Python Overtakes Java In TIOBE Index
Written by Janet Swift   
Friday, 06 November 2020

This month's TIOBE brings dramatic news. Python has replaced Java as the second most popular language. Although this was bound to happen sometime, we had not imagined it would be this soon.

Before going any further let's repeat our usual caveat, don't take it too seriously, it has many flaws which we choose to ignore. However, not only is fun to monitor, it correlates reasonably well with other indicators of language popularity and therefore has reasonable face validity. 

This month's post by TIOBE Software CEO, Paul Jansen has the headline: Python is unstoppable and surpasses Java, so let's take a closer look: 


From this chart it is obvious that this landmark has been caused by a downturn in interest in Java (the green line) even more than the upturn for Python (in black). 

With the TIOBE Index, what goes down one month often bounces back the next - just look at how low C (in blue) had fallen in 2017 and yet it is now at number one for the seventh month is a row. In fact, March 2020, two months before C regained the top spot, marked the beginning of an unrelenting decline for Java. Its rating percentage at the start of this slide was 17.78% and now it has fallen to 11.68% - that's a decline of 6.10% in 8 months. Meanwhile in Match, Python's ratings were on 10.11%, it then fell to 8.36% in June and then started a on a steep increase taking it to 12.12%. C is still over four percentage points in the lead, on 16.21%.

It was in June 2019, the month in which Python convincingly relegated C++ into 4th position, that Paul Jansen predicted Python was set to become the top language. At that time Mike James reported:

The TIOBE index gives Python only 3 or 4 years to leave C and Java in the dust and claim the top spot. Given the amount of legacy code in Java and the specialist nature of C programming, I'm not sure it is going to be quite so easy, but Python certainly is a phenomenon.

Commenting on Python's achievment Jansen this month says:

Some say that Python's recent surge in popularity is due to booming fields such as data mining, AI and numerical computing. But I have my own take on this. I believe that Python's popularity has to do with general demand. ... Some time ago I had a flat tyre and called the road patrol to help me out. The mechanic asked about my living and when I used the word "software" in my answer, he smiled and started talking very enthousiastically about his own passion: programming in Python. From that moment on, I knew Python would become ubiquitous. 

Yes, Python's success probably is due to the fact that it can, and does, crop up in multiple programming domains. However it isn't the most widely used language. That accolade goes to Javascript, which in the TIOBE index has never risen above 6th position and is currently 7th with a percentage of just 2.03% and from the chart above chugs along with many fewer ups and downs that other major languages. 

Further down the index one language that is experiencing continuing success is R, which is now in 9th place having experienced an all-time high at 8th in August, and this is probably due to its importance in data science/data mining.   

Doing even better in terms of year-on- year change, Perl is experiencing a resurgence. Having been at its lowest ever position #21 in November 2019 it is now back up to #12th. Previously we've commented that this seems to be linked to DevOps. Now, however, its continued improvement can perhaps be attributed to having been able to split away from Raku, formally Perl 6, reducing the uncertainty surrounding its future.



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