The 9 Best Programming Languages to Learn in 2018
If you’re new to the field of programming, the toughest part of learning to code might be deciding where to begin. With hundreds of programming languages in widespread use, each with its own complexities and idiosyncrasies, trying to choose the right language feels a little bit like trying to drink from a fire hose.
The good news is that as you learn to code, you’ll start to discover criteria for which programming language to learn. In fact, to a large extent the best programming language will be different for everyone, depending on what you plan to use it for.
Just like English is the international language of business, while French is the language of love, different programming languages are better suited for different purposes. Before picking the right language, you’ll have to answer questions like:
- What kind of projects do you want to work on?
- Do you have a background in mathematics and logic that might help you learn?
- Do you want to learn a lower-level language that requires less hand-holding, or do you feel more comfortable starting with a higher-level language that involves lots of abstractions and built-in libraries?
- If you’re interested in Web development, do you prefer to work on the front end or the back end of the website?
- Do you want to go freelance, get hired by a company, be more efficient at your existing job, or just pursue this as a hobby?
In the list below, we’ll go over the best and most in-demand programming languages for many of the most common use cases: Web development, mobile development, game development, and more. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear picture of which programming languages are most in-demand for 2018 and beyond.
If you’re interested primarily in mobile app development, and not in in-browser websites, then Swift is a good place to start. First announced by Apple in 2014, Swift has since risen meteorically, reaching the ranks of the top 20 most popular programming languages.
Developers use Swift to build powerful, high-performance native iOS and Mac OS apps. Swift is intended to be a faster, more streamlined, easier-to-debug alternative to the Objective-C programming language: once the go-to for iOS development, but considered clunky and dated by many developers. In contrast, Swift has been optimized and built from the ground up to match the realities of modern iOS development.
Apple shows no signs of slowing down as a tech industry leader. Not only does iOS run on every iPhone and iPad, it’s also the basis for other operating systems such as watchOS (for Apple Watches) and tvOS (for Apple TVs). Swift is the language of choice, now and in the future, for building apps that run on all of these Apple platforms.
Java has been a mainstay in the world of computer programming since its introduction more than 20 years ago. The key to its popularity has been its “write once, run anywhere” philosophy. Theoretically, you can write Java software on any device, compile it into low-level machine code, and then execute it on any device that’s equipped with an engine to interpret that code, known as a Java Virtual Machine.
Thanks to its versatility and ubiquity, Java is a common language for beginners to learn, and it’s used in many introductory programming courses. Roughly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Java for building applications and back-end systems.
Interested in native Android mobile app development? Java is also the basis for the Android operating system and the most common language for developing Android apps. To top it off, the Apache Hadoop software library for processing big data is written in Java, too.
With so many different use cases, Java is a sure bet for programmers looking for a flexible, modular language that’s not going away any time soon.
C is an “old-school” programming language that’s still alive and well today. First introduced in the 1970s, C has had a powerful influence on the computer programming landscape, despite its steeper learning curve.
There are dozens of languages in the “C family” that have been either derived from C or heavily influenced by its syntax, constructs, and paradigms. These include several languages mentioned in this article, including Java, C++, Objective-C, and C#.
Because it allows you to get so close to the computer’s inner workings, C remains a popular choice for building specialized high-performance applications. C is the basis for the Linux operating system and is frequently used for programming embedded systems.
One of the most direct successors of C is the C++ programming language. C++ builds on C, which gives it many of the same advantages, but C++ is object-oriented and therefore is a better option when developing higher-level applications. C++ is a particularly popular choice for computer graphics, video games, and virtual reality.
Python is perhaps the most “user-friendly” programming language of any on this list. It’s often said that Python’s syntax is clear, intuitive, and almost “English-like,” which like Java makes it a popular choice for beginners.
Also like Java, Python has a variety of applications that make it a versatile, powerful option when choosing the best programming language for your situation. If you’re interested in back-end web development, for example, then the open source Django framework, which is written in Python, is popular, easy to learn, and feature-rich.
Python also has packages such as NumPy and SciPy that are commonly used in the fields of scientific computing, mathematics, and engineering. Other Python libraries such as TensorFlow, PyTorch, scikit-learn, and OpenCV are used to build programs in data science, machine learning, image processing, and computer vision.
Another solid option for web developers, the PHP programming language is popular thanks in no small part to the WordPress content management system for building websites. At last count, 83 percent of websites used PHP on their back end, including Facebook and Wikipedia.
PHP is a scripting language that’s executed on the server. It’s most commonly used to enhance the functionality of HTML Web pages and to connect with MySQL databases.
If you want to work specifically as a freelance web developer, PHP is a practical language to learn for 2018 and beyond. With more than 75 million websites running WordPress, there will always be a need for developers who can build custom PHP plugins and provide technical assistance.
Ruby, like PHP, is a scripting language that’s most commonly used for web development. In particular, it’s used as the basis for the Ruby on Rails web application framework.
Beginners often gravitate to Ruby because it has a reputation for one of the friendliest and most helpful user communities. The Ruby community even has an unofficial saying “Matz is nice and so we are nice,” encouraging members to model their kind and considerate behavior on Ruby’s chief inventor Yukihiro Matsumoto.
In addition to the strong community and its straightforward syntax, Ruby is a smart language to learn because it’s found in so many places. Twitter, Airbnb, Bloomberg, Shopify, and countless other startups have all built their websites using Ruby on Rails at some point.
Like C++, C# is a higher-level object-oriented programming language built on the foundations of C. It was originally designed by Microsoft as part of its .NET framework for building software applications.
Just as Swift is the language of choice for iOS applications, C# is the preeminent programming language for building applications native to Microsoft platforms. C# uses a syntax that’s similar to other C-derived languages such as C++ and Java, so it’s easy to pick up if you’re coming from another language in the “C family.”
C# is not only the go-to for Microsoft app development, but it’s also the language mobile developers use to build cross-platform apps on the Xamarin platform. This means that instead of writing your iOS app in Swift and your Android app in Java, which is twice the work, you can write a single application using Xamarin and C# and deploy to both platforms simultaneously.
Finally, C# is also the recommended language for building video games using the popular Unity game engine.
Rust is a bit of an upstart among the other languages on this list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a solid choice for beginners. Stack Overflow’s 2017 Developer Survey found that Rust was the “most loved” programming language among developers for the second year in a row: 73 percent of Rust developers say that they want to continue working with it.
Developed by the Mozilla Corporation, the same organization that built the Mozilla Firefox web browser, Rust is intended primarily for low-level systems programming, like C and C++. What Rust adds to the mix, however, is an emphasis on speed and security. In particular, Rust emphasizes writing “safe code” by preventing programs from accessing parts of memory that they shouldn’t, which can cause unexpected behavior and system crashes.
The advantages of Rust mean that other big tech companies, such as Dropbox and Coursera, are already starting to use it internally. With developers giving it such rave reviews, it’s likely that its popularity will only continue to increase in the near future.
In a certain regard, the question of “the best programming languages to learn in 2018” is a little too specific. When deciding which programming language to learn, it’s important not to get caught up in flashy trends and popularity contests. The best programming languages to learn in 2018 are likely the same ones that were best to learn in 2017 and 2016, and that will be best in the next several years as well.
Although the field of computer programming changes rapidly, with new tools and technologies released every year, the languages that we’ve discussed above have a great deal of staying power. By learning one or more of these languages, you’ll be in an excellent position not only for this year, but in the years to come.
When you’re learning how to code, only you can answer the question of the “best” programming language by considering what you want to use it for. The following bullet points will give you a quick summary of the different possibilities that we’ve discussed:
- Mobile development: Swift, Java, C#
- Game development: C++, C#
- Desktop applications: Java, C++, Python
- Systems programming: C, Rust
The good news is that although there’s no single way to learn to code, it gets progressively easier as you go along. Just like learning Spanish will help you with French grammar and vocabulary, learning one programming language will almost certainly make it easier to learn the next. If you find that a given language isn’t a good fit, it isn’t a lost cause: you can use what you’ve learned already to pick up the next one. The most important thing is to get started—then you’ll be actively applying your skill set and improving your knowledge.