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10 July 2013, 11:19

Language indexes: PHP is on the rise... or is it?

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Programming Languages Surveyed PHP has, without a doubt, gained widespread popularity, but the scripting language no longer enjoys a very high hype factor. Just like Java, it has become mainstream in a positive sense. Nevertheless, some think that the popularity of PHP is already on a downwards trend with many programmers. The new figures from the monthly TIOBE Programming Index, which establishes the most popular programming languages, disagree with those views. The index rates the language at 7.2% in July, which is 2.17 percentage points higher than last year. This makes PHP the "fastest climber" among the languages that are included in the index.

The operators of the programming index say that the increase was caused by the arrival of version 2.x of the Zend framework, which was released last autumn. While this framework is in widespread use, it has had a massive competitor in the form of the Symfony PHP framework, particularly over the past few years. A more likely reason for the increase is the development work and release of PHP 5.5 within the last nine months, which has renewed developers' interest in the language.

The TIOBE index is established by the number of hits that are returned after entering the search query +"<language> programming" into the Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, YouTube, Baidu, Yahoo, Bing and Amazon search engines. PHP currently ranks behind C (17.6%), Java (15.9%), Objective-C (10.2%) and C++ (8.7%). Last year, PHP was also in seventh place.

A different picture is being painted in the July edition of the PYPL Popularity of Programming Language Index. Although it lists PHP in second place at 14.1%, PYPL says that the popularity of the language has decreased almost continuously since 2010. The PYPL index obtains its primary data from Google Trends, and its results are based on the relative number of search queries for programming tutorials in each of the languages. The PYPL index assumes that the greater the demand for tutorials in a certain language, the more popular it is. In this index, Java is in top position (26.5%). PHP is followed by C# (10.1%), Python (10%) and C++ (9.3%).

The latest, early 2013, edition of a third programming index, which is generated by analysts at RedMonk, painted yet another very different picture. This index allocates the top position to JavaScript, which only occupies tenth place in TIOBE at 1.8% and seventh place in PYPL at 7.9%. The scripting language is followed by Java, PHP, Python and Ruby.

The RedMonk rankings are based on the popularity of programming languages in projects whose code is hosted on the GitHub hosting platform, and on the number of language-related activities on the StackOverflow forum. It is likely that the rankings are influenced by the fact that on open source hosting platforms such as GitHub, developers will probably prefer tools and programming languages that originate from the open source community.

Ultimately, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the ranking differences is that it seems to be difficult to establish a reliable set of data using largely automated processes.


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