Fortran Re-enters TIOBE Index Top 20 While Objective-C Leaves
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 07 April 2021

The two languages that are making headline news in the TIOBE Index for April 2021 are Objective-C which has left the top 20 and Fortran which is back there after more than 10 years.

The surprise about Objective-C, which is now at #23 in the TIOBE Index is that has taken so long to bow out of the Top 20.. Apple announced Swift - its replacement as the language in which to write for both the Mac and for iOS devices - in 2014. Swift currently occupies #15 in the TIOBE index, having been at #11 a year ago. 

The "newcomer" into #20 is the old-timer Fortran. For a language that turns 65 later this year, Fortran is doing remarkably well. Released in October 1956, although  its full title was The IBM Formula Translating System. It was designed specifically for the IBM 704 by a team led by John Backus and was one of the first compiled computer languages. As the first high-level computer language, FORTRAN (its name was all in caps until Fortran 90) influenced many subsequent languages and every single language that compiles an expression owes a debt to Fortran.

Fortan has also influenced many generations of programmers, especially when you take into account the popularity during the early home computer era of BASIC, which can be considered a direct derivative of FORTRAN II.

Commenting on Fortran's surge in popularity, the April editorial states:

This dinosaur is back in the top 20 after more than 10 years. Fortran was the first commercial programming language ever, and is gaining popularity thanks to the massive need for (scientific) number crunching. Welcome back Fortran.

Fortran, however, is no dinosaur - it has constantly evolved over the years in order to remain an important language for scientific research that requires intensive number crunching - climate modelling,  crystallography and computational chemistry to name just three examples. Over the years it has added object-oriented programming (Fortran 2003),  concurrent programming (Fortran 2008) and its most recent version Fortran 2018 is considered a clearer standard that has allowed many deficiencies and irregularities in the earlier language versions to be resolved.

Even though it has evolved it hasn't changed out of all recognition and is still so true to its original design so that a FORTRAN I  programmer would still be able to follow something in Fortran 2018.

While we've often commented on COBOL's longevity as a language, and it is currently at #24, just one place below Objective C, Fortran is in a different league. COBOL skills are still needed to sustain vital legacy (or should that be out-dated) systems. Modern Fortran, on the other hand is has a role to play at the cutting edge of scientific research and can expected to have an expanding role there.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 April 2021 )