Did you know that there are approximately 6500 spoken languages in the world? We bet that number is more than you would have guessed. Now have you ever wondered – how many programming languages are there?
The answer might also surprise you.
Wikipedia claims there are approximately 700 programming languages, while others say that number is closer to 9000! The truth is, there’ve been countless programming languages created throughout history. But like spoken languages, there’s a hierarchy of programming languages based on their prevalence and usage.
What is a programming language?
If you’re new to the world of IT, then you’re probably wondering – what is a programming language? Well, computer programming languages are kind of similar to spoken languages. When we speak to each other, we use language to communicate our thoughts and actions.
The same goes for programming languages. A programming language is a means of communication that humans use to instruct computers to perform tasks and actions. Here’s a slightly nerdier definition by Webopedia if you’re still unclear:
“A programming language is a vocabulary and set of grammatical rules for instructing a computer or computing device to perform specific tasks.”
Programming languages utilize coding syntax to create software programs which then perform specific tasks. Coding syntax is the concept of providing specific word sets in particular orders for computers to do what humans tell them to do. Coding syntax is the basis for all programming languages.
Source: Unsplash – Markus Spike
Programming languages are divided into two categories:
High-level programming languages use syntax that is similar to the English language. These languages are considered ‘higher’ because they are closer to human language and therefore easier to understand by programmers. Some of the most well-known high-level languages include C, C++, Java, and Python. These languages are used to develop web, desktop, and mobile applications.
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Low-level programming languages are used to write programs that relate specifically to the architecture and hardware of a computer. These languages can be broken down into two categories: machine language and assembly language.
Assembly languages are useful because it’s very complicated to write programs in a machine language. That’s why assembly programs are used. An assembly program is converted into a machine language using an assembler. But, to write an assembly program, a developer must have extensive knowledge of computer architecture. These languages can be used to develop operating systems and device drivers.
How many programming languages are there?
It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this question, so we’ve put together these resources and their respective coding language lists. The lists vary significantly in size, demonstrating now only how many programming languages are in existence, but more importantly, how many of them are relevant (more on that later).
Source: Pexels – Miguel Á
Coding languages list
TIOBE: 150 languages
The TIOBE Programming Community index started tracking 25 coding languages back in 1991. These days, the index measures more than 150 languages with ratings each month. The ratings are based on the opinion of skilled engineers worldwide, courses, third-party vendors as well as popular search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Amazon, YouTube, and Baidu.
Wikipedia: 700 languages
The online encyclopedia lists more than 700 programming languages alphabetically. This coding languages list aims to ‘include all notable programming languages in existence’. Of course, information from Wikipedia is subjective, but their list still offers an interesting insight into how many different programming languages there are in the world.HOPL: 8,945 languages
HOPL is an online roster and genealogy of a whopping 8,945 programming languages. This list includes languages from as far back as the 18th century to new languages created today. The HOPL coding languages list features 7,800 influence links and over 11,000 citations.GitHub: 370 languages
GitHub is a software development platform with over 40 million users. Each year they release their annual ‘State of the Octoverse Report’ that looks back on the past year with interesting takeaways and statistics. The most recent reported; “in 2019, developers collaborated in more than 370 primary programming languages on GitHub”. FOLDOC: 1000 languages
FOLDOC is a free online computing dictionary. Users can search programming languages as well as general computing terms in their search bar tool. Their coding language list currently comprises over 1000 languages.
DZone: 253 languages
DZone is one of the world’s largest online communities and a publisher of knowledge resources for software developers. Their coding languages list comprises 253 languages based on data from sources such as GitHub and TIOBE.
The Language List
The Language List started tracking programming languages back in 1991. Their aim is to be one of the most complete sources of computer languages ‘ever assembled or compiled’. Currently, The Languages List collects information on approximately 2500 computer languages from past and present.
99 Bottles of Beer
Our final coding languages list and potentially the strangest of them all. 99 Bottles of Beer is a website that holds a collection of the song ‘99 bottles of beer’ written in over 1500 programming languages! Visitors can comment and rate the coding accuracy of the different languages listed on the site.
What is a Markup language?
Markup languages differ from standard coding languages. The key difference is that markup languages involve a system for annotating a document in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from the text. A coding language is a formal language that provides commands used to produce varying kinds of output and results.
The key feature of markup languages is that they are both human and machine-readable (unlike many programming languages). For example, HTML (HyperText Markup Language) a popular markup language, utilizes word tags to define different sections or elements of a webpage. For instance: <head>, <body>, <table> or <image>.
XML (Extensible Markup Language) is another popular markup language that’s used for storing structured data. Rather than using predefined tags like HTML, XML uses custom tags to define elements. XML helps share data between different platforms and is used with databases, programming languages, and mobile applications.
Many do not consider Markup languages to be computer programming languages because they do not involve writing computational code. They are often referred to as declarative languages, meaning they are basic statements declaring what should exist on the page. Another important point to note is that most technical roles require knowledge in programming languages that involve computational coding.
Source: Unsplash – Arian Darvishi
What are Query and Esoteric languages?
Both query and esoteric differ from standard programming languages and as such may not be included when compiling a coding languages list, an interesting thought when you consider the huge discrepancies between our coding language list roundup.
Photo by Jenni Chen, license CC BY
How many programming languages are there in use?
Not all coding languages are used. In fact, the vast majority of those found in our roundup of coding language lists, are never used or have become antiquated. Why? Well, some programming languages are replaced due to changes in technology, while others are made purely for a singular purpose.
A simple search query on Quora asking ‘how many programming languages are there?’, provided some valuable insights on how many languages exist. What’s more interesting though, is what people say about the popularity of certain languages. Many of the comments reference languages created that challenge the user, in the form of riddles or jokes, but have no coding value outside of that (see esoteric languages).
Special-purpose programming languages
Special-purpose programming languages or domain-specific programming languages are designed for a particular application domain. These languages can only be used to solve a specific problem and are not as widely used as other standard coding languages. Examples of special-purpose languages include LISP and Prolong.
Which programming languages are used the most?
Attempting to answer ‘how many programming languages are in use’ or ‘which programming languages are used the most?’ is as subjective as answering ‘how many programming languages are there?’ It really depends on who you ask and what you classify as a relevant programming language.
With that said, it’s best to listen to developers themselves to determine which languages are the most commonly used. GitHub has a network of over 40 million developers, and in their 2019 State of the Octoverse Report they reported:
“In the last year, developers collaborated in more than 370 primary languages on GitHub.”
It’s safe to say that a platform like GitHub, that has huge reach and a massive number of subscribers, provides an accurate representation of which programming languages are the most commonly used.
Which programming languages are used the most professionally?
When it comes to coding languages used in a professional sense, the number of commonly used programming languages is reduced even further.
Final thoughts about computer languages
As you can see, answering the question ‘how many programming languages are there?’ is not as simple as it seems. Our coding languages list roundup demonstrated that depending on who you ask the answer varies significantly.
What’s for certain is that despite the sheer number of programming languages in existence, the number of programming languages in use is a much smaller number. The number is reduced even further when we analyze which coding languages are regularly used by IT professionals.
The most commonly used programming languages are highly functional, serving a variety of purposes and systems. It’s this functionality and adaptability that maintains their popularity amongst IT professionals.