Programming languages: Kotlin rises fastest but JavaScript lures millions more developers

JavaScript extends its lead as the world's most popular programming language, followed by Python and Java.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

There are now 20.4 million active software developers in the world, and more than half of them have chosen to learn JavaScript or Microsoft's JavaScript superset language, TypeScript. 

That's according to developer analyst SlashData, which surveyed over 17,000 developers in 159 countries between November 2019 and February 2020 for its 18th Developer Economics report.

SlashData estimates that there are now 12.2 million developers worldwide using JavaScript, which enjoys the added weight of well-funded and widely used JavaScript frameworks like the Google-maintained AngularJS, Facebook's React, and Vue.js. 

The company reckons three million developers have joined the JavaScript community in the past two years. 

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF)

JavaScript's growth has also been spurred by variants like Microsoft's TypeScript, which it built for large-scale JavaScript projects and has quickly become one of the most popular programming languages to learn. 

Developer analyst RedMonk ranks TypeScript as the ninth most popular language, even ahead of Apple's Swift replacement for Objective C. 

Oracle-backed Java and open-source Python also remain popular languages among programmers. SlashData estimates there are now 8.4 million Python developers and 8.2 million Java developers. 

Others top languages with over one million users include C++, C#, Visual tools, Kotlin, Swift, Go, Ruby, Objective C. Rust is used by 600,000 developers while Lua is used by 500,000 developers.

Reflecting the importance of AI in tech today and its impact on Python usage, around three-quarters of machine-learning developers and data scientists report using Python these days, while less than 20% of these two groups use R, a popular but specialized language for statistical computing. 

Kotlin has been the fastest-growing language over the past two years, gaining 1.1 million developers, probably because Google made it the preferred language for Android development. This finding lines up with GitHub's Octoverse 2018 report and 2019 report, which focus on open-source projects, though in 2019 Google's Dart was the fastest-growing language.

According to SlashData, the number of developers who report using Swift has actually declined over the past year compared with the year prior and now stands at two million. Meanwhile, Objective C is still used by 1.2 million developers, though that's also down. 

The survey also found that 59% of developers contribute to open-source software. A third of developers who contribute to open-source software are under 24 years old. 

Developers are also looking to open-source projects to improve their coding skills, with 29% primarily doing so for this reason compared with the 26% who do it because they believe in the benefits of open-source software. Only 3% of developers are actually getting paid for their work on open-source projects. 

SEE: Microsoft buys JavaScript developer platform npm; plans to integrate it with GitHub

But developers do want corporate support, with just under half of all developers surveyed (44%) expecting companies to support and contribute to open-source communities. However, 39% of open-source developers don't expect companies to build products and services on open-source software. 

These results perhaps aren't surprising in today's environment where Microsoft, once an open-source hater, has become the biggest contributor to open-source projects on GitHub, which it snapped up in 2018

Other top contributors to open-source software include Google, now IBM-owned RedHat, Intel, Amazon, and SAP. Support from major tech companies is also helping uncover more security vulnerabilities than ever.    

Image: SlashData

More on programming languages

  • New programming language rankings: Python now as popular as Java, as TypeScript climbs  
  • Programming languages: Java developers flock to Kotlin and ditch Oracle JDK for OpenJDK  
  • Programming language popularity: Apple's Objective-C tumbles down the rankings  
  • Programming languages: Go and Python are what developers most want to learn  
  • Know Python language and up for a 'hardcore' coding test? Get in touch, says Tesla  
  • Java or C++, Full stack or Front end: The programming languages and developer jobs that pay you the most  
  • Google reveals new Python programming language course: Scholarships for 2,500  
  • Microsoft boosts programming language Python's popular VS Code extension  
  • Programming language of 2019? Python beaten by trusty old C  
  • Programming language Python's popular extension for Visual Studio Code revamped  
  • Programming language Python 2.7 code is now frozen: Last release coming in April  
  • Netflix: Our Metaflow Python library for faster data science is now open source  
  • Tech jobs: Python programming language and AWS skills demand has exploded  
  • Python programming language creator retires, saying: 'It's been an amazing ride'
  • Programming languages: How Instagram's taming a multimillion-line Python monster
  • Salesforce: Why we ditched Python for Google's Go language in Einstein Analytics  
  • Microsoft: We want you to learn Python programming language for free
  • JPMorgan's Athena has 35 million lines of Python code, and won't be updated to Python 3 in time TechRepublic
  • Mozilla's radical open-source move helped rewrite rules of tech CNET
  • Editorial standards