It’s the start of a new month, which means it’s time for the TIOBE Index to update its ranking of the world’s most popular programming languages. And this time around, the organization has found something surprising: Java might finally lose its number-one spot on the list.
“C is getting really close to Java now. The difference is only 0.2 [percent],” TIOBE reported. “Maybe C will become number 1 again before the end of the year.”
To produce its rankings, TIOBE blends data from a variety of aggregators and search engines, including Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Amazon. In order for any language to rank, it must be Turing complete, have its own Wikipedia entry, and earn more than 5,000 hits for +”<language> programming” on Google.
Over the years, TIOBE’s methodology has drawn its share of critics, who argue that the rankings aren’t a “true” breakdown of languages’ respective popularity.
However you feel about the breakdown, the languages within TIOBE’s Top Ten don’t move all that much. So for Java to lose its first-place hold is kind of a big deal, suggesting there’s some significant momentum behind C.
Further down the list, there’s usually much more action; for example, there’s a seemingly unending battle for the tenth-place slot, which changes almost every month: “Two months ago this was SQL,” TIOBE added, “last month it was Objective-C, but this month Swift takes over. The gap with Ruby at position 11 is almost 0.4 [percent], which might indicate that Swift is keeping its top 10 position at least for a couple of months.”
C is decades old, and yet remains immensely popular. There’s a new C standard, C18; you can view the final draft of it for free on openStd.org (PDF) (it’s most of use if you are a compiler writer who wants to be 100 percent conformant, or just curious). C plays a huge role in the coding infrastructure of many companies, so embedded it’s unlikely that it’ll fade away anytime soon. For example, more than half of all active web servers are running Apache and Nginx, both written in C.
In a certain way, the critics are right: with the most popular programming languages, the exact ranking doesn’t much matter. Whether it takes that top spot or stays at second on TIOBE’s list, it’s clear that C will be around for many years to come. If you’re interested in a programming career, it’s worth becoming familiar with it.