New Research Rates Dynamic Languages

Research firm eyeballs what’s hot in dynamic languages.

If you haven't learned how to program in a dynamic language, what are you waiting for? A new report from Forrester Research Inc. confirms what most of us already know: "Dynamic programming languages are hot."

Easier syntax, productive frameworks, less code, greater flexibility and a shift toward Web-based apps are some of the factors driving the dynamic language trend, according to "The Forrester Wave: Dynamic Programming Languages, Q3 2007 report," published last month. Out of 518 enterprises surveyed by Forrester in 2006, 11 percent reported using server scripting languages, which was higher than C and C++ (at 9 percent).

Some dynamic programming languages may be better suited for particular tasks than others, the researchers say, and companies should perform due diligence, as they would with any other "product."

It's also important to realize that these languages are open source projects, Forrester says. Code written in a dynamic language is not compiled -- it's interpreted at runtime, which frees developers from some traditional programming tasks. Most of these languages to date and their runtime engines are hosted by open source organizations. Their respective communities work on evolving the functionality, libraries, tooling and other resources.

Leading the Pack
Forrester Research found that the "P" languages -- Python, Perl and PHP -- are the leading dynamic programming languages, based on wider applicability, maturity and community size, among other criteria. Python, which is guided by lead developer Guido van Rossum, a Google Inc. employee, was the top-rated language described as "all-purpose" by Forrester. It got the ranking due to its rich functionality and broader use in technical, scientific and high-performance computing apps.

Perl is often packaged with Unix and Linux and used in system administration. However, it has also been productive for business apps, according to Forrester, in part because the Perl ecosystem includes a large module library (CPAN). The language can present challenges for Windows developers, however, because developers must deploy Perl and its runtime in addition to their Windows apps.

PHP is best known as the bottom of the open source LAMP stack used for Web applications. Its open source community is governed by The PHP Group, and the community's large size produces ample tools and resources, reports Forrester. Zend Technologies Ltd., which offers a commercial framework, is working with Microsoft on technical collaborations related to smoother integration of PHP and .NET.

ECMAScript, an ISO standard, is still the dominant language for coding Web apps, according to Forrester, because of its use in "billions of Web pages" and the momentum behind the Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) programming model. Forrester points out that it's a standard with multiple implementations. Two browser-based implementations are Mozilla's JavaScript and Microsoft's JScript, which is also part of Silverlight.

Promising Future
Ruby is characterized in the report as a "strong performer with a future," in part because the language's features help elevate developer productivity, and the language can be extended to write domain-specific languages. Outside of the popular Web framework, Ruby on Rails, the tooling is comparatively immature, however. Sun Microsystems Inc.'s JRuby and Microsoft's IronRuby are expanding the Ruby ecosystem to Java and .NET. Forrester analysts advise that Ruby works best in REST-based Web applications.

Enterprise developers should evaluate dynamic programming languages sooner rather than later, based on the increasing need for greater productivity and shorter development cycles.

Some key considerations, according to Forrester, include language design and current implementations; history and maturity; platform and tools strategy; and market adoption as evidenced by the ecosystem, vendor support, training and services.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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