The Top Languages of 2012
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 07 January 2013

Every January it is traditional to compare the state of the languages as indicated by the TIOBE index. So what's up and what's down this year?

There have been headlines in other news items that C# is the language of the year, but this is based on a new language index that really doesn't have the history to be authoritative.

The TIOBE index has a lot of problems, but it has been going for some time and it is reasonable to use it to compare gross trends in language popularity.

The key result is that Objective C is still on the up - although by only a small amount. The real point is that Objective C has come from virtually nowhere to be number 3 in the list and the reason is almost without doubt the simple fact that it is the language you have to use to create iOS applications. So this doesn't say so much about the quality or attractiveness of the language, but is more about the essential nature of the iOS ecosystem.

Another big trend seems to be the rise of the pure C-based languages. You can't help but notice that C is number one for the first time and it displaces Java from its long-held top spot. Java has had some troubling times in the last year, but who would have guessed that C would be the one to replace it. C is little more than a machine independent assembler with few modern features. If it appeals at all then it has to be because it is a simple, clean and elegant language.

Having said this you, have to also notice that Objective C and C++  take third and fourth place as object oriented extensions of C. You could also argue that C#is basically an object oriented version of C but given how much it has evolved beyond this point it has about as much to do with C as Java. The main point here is that far from being the number one language, according to TIOBE it is in 5th place and falling. Is this the first sign that programmers are responding to the way Microsoft is treating managed code as last year's technology? Is this the same reason that C++ is gaining in popularity?


Position Jan 2013Position
Jan 2012
Delta in PositionProgramming Language
1 2 C
2 1 Java
3 5 Objective-C
4 4 C++
5 3 C#
6 6 PHP
7 7 (Visual) Basic
8 8 Python
9 9 Perl
10 10 JavaScript
11 12 Ruby
12 24 Visual Basic .NET
13 13 Lisp
14 14 Pascal
15 11 Delphi/Object Pascal
16 17 Ada
17 23 MATLAB
18 20 Lua
19 21 Assembly
20 72 Bash


The others in the top ten are reasonable enough candidates. At number 6 comes PHP, the work horse that we have to use but few actually like, Python the enthusiast's choice and Perl the fanatic's choice occupy 8 and 9 respectively. Why Visual Basic is still at number 7 is a mystery and why JavaScript, the most ubiquitous language of them all, is only at number 10 is also a mystery. My guess is that these rankings reveal more about the index than the languages.

The languages that make it into the top 20 are even more strange. Ruby at number 11 makes sense but Visual Basic .NET moving from 24 to 12 is a mystery. Lisp sticking at 13 probably has more to do with its use in academic settings that anything else. The same is probably true of Pascal which remains at 14.

The biggest question mark has to be over the sudden rise in interest in Bash? Does anyone have a suggestion why a shell scripting language should jump from 72nd to 20th position?

The languages from 21 to 50 in TIOBE's Other Languages table are fairly difficult to interpret as in this region the noise probably overwhelms the signal but near the top are SQL, SAS, Cobol, Fortran and R. At the very end we have the educational language Alice showing up for the first time.  I guess Cobol and Fortran will never die - and apparently not fade away either!

If you want a headline for this years result it has to be:

C Knocks Java From Number One Position.

Questions raised by the latest table include:

Will Java Recover?

Was the rise of C an aberration that will pass in 2013?

See you next year....


More Information

TIOBE Current Index

Related Articles

The Top Languages of 2011

Language of the year 2010

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Last Updated ( Monday, 07 January 2013 )