Infographic: Programming languages adoption trends 2021

In our last infographic, JavaScript was the most popular programming language. What has changed in terms of the sizes in the last six months? You can find the answers in this infographic with key findings from our Developer Economics 20th edition survey, which ran between November 2020 and February 2021 and reached 19,000 developers worldwide.

Javascript is the queen of programming languages

JavaScript is the most popular programming language by some distance, with nearly 14M developers using it globally. More importantly, the JavaScript community has been growing in size consistently for the past three years. Between Q4 2017 and Q1 2021, more than 4.5M developers joined the community – the highest growth in absolute terms across all languages. Even in software sectors where JavaScript is not among developers’ top choices, like data science or embedded development, about a fourth of developers use it in their projects.

Python is conquering the world

Since it surpassed Java in popularity at the beginning of 2020, Python has remained the second most widely adopted language behind JavaScript. Python now counts just over 10M users, after adding 1.6M net new developers in the past year alone. That’s a 20% growth rate, the highest across all the large programming language communities of more than 6M users. The rise of data science and machine learning (ML) is a clear factor in Python’s popularity. Close to 70% of ML developers and data scientists report using Python. For perspective, only 17% use R, the other language often associated with data science.

Kotlin’s rise continues

The fastest growing language community in percentage terms is Kotlin. In fact, it’s one of the two communities – the other being Rust – that has grown more than two-fold over the last three years, from 1.1M developers in Q4 2017 to 2.6M in Q1 2021. This is also very

evident from Kotlin’s ranking, where it moved from 11th to eight place during that period – a trend that’s largely attributed to Google’s decision to make Kotlin its preferred language for Android development. Even so, Kotlin still has a long way to go to catch up with the leading language in mobile development, Java; there are currently twice as many mobile developers building applications in Java than in Kotlin.

Swift was recently outranked by Kotlin, after attracting slightly fewer net new developers in the second half of 2020 (100K vs 300K). Even so, Swift is currently the default language for development across all Apple platforms, which has led to a stagnation in the adoption of Objective C. This gradual phase-out of Objective C from the Apple app ecosystem is also matched by a significant drop in its rank, from ninth to 12th place. 

The more niche languages – Go, Ruby, Rust, and Lua – are still much smaller, with up to 2.1M active software developers each. Go and Ruby are important languages in backend development, but Go has grown slightly faster in the past year, both in absolute and percentage terms. Rust has formed a very strong community of developers who care about performance, memory safety, and security. As a result, it grew faster than any other language in the last 12 months, more than doubling in size. Finally, Lua was also among the fastest growing language communities in the last year, mainly attracting AR/VR and IoT developers looking for a scripting alternative to low-level languages such as C and C++.

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Infographic: Programming languages adoption trends 2021

Infographic: Programming languages adoption trends 2020

Languages are a beloved subject of debate and the kernels of some of the strongest developer communities. The choice of programming language matters deeply to developers because they want to keep their skills up to date and marketable. They matter to toolmakers too, because they want to make sure they provide the most useful SDKs. So which programming languages had notable changes in adoption trends in the last 3 years? Find the answers in our infographic with key findings from our Developer Economics 19th edition survey, which ran in June-August 2020 and reached 17,000 developers in 159 countries. 

JavaScript is the most popular programming language

As of Q3 2020, 12.4M developers globally were using JavaScript. We also estimate that in mid-2020 there were 21.3M active software developers in the world. So, 58% of all developers use JavaScript. Notably, the JavaScript community has been growing in size consistently for the past three years. Between Q2 2017 and Q3 2020, nearly 5M developers joined the community – by far the highest growth in absolute terms across all languages. Even in software sectors where JavaScript is least popular, like data science or AR/VR, over a fifth of developers use it in their projects. 

It’s a good idea to learn Python

For the second half-year period in a row, Python is the most widely adopted language behind JavaScript. Python now counts 9M users, after adding 2.2M net new developers in the past year alone, outranking Java at the beginning of 2020. The rise of data science and machine learning (ML) is a clear factor in its popularity. An impressive 77% of ML developers and data scientists currently use Python. For perspective, only 22% use R, the other language often associated with data science.

What’s new with Java and other well- established programming languages?

Java, with over 8M active users worldwide, is the cornerstone of the mobile app ecosystem – Android – as well as one of the most important general-purpose languages. It’s adoption may have remained stable in the past six months but, in the overall picture, the Java community has gained 1.6M developers since mid-2017, which corresponds to a 24% growth.

The group of major, well-established languages is completed with C/C++ (6.3M), PHP (6.1M) and C# (6M). The fact that C# lost three places in the ranking of language communities during the last three years is mostly explained by its slower growth compared to C/C++ and PHP. C and C++ remain core languages in IoT projects (for both on-device and application-level coding), whereas PHP is still the second most commonly used language in web applications, after JavaScript. On the other hand, C# may be sustaining its dominance in the game and AR/VR developer ecosystems, but it seems to be losing its edge in desktop development – possibly due to the emergence of cross-platform tools based on web technologies.

Android developers behind Kotlin growth

Kotlin is one of the fastest growing language communities, having increased more than two-fold in size since the end of 2017, from 1.1M in Q4 2017 to 2.3M in Q3 2020. This is also very evident from Kotlin’s ranking, where it moved from 11th to ninth place during that period – a trend that’s largely attributed to Google’s decision to make Kotlin its preferred language for Android development. 

Swift surpassed Kotlin in popularity this year, after attracting slightly more net new developers in the first half of 2020 (400k vs 300k). Since Swift became the default language for development across all Apple platforms, the adoption of Objective C has been decreasing steadily. This phase-out from the Apple app ecosystem is also matched by a significant drop in the rank of Objective C, from ninth to 12th place. 

Finally, the more niche languages – Go, Ruby, Rust, and Lua – are still much smaller, with up to 1.5M active software developers each. Ruby and Lua have been around for more than two decades now, but their communities have essentially stopped growing in the last three years. On the contrary, Go and Rust appear to be actively adding developers, although it is still unclear whether the two languages will climb the programming language ranking in the coming period.

What’s your favourite programming language? Take our Developer Economics 20th edition survey to support your choice!

Infographic: Programming languages adoption trends 2020
News and Resources

Google planning hybrid Android/Chrome OS tablets

Welcome to DeveloperEconomics’ weekly news roundup. In this edition Google is reportedly planning hybrid devices that run both Android and Chrome, game developers boycott Oculus due to its founder’s support for Donald Trump and Google takes its Daydream SDK out of beta. Read on for the full news rundown.


Google planning hybrid Android/Chrome OS tablets

Google is reportedly planning hybrid devices that run both Android and Chrome, according to 9to5Google. The Andromeda project bakes Chrome OS features into Android and is reportedly being released on a Nexus-branded tablet and a convertible laptop. Rumours suggests the laptop device will launch in Q3 2017.


IBM releases IBM Bluemix Runtime for Swift

IBM has introduced a production-ready Swift runtime on the IBM Cloud. The release allows enterprises to take advantage of the server-side capabilities in Apple’s programming language, for building microservice APIs on its cloud platform. IBM says by unlocking Swift for enterprises it’s “reached another milestone” in its “shared journey with Apple.”


Microsoft announces 400m Windows 10 users

Microsoft says Windows 10 now has over 400 million active users. The last update on user growth was in July, when the OS hit 350, just before it ended its free upgrade period. Microsoft’s original goal was to have one billion devices running Windows 10 by 2018, but the company has since backtracked and is not specifying when it will hit the one billion milestone.


Oracle announces new products for cloud platform

Oracle unveiled 20 new products and services for its Oracle Cloud Platform at the annual OpenWorld conference last week. New products include the cloud-based Oracle Database 12c Release 2, along with an SaaS offering, which combines third party data with real-time analytics for “adaptive” app development. During the announcements, Oracle’s CTO Larry Ellison said Amazon now has “serious competition going forward.”


SoundCloud devs must submit application for API access

SoundCloud has announced changes to its API policy, requiring devs to apply for access. The application form asks devs what categories their app falls under, how it makes money and whether the app plays content from the SoundCloud API. SoundCloud says the changes were made to stop apps from using content without the permission of creators.


Mopub modular ad SDK reduces app sizes

Twitter’s MoPub ad network has announced a new SDK that lets devs cut out the ad formats they don’t use. The modular SDK means devs can save up to 60% on disk space for Android apps and up to 35% for iOS apps, without losing any functionality. MoPub says the space savings will be particularly useful for Asia-Pacific devs, where expensive data plans can impact bigger apps.


Google takes Daydream VR tools out of beta

Google has released a new VR SDK, allowing devs to build VR experiences for Daydream-ready phones and headsets. The Daydream VR SDK 1.0 supports “integrated asynchronous reprojection, high fidelity spatialized audio and interactions using the Daydream controller.” The release also supports native integration in both Unity and Unreal Engine 4.


Facebook rolls-out Profile Expression Kit SDK

Developers can now integrate Facebook’s Profile Expression media into the apps. The Profile Expression Kit lets users turn media – such as Vine videos, Bommerang GIFs and Lollicam stickers – into profile pictures. Facebook says profiles are the second most visited surface on Facebook, allowing Expression Kit apps to generate a lot of exposure.


Onsen UI 2.0 now available

The Onsen UI team has released version 2.0 of its UI framework, which helps developers create native mobile apps with HTML5. While Onsen 1.x was based on Angular JS, the new version has no library dependencies, as well as new Material Design components. The team has also released new and improved documentation to make it easier for devs to get to grips with the framework.


Developers boycott Oculus over Trump-supporting founder

A number of Oculus developers are boycotting the VR platform due to the political views of its founder, Palmer Luckey. According to a Daily Beast report, Luckey funded a pro-Trump activist group, which posted anti-Hilary Clinton ads. Developer Scruta Games said it will “cancel Oculus support” unless Luckey steps down from his position at Oculus.

News and Resources

News round up – Razer launches new fund for VR & gaming start-ups

Welcome to DeveloperEconomics’ weekly news roundup. In this edition, Blackstorm raises $33.5m for a ‘post-app store”, Razer launches a new fund for VR and gaming start-ups and Kony releases a new survey on the challenges of wearable development. Read on for the full news rundown.

Blackstorm raises $33.5m for ‘post-app store’ platform

Blackstorm has raised $33.5 million for what it calls a “post app store” solution, letting developers share apps outside of typical store fronts. Blackstorm offers a universal IDE designed to create apps that are shared across different distribution channels, such as messaging apps and mobile browsers. The company says its goal is to power “the infrastructure to trade and distribute software to all the post app-store platforms.”

Aruba announces platform to accelerate enterprise IoT adoption

HP’s Aruba has released the Aruba Mobile First platform, which aims to build a dev eco-system around its ArubaOS operating system. Aruba says the platform, which incorporates ArubaOS 8, lets third party devs quickly improve apps or create new ones based on its wireless networking technologies. The platform also collects data from IoT and mobile devices and customises networking functions dynamically in real time.

Google issues Nougat security update

Google has released a security update for Android Nougat. The update fixed a vulnerability that could enable remote code execution on an affected device. However, Google added that it’s had no reports of active customer exploitation or abuse of the fixed issues.

Korean firms consider legal action over Apple’s API policy

A group of Korean financial tech firms are reportedly launching a complaint to state regulators against Apple’s closed API policy around NFC functions. The companies complain that Apple is blocking providers such as Samsung Card and BC Card from accessing the NFC features. A similar complaint was previously lodged by Australian banks with regulators in the country.

PerfectlySoft releases Perfect 2.0 framework for Swift 3.0

PerfectlySoft has released the latest version of its server-side development framework for Swift 3.0. Perfect 2.0 features support for additional datasources, such as Redis and Filemaker, as well as “significant” performance and scalability enhancements. The company says Swift is “evolving extremely rapidly” and its framework helps developers keep up with the changes.

AWS SDK for C++ now available for production use

Amazon has released version 1.0 of its AWS SDK for C++. The SDK has received a number of improvements following developer feedback, including an improved Transfer Manager and symmetric cryptography support. The SDK also now follows semantic versioning so devs can upgrade within the 1.x series without breaking their build.

InfluxDB version 1.0 releases

InfluxData has released version 1.0 of its InfluxDB open-source time-series database. Influx DB was written in the Go programming language and is already being used by companies to monitor network infrastructure, security, container infrastructure, solar panels, and more. InfluxData says the database has been in development for nearly three years.

Box releases updates to attract more developers

Storage platform Box has released a series of updates aimed at developers. The platform now supports annotations, watermarking and new content types. Devs using the JavaScript SDK can now benefit from HD video, 3D models, VR files and 360-degree content. Box is also releasing a UI Kit that makes it easier to integrate elements into their web apps.

MySQL 8.0.0 Milestone Release is available

MySQL have announced that their 8.0.0 milestone release is now available for download. In their blog post, the engineers have outlined the most significant changes, some of which address problems that have plagued MySQL. The source code is available at GitHub.

Razer launches $30m fund for VR, IoT and gaming start-ups

Gaming hardware company Razer has launched zVentures, a new fund for investing in start-ups focused on gaming, VR, robotics and IoT. Razer is looking to fund early-stage start-ups with investments ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. The fund is based out of San Francisco and Singapore.

Survey highlights top challenges around wearables development

Kony has released a new survey looking at the challenges around developing apps for wearables. According to the survey, wearables will be “commonplace” in the enterprise by 2020 and 78% of devs surveyed said they are working on 2 wearable apps or more. Forty percent said the lack of communication between designers, stakeholders and developers is the biggest challenge for wearable development.



Understanding Swift: 5 things app developers should know

The most surprising thing to come out of Apple’s WWDC event this year was a new programming language for iOS and Mac development – Swift. To the sceptical this might not seem like anything more than a way to entice more new developers to build apps exclusively for Apple platforms and lock them in. While investment in developer tools is always partly about making a platform attractive to developers, this move has far more benefits and strategic implications.


1. What is Swift?

Swift is a statically typed, compiled language, interoperable with the Objective-C and C code that are currently used to build Apple’s platforms and the native apps that run on them. However, it also has the feel and features of more modern scripting languages. In creating Swift, Apple has attempted to give developers the best of both worlds, the performance of native code but the convenience and productivity of a scripting language.

2. Faster, Safer and Less Code

In fact, Apple claims that Swift is faster than Objective-C, yet at the same time developers are freed from the burden of explicitly declaring types (they’re inferred), or manually managing memory (it uses automatic reference counting). With features such as “optionals” (a generic way of checking if things exist before using them) and type safety (no default attempt at an implicit cast), the compiler is able to prevent many of the worst bugs that crop up in the C family of languages while reducing the amount of code that has to be written and maintained. Another productivity enhancing change from the legacy of C is the elimination of header files, keeping interface definitions and implementations in one place.

3. Interactive

Although reducing the amount of code required to perform simple tasks is productivity enhancing on its own, even greater benefits are obtained by reducing feedback cycles. In the same way that a simulator allows more rapid testing of new code and ideas than building for a device and installing, live coding environments provide almost instant feedback as the code is written. Such tools are not traditionally available to compiled languages but Apple has created “Playgrounds” for Swift. These don’t provide live coding for an entire app but allow developers to experiment with new algorithms or bits of UI in such an environment before copying them into an app. Similarly, whilst being able to inspect variables in a debugger is useful, it’s even better to be able to interact with an app while it’s running. Swift provides a REPL (Read-Eval-Print-Loop) for this, much like the debug console for JavaScript in most browser development tools.

4. Functional friendly

The language also has functions (and closures) as first class objects with a much more readable syntax than Objective-C’s blocks, making it easier to apply functional programming techniques. This could be particularly helpful for fans of Functional Reactive Programming (FRP) – a programming paradigm that has been gaining in popularity for app development amongst a lot of smart developers. It helps to eliminate complexity when dealing with things like user input and asynchronous network communication – two key areas for most mobile apps. A team at GitHub actually created an FRP library for Objective-C, called ReactiveCocoa, which is extremely well thought out but forced into the most painful syntax by the language.

5. What’s the catch?

Sounds a bit too good to be true, right? Being a compiled language and using reference counting, rather than a garbage collector, developers are still responsible for avoiding memory leaks due to strong reference cycles. These happen when two objects refer to one another, directly or via a chain of other objects. So, while the language may be beginner friendly, it makes it fairly easy to write code that leaks memory. To avoid this, developers need to understand how the memory is managed for them and how to break these cycles. It’s not horribly complex but it’s a long way from not having to worry about memory management at all. That said, most iOS apps will get away with leaking a bit of memory – usually the device will just silently kill them in the background when the memory is required for another app.

Being compatible with C and Objective-C makes Swift a fairly big language – there are quite a lot of concepts and bits of syntax to learn for a new developer, rather than one coming from an Objective-C background. Also, as a type safe language, Swift is going to be much less forgiving to the novice that would prefer the compiler just figured out what they meant when comparing the integer 1 with the floating point value 1.0 or the string “1”.

Swift is currently an iOS & Mac only proprietary language. Unlike Objective-C, which has an open source compiler and runtime (used by Apportable) there’s not likely to be any way to use the code on Android or other platforms. However, most developers wanting a cross-platform approach are unlikely to have started with Objective-C anyway, so this is not really creating significant extra lock-in. It might just persuade some developers choosing a cross-platform tool to target iOS because it’s easier, to create a fully native app instead.

Why does it matter?

First, more developers. Although modern Objective-C has a lot of good points, it’s an evolution of a very old language. Syntactically it’s quite different from most other modern languages – it borrowed from Smalltalk while the rest of the world followed C/C++. This creates a barrier to entry for developers in other languages because the code initially looks alien. Additionally, any language that has pointers is a hard sell and steep learning curve for complete beginners. Swift fixes those things and should make developing for Apple products attractive to an even wider audience.

Second, more productive developers. Greater productivity means lower cost of development and/or shorter time to market. The combination of more rapid development and lower fragmentation versus Android should help to keep iOS as the first platform developers target, even as its market share continues to shrink through the faster growth of Android globally. This is very important if Apple intends to stay exclusively at the premium end of the market.

Last but not least, happy developers. Although several cynical commentators have latched onto the proprietary language lock-in angle, it seems rather unlikely that giving developers a new language to learn is going to lock them into developing for a platform when the barrier to exit is, well, learning a new language! Instead consider that Apple is primarily aiming to retain developers through loyalty rather than lock-in with this particular move. It should not be underestimated how much good tools can contribute to the enjoyment of daily development work. If Swift can deliver on its promises then other platforms will have to be that much more attractive to tempt the best developers away.