Apple's Swift Programming Language Is Now Top Tier

Apple’s programming language Swift is less than four years old, but a new report finds that it’s already as popular as its predecessor, Apple’s more established Objective-C language.

Swift is now tied with Objective-C at number 10 in the rankings conducted by analyst firm RedMonk. It’s hardly a surprise that programmers are interested in Apple’s language, which can be used to build applications for the iPhone, Apple Watch, Macintosh computers, and even web applications. But the speed at which it jumped in the ranks is astonishing. Swift is the fastest growing language RedMonk has seen since it started compiling these rankings in 2011. Even Go, a programming language that Google released in 2009, hasn’t been able to break into the top 10.

The second fastest grower is Kotlin, which Google now officially supports on Android. It leaped from number 46 in the third quarter of 2017 to number 27 in January.

RedMonk’s rankings don’t necessarily reflect whether companies are using these languages for real-world projects, or how many jobs are available for developers who know them. Instead, the firm tries to gauge how interested programmers are in these languages. Popularity among programmers could influence business decisions such as what languages to use for new projects.

RedMonk compiles its rankings by looking at the number of questions people ask about each language on the question and answer site Stack Overflow as well as the number of projects using particular languages on the code hosting and collaboration site GitHub. The methodology was originally created by data scientists Drew Conway and John Myles White in 2010.

Apple first released Swift in 2014. The idea was not just to make it easier for new developers to learn to program, but to simplify life for experienced coders as well. Many languages over the years have aimed to smooth the programming process by offering syntax that’s easier to read or building in features that programmers otherwise commonly write from scratch. But these sorts of languages often produced applications that ran more slowly than ones written in more difficult programming languages. Swift aimed to combine programmer-friendly features with performance.

Kotlin, which was created by the company JetBrains and officially released in 2016, has similar goals. What sets Kotlin apart is that it’s compatible with the widely used Java programming language, which means programmers can include Java code in their Kotlin programs, or even write new features for Java applications using Kotlin. Kotlin had already received widespread attention from Java developers, but once Google announced full support for the language on Android, interest skyrocketed. RedMonk analyst Stephen O’Grady pointed out in the report that Kotlin’s Java roots could help it find its way into more places than Swift, such as large enterprise applications.

Apart from the big gains for Swift and Kotlin, the RedMonk rankings changed fairly little this quarter. JavaScript and Java remained the two most popular languages, closely followed by Python, PHP, and C#. As O’Grady notes in the report, it’s becoming harder and harder for new languages to break into the top 20. That makes the rise of Swift and Kotlin all the more impressive.

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