Reviewing the Popularity of 5 Commonly Used Server-Side Programming Languages

Programming Server Side
Programming Languages Review

I’ve always been curious about the popularity of the most commonly used programming languages, but haven’t been able to find a reliable (non-biased) source.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and use the Google trends tool to see the frequency with which five of the most commonly used server-side programming languages have been referenced worldwide in the past twelve months (ranging from April 25 2012 to April 25 2013.)

Why Conduct My Own Study?

There are countless sites, each claiming that certain languages are more popular than others. I find that the results are so inconclusive/arbitrary that usually I suspect the writer’s own bias is likely clouding the results.

Even worse, many articles I see like to compare server-side, client-side, and even database languages. In my opinion this is a non-valid comparison along the lines of comparing apples to oranges… it just doesn’t make any sense.

For example, how can one compare ASP.NET, JQuery, and T-SQL popularity? These languages exist for wildly different programming purposes and should only be compared with others of their kind (for example, compare JQueryYUI, and Dojo).

So in searching for the truth about how popular the five major programming languages are I decided to take matters into my own hands.

But How Can One Judge Popularity?

It seemed to me that the search frequency for each language in Google would be a good non-biased metric which I could use to check language popularity out for myself. This would reflect how many people world-wide are actively looking into each of the major languages.

To judge search volume I used the Google Trends tool. You can find this at: http://www.google.ca/trends/explore. Also to get the most accurate view into current language popularity I decided to limit the trends results to 12 months, and to confine the results to the category: computers and electronics/programming.

The Languages I Selected for Analysis.

The server-side languages I was interested in were Java, PHP, C#, C++, and VB.

Summary Findings

Programming Language Popularity
Programming Language Popularity

As you can see in the screen capture from Google Trends above, l I found that since these languages are all mature, they have changed little in popularity over the past 12 months. In fact even when I extrapolated the results to popularity since 2004, each language’s search popularity has remained relatively static apart from a constant downward trend for Java.

Google Trends scores each language out of 100. The language results were as follows:

  1. Java: 73/100
  2. PHP / C#: 20/100
  3. C++: 13/100
  4. VB: 4/100

Detailed Results for Java

Java was by far the most popular language that was searched for, coming in at an impressive Google score of 73/100. As you can see in the results below, searches for Java were most popular in India followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil, New York, Paris, and London.

Java Popularity
Java Popularity

Results for PHP and C#: A Tie!

PHP and C# came in at a tie in second place. Both scored far below Java in terms of popularity, coming in at a Google score of 20/100. In past results PHP has come in as more popular than C#, but it seems that in 2012-2013 C# has caught up in popularity with PHP.

PHP was most popular in several cities in India followed by Jakarta Indonesia, Paris, and London.

PHP Popularity
PHP Popularity

C# was also popular in several cities in India as well as Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo in Brazil, London, Istanbul, and New York.

C# Popularity
C# Popularity

C++ Popularity

C++ was the third most popular programming language coming in with a Google popularity score of 13/100. C++ programming is popular in several cities in India as well as Moscow and London.

C++ Popularity
C++ Popularity

VB Popularity

Finally VB came in last place with a popularity score of 4/100. Several cities in India work with VB as well as Manila in the Philippines and several separately listed districts of Tokyo as well as Osaka.

VB Popularity
VB Popularity

Comparing Google Trends with the Tiobe Index

For related results check out the Tiobe community index, which assigns a popularity score to the major programming languages currently in active use. Their chart is at: http://www.tiobe.com/index.php/content/paperinfo/tpci/index.html .

The Tiobe popularity results are fairly similar to my results above. However, they do show C# as being one point more popular than PHP whereas Google Trends indicated they were equal.

Furthermore, the Tiobe index states that C is as popular as Java while Objective-C is below C++ but above C#.

I did not include C or Objective-C in my searches since Google Trends only let me search by my five most favorite languages, but this is useful information to know.

Here is a screen capture showing the Tiobe index results:

Tiobe Language Popularity 2013
Tiobe Language Popularity 2013
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7 thoughts on “Reviewing the Popularity of 5 Commonly Used Server-Side Programming Languages

  1. Very interesting study. It seems like no matter how you gather the data, we always see Java, PHP and C# in the mix and I don’t think that is going to change any time soon.

  2. Funny… I came in thinking solely about web development and was totally thrown off by your results. Then I realized there are different types of server-side programming languages (e.g. for an IM application).

    For the web developers out there, this website lists something more akin to what I was expecting to see:
    http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/programming_language/all

    Now I’d like to see someone explain why those languages deserve those positions. PHP made a lot of sense when web pages were more straightforward, but with the development of MVC frameworks and newer web technologies I don’t see what makes it better than something like Perl. I’d mention Ruby and Python, but they never seemed to take off like one might have hoped.

    1. Good points and thanks for the link. The results on the W3Techs site are somewhat surprising to me, especially the low ranking for Java/JSP which I thought was quite commonly used.

  3. The results are not very suprising. The usage of languages such as Java or PHP in such a wide range of software applications make them very popular and in my opinion this is hardly going to change in the next 2-3 years. I found another source for comparing statistics about programming languages here http://trendyskills.com and their results practically say the same thing with those posted here.

    1. I agree about the major languages not changing much for the coming 2 – 3 years.

      The statistics at trendyskills are interesting, thanks for pointing me to their site.

      I’m not sure I agree with basing their language popularity stats on skills listed in job postings. For example job postings have a mix of required and nice-to-have skills which might be confusing the results. They have C# and Java tied for most used at 18% each, while PHP is only 7%… though it seems to me these days that PHP is more popular than indicated. Also their stats have XML as more trendy than HTML which seems a bit odd.

      1. Yes i agree with you about the nice-to-have skills which might tend to appear more often even if they are not the basic required skills that an advertisment is looking for and thus they seem to be more “trendy” than the actually wanted. If you change the date range from the beginning of the time of the searches, HTML climbs before XML but they still have just a small difference.

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