Julia Reaches a Big Milestone. Can It Become a Big Language?

Julia, an open-source programming language created by MIT, has reached its version 1.0 milestone.

MIT has carefully nurtured the language since 2012. Although originally designed for high-performance data analytics, the university is trying to position it as an ideal language for a variety of situations.

“The release of Julia 1.0 signals that Julia is now ready to change the technical world by combining the high-level productivity and ease of use of Python and R with the lightning-fast speed of C++,” MIT professor Alan Edelman told MIT’s news portal.

At this point, Julia has 700 active contributors, 1,900 registered packages, 41,000 GitHub stars, and 2 million downloads. It’s also used at a variety of research institutions and organizations, ranging from Capital One to Netflix. MIT claims that the language is the only one to reach the “petaflop club,” or peak performance exceeding one petaflop per second,

It’s clear that MIT loves Julia. But does the rest of the developer community? In this year’s edition of the Stack Overflow Developer Survey, Julia placed 17th on the “Most Loved Languages” list, behind Haskell but just ahead of Java, R, and C++; it placed 22nd on the same survey’s “Most Dreaded Languages” list, just behind R and Java. In other words, comfortably mid-list. (Stack Overflow surveys more than 100,000 developers every year, so it’s pretty comprehensive.)

Nor has Julia broken into the top 20 rankings of the TIOBE Index, which monitors the popularity of various programming languages. For a language to rank on the Index, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google.

In other words, although Julia has some momentum behind it, it has quite a bit of distance to cover if it wants to become a market-share monster on the scale of Python or C++. Part of that is certainly due to Julia’s relative newness, and its current focus as a data-analytics tool. Expanding further will become a question of time, development, and luck; it’s difficult for any programming language to be all things to all people, no matter how expertly it’s marketed and positioned.