[INFOGRAPHIC] Evolution of Computer Languages

All the cloud applications you use on the Internet today are written in a specific computer language. What you see as a nice icon on the front end looks like a bunch of code on the back end. It’s interesting to see where computer languages started and how they have evolved over time. There are now a series of computer languages to choose from and billions lines of code. Check out the infographic below to see the computer language timeline and read some fun facts about code along the way.

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<a href="http://www.rackspace.com/apps">
Cloud applications <img src="
http://c179631.r31.cf0.rackcdn.com/Infographic_Programming_Rackspace_Final_Version.png" alt="Cloud applications" width="570" height="5998" />




    • I personally am not a developer, however, I do recognize that we put the wrong code in there. Thanks for letting me know… as soon as I saw your comment I sent to our designer to update 🙂

  1. “Ruby on Rails” as a language?!?! It doesn’t make any sense!

    Also, if you want to talk about famous languages, maybe you should be adding Visual Basic, C# and Objective-C to this list.

    And please remove Rails.

    • Sergio – You’re right about Ruby on Rails. Instead of removing it, I noted that it is in fact a framework. Good point on adding the languages you listed; I guess it was hard to narrow down!

  2. Ruby on Rails is actually a framework, not a computer language. The framework is called Rails which is programmed in Ruby, hence the name.

    • Paul – you’re right. Instead of removing it, I just noted that it is a framework. Thanks for the clarification.

    • Assembly isn’t actually a language, it’s more of a concept. It’s human shorthand for machine code. Each instruction set is different…

      • Machine Code __IS__ a language. Any symbolic, ordered collection designed to describe or command, is in fact a language. DNA sequence is a language.

        A concept on the other hand (wiki: cognitive unit of meaning) has more to do with the out-of-time mental image, and it certainly does not involve sequence. WebHosting is a concept. It’s implementation is done with one or several languages.

  3. Rackspace pixel monkeys, do you know that PNGs don’t display that well on Android phones? Why can’t you save in old good JPEG or GIF?

  4. You have missed out PL/I a language developed by SHARE and IBM, adopted by some other
    computer manufacturers, and standardised through ECMA and ANSI.
    Still in use.

  5. Sorry to join this string so late. Why wasn’t COBOL included in the bar-chart for popularity? I’ve worked for the Defense Industry & many state governments. All of them have millions of lines of COBOL. I’ve personnaly written new code and ported old code to a new language. Contrary to popular belief COBOL is very much alive.

    • COBOL is indeed very much alive! Actually, it is currently in use, even for development in proto-typing business intelligence and ad hoc analytic support at the large Dutch-owned company where I worked in 2009. COBOL and SAS were perfect on OS/Z, with SQL on Netezza for speed.

      Another important language that was missing from the timeline is
      APL, A Programming Language.

  6. What is the source of your Language Popularity chart? What does popularity mean? Lines of code in use??? I’m finding it hard to believe that COBOL did not even make the chart and that ALC (Assembler) is more “popular” than RPG. Of course if you’re talking lines of code coded then ALC would be even higher on the chart as higher-level languages have less lines of code to accomplish the same thing.

      • “We used the TIOBE Programming Community index” If that’s true, why didn’t you include C# (#5) or VB (#7)? And if you mention Ruby on Rails as a framework, why didn’t you include the .NET framework? Careful, your anti-Microsoft bias is showing…

      • The TIOBE site states: “The ratings are based on the number of skilled engineers world-wide, courses and third party vendors.” This claim is highly suspect since they also state: “The popular search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, YouTube and Baidu are used to calculate the ratings.”

        In fact, what they probably count is not popularity but curiosity: they count the number of searches that include the PL name or closely-related terms. I have read discussions on the UseNet newgroup for a certain language that suggested we all neded to do more searching so our language would beat another similar but more popular language in “popularity” on TIOBE.

        Thanks for providing this easy target for us to take pot-shots at!

  7. What does the “Popularity” you mean?
    Where is the HTML?
    I’m sure that the Javascript, are more popular than this. Because most of the website using it (include this website)
    Also T-SQL, it’s very important for the system which has database.

  8. Even with the few corrections, this image still has several errors and missing information.

    * COBOL: you should add that’s it’s still used by pretty much every bank and insurance companies in existence nowadays. In some cases, there’s nobody left to understand how the code works, but it’s still at the heart of every days operations.

    * Perl: this language is used by many more sites that just Craigslist. To name a few: Booking, TicketMaster, LiveJournal

    * Python: the NASA here is a bit overrated, because NASA probably uses every programming languages in existence 🙂

    * Ruby: better known sites are Twitter (until the critical parts were rewritten in Scala) and delicious.

    * JavaScript: you could have added that the first public name of JavaScript was LiveScript, when it was included in Netscape Navigator. It was then renamed JavaScript when Java support was added in the browser, to create the impression that these two languages where tied one to the other.

    The inclusion of Ruby on Rails in such a list really is a strange choice, given Ruby was already present. As previous comments stated, it would have been better to speak about Objective-C (heart of NeXTStep, now Mac OS X and iOS apps), C# or Lua (used in many big videos games).

    Also, TIOBE is a completely unreliable source of information. They are very good to attract publicity on their “study” but they just give very wrong data. Pretty much like believing that some made-up stats are correct because they have two decimals.

    Finally, you can’t possibly write something about the history of computer languages and not link to one of the true reference sites on this subject:
    » http://www.levenez.com/lang/

    and the nice poster version made by O’Reilly:
    » http://oreilly.com/pub/a/oreilly/news/languageposter_0504.html

    • And how can one have any sort of “history” of PLs without referring to the most important sources of all (IMHO), the ACM History of Programming Languages (HOPL) conferences and books @ http://research.ihost.com/hopl/HOPL.html?

      Dropping the special-purpose PLs from the list for Vol. 1, we have:


      which would have been a good start.

  9. Why does the sticky note for Ruby on Rails talk about how many lines of code an iPhone app has? iPhone apps are built using Objective-C, not Ruby on Rails so that fact doesn’t make much sense.

  10. “lead by Grace Murray Hopper” should be “led by Grace Murray Hopper.”

    This and “[x]-year anniversary” are gaining on the “its/it’s” problem as the most common English-language spelling/grammar errors online.

  11. And how about Ada, which was originally designed by a team led by Jean Ichbiah of CII Honeywell Bull under contract to the United States Department of Defense (DoD) from 1977 to 1983 to supersede the hundreds of programming languages then used by the DoD. Because of Ada’s safety-critical support features, it is now used not only for military applications, but also in commercial projects where a software bug can have severe consequences, e.g. aviation and air traffic control, commercial rockets (e.g. Ariane 4 and 5), satellites and other space systems, railway transport and banking. I would say it deserves a mention.

  12. I was a main frame programmer from 1964- in the financial sector, and notice that you didn’t mention IBM 360/assembler, RPG,PL/1 all of which had very significant impact on computer language development and there is still lots of that code in use today.

  13. Strange that FORTRAN is not on the Popularity graphic. It is widely used in scientific computing. Perhaps the geeks who use FORTRAN are too introverted to respond to surveys 🙂

    • I was surprised that FORTRAN wasn’t on the popularity chart of languages in current use too! I wasn’t expecting to see a huge bar labelled “FORTRAN77”, but I know that even on GitHub, there is a lot of more modern FORTRAN development going on. Lots of questions about it on StackExchange, and lots of use in scientific and/or high performance computing.

      It is unwise to create an infographic about this topic for this particular audience though… But if one is to do so, it is very important to do it right, or instead, produce something closer to “chart art” (and there is nothing wrong with that, by the way! Far fewer quibbles will result, as I’ve found from personal experience…)

  14. Ruby on rails is the culmination… and no C# (2001), F# (2002), hmmm… I can feel the bias, the gems side has you. Thanks god you have basic.

    [Some say CSS is turing complete, but shh…. they can hear… also HTML is programming language, a descriptive one, it give instructions to a renderer, shhh… you can add SQL… silence…). I hope there are better examples for ruby (and perl?).

    !DOWN TO RUBY ON RAILS! Or you have frameworks for the others languages or… I would add anything so the culmination IS a language, here: Groovy 2003, Scala 2003, Fantom 2007, Clojure 2007. GO 2009, CoffeeScript 2009.

    Honor mention to Smalltalk 1972, Eiffel 1985 and Haskell 1990 for their influence in modern languages.

    And I would add Logo 1967 and Prolog 1972 just because I learned those and are older than me.

    And ActionScript 1998 just because… it is (was?) popular. Or… haven’t you heard of Flash?

    And lastly, no programming language list is complete without Assembler 195?, used by a CPU near you.

    • Good for finally mentioning Smalltalk 72, but the original OOPL–Simula 67–also must be included for any “history” of “where computer languages started and how they have evolved over time”. And Algol-60 on which Simula 67 was based?

  15. It seems the writer of this post have not been doing a great research job. The person left out alot of programming languages and did not include correct code for each language represented.
    Next time, please do a more thourough research in what you are writing about. Its no excuse that you are no developer or work in IT related environment…
    But all in all, a nice article and had fun reading it.

  16. based on comments to this infographic, I think people expected “comprehensive-exhaustive-treatise on programming languages” instead of “quick look at programming languages.”

    You met the requirement set forth in the title. Pretty graphics. Good job!

    • Considering that all the top languages on the popularity chart are either OO or include OO “features”, I don’t see how you can reach that conclusion.

      If I wrote a similar article on “Evolution of Birds” and failed to even mention dinosaurs, would you consider that having “met the requirement set forth in the title”?

      And the original functional programming languages are not even mentioned though some extended versions of them (again, often with OO capabilities) are still in wide use–and many modern languages also include some functional programming facilities.

      I certainly didn’t expect a “comprehensive-exhaustive-treatise on programming languages” as you suggest, but when the title promises “Evolution of Computer Languages” I also don’t expect a “quick [and dirty] look at programming languages.” No evolution worth studying is that “quick”!

      The example languages, in fact, appear to have been selected partly based on the (often discredited) TIOBE popularity site and somewhat at random from “historical languages” from a “computer literacy” source, rather than from any “authoritative” list.

    • The title says evolution. Assembler! Assembler! Assembler! >.<

      Ok, now seriusly. This more like the evolution of Ruby on Rails, and that is what I didn't expect… I was reading a list of languages of the author choise until I found the nasty surprise at the end of the road. Also, how can it be complete without Assembler?

  17. Clearly there are many programming languages not mentioned, but some significant ones have been omitted. By significant, I mean languages that were either very influential or even using a diferent paradigm. I’d include: Ada for its rigour power and flexibility; LISP, FORTH and Prolog for their individuality; Smalltalk for its influence on OOP; HTML, XML and SQL need no explanation; and finally, Occam and/or F# to cover parallel processing.

    I’m sure that there are others that could be argued for, but any comprehensive look at the history of programming languages can’t be complete without a mention of most, if not all, of these.

    • Good for mentioning Smalltalk, but the original OOPL–Simula 67–also must be included for any “history” of “where computer languages started and how they have evolved over time”. And Algol-60 on which Simula 67 was based?

  18. Where the heck is Lisp? Couldn’t believe this list doesn’t have it. Lisp brings some of the most important concepts to modern programming languages.

  19. Referring to the notes at the lower left of FORTRAN, the QWERTY keyboard was not invented to INCREASE typing speed but, rather, to deliberately DECREASE it so as to prevent the jamming you mentioned. The DVORAK keyboard, on the other hand, was invented to truly INCREASE typing speed for keyboards no longer using the old mechanical technology. If I remember correctly, good Dvorak typists can reach speeds up to around 600 wpm.

  20. Android helped cause the Java explosion. When coffee mugs became “smart” they should be written in Java.

    PHP now stands for PHP Hyptertext Preprocessor.
    Like GNU stands for GNU Not Unix.

    • Android did not cause the Java explosion. Java was considered an enterprise language for websites and other server systems long before Android was available.

      It’s the other way around. Android is popular in large part due to their adoption of Java as the primary development environment (which is then translated to their Davlik VM). The *primary* reason for Android’s popularity is its cost (free).