Programming language Python's popularity: Ahead of Java for first time but still trailing C

Python is now the second most popular language in the nearly 20-year-old Tiobe index.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

For the first time in Tiobe's long-running index, 35-year-old Python has overtaken Java to become the second-most popular programming language. 

Python, a top choice for data-science and machine-learning projects, is now in second spot behind C in Tiobe's latest index, knocking Java down into third place.  

It's the first time in the Tiobe index's nearly 20-year history that Java and C aren't the two top languages. Third is also the lowest position Java has ever held in the Tiobe index, which uses queries on several search engines to come up with its ratings.

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Python shows a 2.27% rise over its position a year ago, which contrasts with a decline of -4.47% for Java over the same period. 

Python also snatched second place from Java in developer analyst RedMonk's programming-language popularity rankings in July. However, RedMonk ranks JavaScript as the top language. It was the first time RedMonk's top two did not consist of Java or JavaScript. 

Python is already the top language, according to electrical engineering publication IEEE Spectrum's latest popularity rankings.

While Python has gained wide adoption in growing areas of tech like machine learning and numerical computing, Tiobe CEO Paul Jansen argues that Python's recent surge in popularity is because it's simple enough to use by non-programmers, rather than being a language only for advanced programmers. 

"I believe that Python's popularity has to do with general demand," writes Jansen. "In the past, most programming activities were performed by software engineers. But programming skills are needed everywhere nowadays and there is a lack of good software developers. 

"As a consequence, we need something simple that can be handled by non-software engineers, something easy to learn with fast edit cycles and smooth deployment. Python meets all these needs."

RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady had a slightly different explanation for Python's ascent in recent years. 

O'Grady compared Python to Perl in its heyday because Python has become a "language of first resort" and the "glue" for thousands of small projects, while enjoying high adoption in growing categories such as data science.  

But as Perl today shows – it's ranked 12th in Tiobe's index – even languages that were once hugely popular with certain communities of developers can fade relatively quickly. 

SEE: Linux and open-source jobs are hotter than ever

Likewise Python's future isn't guaranteed and it has notable limitations in building mobile and browser apps or anything with a user interface. 

Peter Wang, CEO of Anaconda, the maker of a popular Python distribution for data science, recently told ZDNet that Python's value as a lingua franca for backend system automation and scripting made it a tough thing to displace. 

While he is a major supporter of Python, he also argued Python needs to lay out a clear vision to stay competitive with other application development languages outside data science. 


Python has recorded the largest percentage increase in popularity of any language in Tiobe's top 20 listing.

Image: Tiobe

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