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VS Code Favorite Python Closes In on Java in Popularity Ranking

The Visual Studio Code dev team was apparently on to something when it went all in on Python several years ago: It's poised to upend perennial No. 2 Java in the popular TIOBE Index of programming language popularity.

"Python conquered the third position in the TIOBE index last year, but its popularity is still rising," said Paul Jansen, CEO TIOBE Software, in announcing the October 2020 rankings. "This month it has reached a new all time high at 11.28 percent. Since Java is approaching its all time low since 2001, Python and Java are getting pretty close."

October 2020 TIOBE Index
[Click on image for larger view.] October 2020 TIOBE Index (source: TIOBE Index).

Python is the most popular programming language used in VS Code, if gauged by downloads of the top language extensions, which provide language "smartness" in the popular open source, cross-platform code editor. The Python extension boasts some 25.7 million downloads, putting it way ahead of No. 2 C/C++ (14.3 million) and even Microsoft's own flagship language, C# (8.9 million).

8 Most Popular VS Code Language Extensions
[Click on image for larger view.] 8 Most Popular VS Code Language Extensions (source: Microsoft).

The Python language extension listing in the VS Code Marketplace says it provides rich support including:

  • IntelliSense
  • Linting
  • Debugging
  • Code navigation
  • Code formatting
  • Jupyter notebook support
  • Refactoring
  • Variable explorer
  • Test explorer
  • Snippets

The extension's rise in popularity is no coincidence, as Microsoft years ago went all in on Python, to the point of even hiring software engineer Don Jayamanne, who created the Python extension in 2017, and later putting out the hiring call for more Python developers.

"We're hiring devs immediately to continue and expand work on our Python support for Visual Studio Code," Microsoft said in 2017. "If you are passionate about developer tools and productivity, this could be an ideal endeavor!"

Microsoft's own Python endeavor paid off, as VS Code surged in popularity among Python developers in survey results announced last year.

The chart below from an article published last year -- based on prior years data -- shows the combined data science/web responses for choice of IDE (or code editor), with 2018 response percentages to left and 2017 response percentages to the right:

Top Editors and IDEs Reported by Both Data Science and Web Developers
[Click on image for larger view.] Top Editors and IDEs Reported by Both Data Science and Web Developers (source: Python Software Foundation).

As the TIOBE chart below shows, Python has climbed steadily over the years in its tilt at overtaking Java for No. 2.

Python in the TIOBE Index
[Click on image for larger view.] Python in the TIOBE Index (source: TIOBE Index).

The TIOBE Programming Community index says it's an indicator of the popularity of programming languages, based on the number of skilled engineers world-wide, courses and third-party vendors. It uses popular search engines including Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Amazon, YouTube and Baidu to calculate the ratings. "It is important to note that the TIOBE index is not about the best programming language or the language in which most lines of code have been written," it says.

"The gap is now less than 1.3 percent, "TIOBE's Jansen said in his new post. "Since the start of the TIOBE index, C and Java have always held the 2 top positions. So it would be a unique event, if Python would reach position #2. Let's see what will happen the next few months."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.

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