What are programming languages? We're glad you asked.

JavaScript remains the most commonly used programming language, followed by Python and SQL. (Image by Shutterstock)

What are the most popular programming languages that developers use?

  • JavaScript remains the most commonly used programming language, followed by Python and SQL.
  • Rust is the most admired programming language. 
  • MATLAB was voted as the least admired. 

Programming languages have been around for decades, and they continue to evolve. Used by computer programmers and developers, programming languages are a set of rules and syntax that allow humans to communicate with computers.

Programming languages can be used to create software applications, websites, games, and other types of programs. Programming languages also serve as a bridge between human logic and computer operations. Prior to the development of such codes, early forms of programming were done using methods such as punched cards, plugboards and other mechanical means to give instructions to machines.

Fortran is one of the earliest high-level programming languages. Developed in the 1950s by IBM, Fortran was specifically designed for scientific and engineering calculations. It introduced many concepts that are still fundamental to programming today. Another early high-level programming language is Lisp, which was developed in the late 1950s.

Interestingly, both Fortran and Lisp have significantly influenced the development of modern programming languages. In fact, they are among the oldest high-level languages that are still in use today.

Fortran is still being used today.

Fortran is still being used today.

Today, the use of programming languages varies depending on the context and purpose. Different programming languages are popular for different purposes, such as web development, data analysis, AI, game development, and more.

Here’s a look at some of the different programming languages.

  • Java – the most widely-used, class-based, object-oriented programming language known for its platform independence. It’s commonly used for building enterprise-scale applications, Android apps, and web applications.
  • JavaScript – widely used for web development to create interactive and dynamic websites. It is supported by all major web browsers, making it essential for front-end and back-end web development.
  • Python – a versatile language used in various domains, including web development, data analysis, artificial intelligence, scientific computing, and more. Its simplicity and readability have contributed to its popularity.
  • C and C++ – C is a low-level programming language that provides direct access to memory and hardware, making it efficient for system programming, embedded systems, and game development. C++ is an extension to C and adds object-oriented features. It is commonly used in game development, high-performance applications, and software development.
  • C# – developed by Microsoft, C# is primarily used for Windows applications, web services, and game development using the Unity game engine.
  • PHP – a server-side scripting language commonly used for web development. It is embedded in HTML code and executed on the server, generating dynamic web pages.
  • Swift – developed by Apple, it is the primary language for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS app development. It is known for its speed and safety features.
  • SQL – a domain-specific language used for managing and manipulating relational databases. It is essential for tasks like data retrieval, insertion, update, and deletion in databases.
The use of programming languages varies depending on the context and purpose.

The use of programming languages varies depending on the context and purpose. (Image by Shutterstock)

The most popular programming languages

Believe it or not, there are now about 9000 programming languages in existence. But fewer than 50 remain the most used by developers around the world. Over the years, some older programming languages also dropped in usage, especially with technology moving beyond them.

According to a survey by Stack Overflow, JavaScript remains the most commonly used programming language, followed by Python and SQL. APL, Flow and Raku are the least used ones from the survey.

For those learning to code, HTML/CSS and JavaScript are the popular languages. For student developers, Python was more popular than SQL, while professional developers preferred SQL over Python. Those learning to code are also more likely to use Java, C++ and C.

While JavaScript is the most used and desired programming language, Rust is the most admired of the breed. More than 80% of developers want to keep using it. Rust is a systems programming language that was originally intended as an alternative to C and C++. It has since gained significant popularity among developers thanks to its emphasis on safety, performance, and productivity.

A recent survey by SlashData indicated that there are eight million Rust developers worldwide in 2023, a number that has nearly tripled over the past two years. With plenty of active forums, documentation, and a supportive community for developers of all skill levels, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Rust keeps topping the most-desired language lists.

Meanwhile, MATLAB was voted as the least admired, with only 20% of developers planning to use the language again in the future. MATLAB, which is an abbreviation for matrix laboratory, operates on whole matrices and arrays. Language fundamentals include basic operations, such as creating variables, array indexing, arithmetic, and data types.

For student developers, Python was more popular than SQL. (Image generated by AI)

For student developers, Python was more popular than SQL. (Image generated by AI)

The remaining desired programming languages included TypeScript, Python, Elixir and Zig. Cobol joins MATLAB down among the least desired. However, it is important to note that Cobol is a much older programming language, with most developers no longer familiar with using it.

For developers looking to make a good income from programming, Zig was voted as the highest-paid language. Despite the high payout for that language though, almost all programmers generally make a good living from their coding experience and knowledge.

The influence of AI

Given the increasing adoption of AI by businesses, the next question most developers would have is how much AI can they use for programming. While there are several AI code generators available today, most developers are still not convinced to use them due to concerns about security and privacy.

However, the report says that 70% of the respondents are using or planning to use AI tools in their development process this year. Those learning to code are more likely to be using AI tools compared to professional developers. The reason for this is simply because developers feel AI tools can help them increase their productivity, speed up their learning or achieve greater efficiency.

GitHub is the preferred AI developer tool for 55% of the respondents, followed by Tabnine and AWS Code Whisperer. At the same time, not all developers trust the accuracy of the AI output. Only 2.5% of developers highly trust the codes generated by AI.

Given the high numbers planning to use AI this year, it will be interesting to see whether the overall trust level among developers goes up in next year’s survey. If it doesn’t, it might indicate a stalling point for AI adoption among developers.