Preparing Developers for a Multi-language Multi-paradigm Future

By: Morpheus Data

Tried-and-true languages such as Java, C++, Python, and JavaScript continue to dominate the most popular lists, but modern app development requires a multi-language approach to support diverse platforms and links to backend servers. The future will see new languages being used in conjunction with the old reliables.

Every year, new programming languages are developed. Recent examples are Apple’s Swift and Carnegie Mellon University’s Wyvernet. Yet for more than a decade, the same handful no. of languages have retained their popularity with developers — Java, JavaScript, C/C++/C#/Objective-C, Python, Ruby, PHP — even though each is considered to have serious shortcomings for modern app development.

According to TIOBE Software’s TIOBE Index for January 2015, JavaScript recorded the greatest increase in popularity in 2014, followed by PL/SQL and Perl.

The same old programming languages dominate the popularity polls, as shown by the most-recent TIOBE Index. Source: TIOBE Software

Of course, choosing the best language for any development project rarely boils down to a popularity contest. When RedMonk’s Donnie Berkholz analyzed GitHub language trends in May 2014, aggregating new users, issues, and repositories, he concluded that only five languages have mattered on GitHub since 2008: JavaScript, Ruby, Java, PHP, and Python.


An analysis of language activity on GitHub between 2008 and 2013 indicates growing fragmentation. Source: RedMonk

Two important caveats to Berkholz’s analysis are that GitHub focused on Ruby on Rails when it launched but has since gone more mainstream; and that Windows and iOS development barely register because both are generally open source-averse. As IT World’s Phil Johnson points out in a May 7, 2014, article, while it’s dangerous to draw conclusions about language popularity based on this or any other single analysis, it seems clear the industry is diverging rather than converging.

Today’s apps require a multi-language, multi-paradigm approach

Even straightforward development projects require expertise in multiple languages. TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton states in a July 10, 2014, article that creating an app for the web and mobile entails HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for the frontend (others as well, depending on the libraries required); Java and Objective-C (or Swift) for Android and iPhone, respectively; and for links to backend servers, Python, Ruby, or Go, as well as SQL or other database query languages.

Crichton identifies three trends driving multi-language development. The first is faster adoption of new languages: GitHub and similar sites encourage broader participation in developing libraries and tutorials; and developers are more willing to learn new languages. Second, apps have to run on multiple platforms, each with unique requirements and characteristics. And third, functional programming languages are moving out of academia and into the mainstream.

Researcher Benjamin Erb suggests that rather than functional languages replacing object-oriented languages, the future will be dominated by multi-paradigm development, in particular to address concurrency requirements. In addition to supporting objects, inheritance, and imperative code, multi-paradigm languages incorporate higher-order functions, closures, and restricted mutability.

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