the time. “Stay in use, despite fading popularity, or die out completely.” He predicted that five languages would soon disappear: Perl, Ruby, Visual Basic.NET, Adobe Flash and AIR, and Delphi’s Object Pascal.
(And yes, Adobe Flash and AIR are technically platforms, rather than languages; but their tight integration with the Web-development cycle, coupled with Flash’s well-publicized issues over the past several years, arguably rendered them valid for inclusion.)
In programming terms, 2014 was a lifetime ago, which means its time to update this list. Which programming languages continue to tumble in popularity? Which have managed to survive despite our earlier predictions?
We may have been wrong about Perl.
This high-level, general-purpose language was first developed in the late 1980s as a supple tool for Unix scripting, then exploded in popularity over the next decade. Referred to as the “Swiss Army chainsaw of scripting languages” for its adaptability and strength (and perhaps for its rough edges), Perl ended up used in everything from network programming to CGI scripting.
But a funny thing happened on the way to bigger market-share: development stalled. At the Perl Conference in the summer of 2000, computer programmer (and Perl creator) Larry Wall announced that work on Perl 6 was underway. There was, however, a catch: rather than serving as an organic successor to Perl 5—one that would clean up most of that version’s bigger issues—this next iteration was positioned as something new, a fundamental breakaway.
Nearly sixteen years later, Perl 6 is still under development, while Perl 5 continues to evolve (it’s currently up to version 5.22.1). Granted, the language isn’t as widely used as it was a decade ago, and you can debate whether the blame for that fact rests with that original decision to split off Perl 6, or if developers got tired of wrestling with some of Perl’s more inelegant aspects. But according to the latest TIOBE rankings, Perl is actually on the rise, having jumped four slots between February 2015 and 2016.
You can’t stop the chainsaw.