An Update on Language Popularity - Perl is in Trouble
Written by Janet Swift   
Friday, 20 April 2018

According to April's TIOBE Index, Python has dislodged C#, and Objective C and Perl are both in decline. SQL appears to be making a rapid rise - but that's an anomaly.

However much we disparage the TIOBE index for being based on secondary information, it still exerts a big influence. And let's face it the secondary indicators are correlated with real shifts in language popularity - so it is worth our attention.

The overall shape of the Tiobe Index appears unchanged - and this of course is explained by the fact it goes back to 2001 and recent changes are swamped by the long-term trends. 


Over the period since we last looked at the entire chart in August 2017, see TIOBE Index - Top 10 Languages Slump the top three languages Java, C and C++ have remained static, Python has replaced C#, now in fifth place, as the fourth most popular language. Then comes Visual Basic. NET (6th) which as discussed last August seems surprisingly high, PHP (7th) , and JavaScript (8th). We appear to have a new entrant as number 9 - SQL. It is the red line in the chart above which goes horizontal between 2004 and a couple of months ago. This is because it used to be included in the index and was then dropped from it. It was restored in February 2018 with this explanation:

IMPORTANT NOTE. SQL has been added again to the TIOBE index since February 2018. The reason for this is that SQL appears to be Turing complete. As a consequence, there is no recent history for the language and thus it might seem the SQL language is rising very fast. This is not the case.

In tenth place we have Ruby which, even though it is usually seen as a language in decline rose above Perl during the year, knocking Perl out of ninth position.

The headline for TIOBE's own report on the April figures is:

Perl is having a hard time

The index shows that Perl and Objective-C are the languages that have lost most in terms of position over the last year. Objective-C slumped from 18 to 14 - but this isn't a surprise since it has been replaced for iOS development by Swift, which itself isn't doing too well, having dropped from 12th to 15th over the past year.

To quote from the editorial:

But what about Perl? Till 2005 it was the most dominating scripting language in the world. In 2008 we said in an interview with Dr. Dobb's Journal that Perl would go extinct based on the trend we saw in the TIOBE index at that time. After this a religious war started with Perl diehards who claimed that this won't happen and that the TIOBE index was being gamed. Stevan Little gave a ground-breaking talk in 2013 called "Perl is not dead, it is a dead end" indicating that once software engineers leave the Perl language they will never come back. Personally I think that the fork of Perl 6 (and its delays for decades) together with the unclear future of what was going to happen to the language was the main reason for engineers to look for alternatives such as Python and Ruby. And still today the Perl community hasn't defined a clear future, and as a consequence, it is slowly fading away.




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Last Updated ( Friday, 20 April 2018 )