Computer programming is becoming an increasingly necessary and popular skill. Many high school and college graduates are exposed to programming even if they are not in a computer science field. This rise in exposure has led to new programmer archetypes and categories, such as the emerging “fun programming,” citizen programmers, and programmer hobbyists, along with the traditional academic and boot camp-educated programmers. 

This blog will help you learn about the top backend programming languages commonly used by developers, along with high-level information about each language’s features, advantages, and limitations. 

What is Backend Development?

Classifying and grouping programming languages is a topic of hot debate in academic and social coding circles. But backend programming languages generally fall into three main categories:

Scripting

Scripting languages are generally easier to learn and can sometimes be utilized by individuals who are not “professional” programmers or in projects where just writing code to execute commands that quickly fulfill the requirements is of utmost importance. However, there are scripting languages that offer a lot of power in the hands of skilled developers.

Scripting languages are a great place to start for individuals pursuing a career in programming or casual programmers who want to automate specific tasks. The most basic need for scripting languages is simplicity because it will be used by those with a minimum of programming knowledge or in situations where cranking out code that does the job is all that matters.

Object-oriented

Object-oriented programming (OOP) is based on objects, which can be modules of code or data. This programming model designs software around objects, not functions and logic. Classes of objects are defined with associated methods and functions. Using concepts like inheritance and encapsulation, code reuse is maximized to reduce duplicate code. Developers code programs by creating objects that interact with one another. 

OOP is very efficient, especially when utilized with teams of developers because each developer or group of developers can work with specific encapsulated objects using the object inputs and outputs without having to know the details of the code. Most of the more popular programming languages support object-oriented programming at varying levels. OOP is currently the most popular programming paradigm.

Functional

Functional programming is a programming paradigm in which developers try to bind commands in mathematical functions style. It is based on Lambda calculus mathematical logic using functional abstraction where each function should have no side effects.

A function is a chunk of code that contains lines of enclosed code that can be executed repeatedly. This allows programmers to break down requirements into smaller fragments that perform specific actions. Basically, the functions are coded to take an input and produce an output without using any outside code. It is a declarative type of coding style with the main focus on “what to solve” versus an imperative style where the focus is on “how to solve,” using expressions as opposed to statements. 

Functional programming is currently very popular, even for programmers who aren’t traditionally functional programmers. Many programmers learn functional programming because that level of extraction can help improve code skills even in different paradigms. 

Top Backend Languages

Backend languages are used to code the interactions between the user interface and the data store. The server-side operations contain the communication protocols and logic required to execute commands on the database.

So how does one determine the top backend languages? I used the top languages from the Stack Overflow annual survey (see bar chart below) and then took the top ones from that list to determine rank. Of the top 10, I excluded HTML/CSS because those aren’t backend languages. I also removed TypeScript since it is basically an extension of JavaScript with type safety added.

programming-scripting-markup-languages

Top 10 languages based on the annual Stack Overflow developer survey

Now that we have determined the list of backend development languages, below is a table summarizing some of their key features, advantages, and limitations in order of popularity.

Language Features Advantages Limitations
JavaScript Object-oriented Easy to learn No multithreading or multiprocessing
  Interpreted language Used for both backend and frontend development No IO functionality for reading or writing files
  Lightweight Platform independent No networking support
SQL Does not require compiling Extremely large user community Data normalized to reduce duplication
  Simple syntax rules Standardized query language Difficult UI interfaces
  Fast and efficient Platform independent Steep initial learning curve
Python Object-oriented Great for rapid prototype development Slower execution speeds
  Interpreted language Tremendous standard and external library support Weak for mobile computing
  Less verbose Platform independent Uses a lot of memory
Java  Object-oriented Supports multithreading Platform independence is less important for modern application dependency because of containers and cloud services
  Compiled (javac) and interpreted (JVM) Mature language with extensive community support Poor memory management and JVM affect performance. Slower than C, C++, and C#
  Secure language Platform independent Verbose and complex code
Bash/Shell Fast and efficient OS access Great for automating repetitive tasks Hard to write complex programs compared to modern languages
  Command-line interpreter Great for running scripts from multiple languages No object-oriented programming support
  Scripts are simple to create Not resource intensive Platform dependent (Linux and macOS)
C# Object-oriented Simple multithreading Slower than C and C++ and requires compilation after code changes
  Fast development times Large developer community Low-level programming is not supported
  Integration with other .NET technologies Easier to learn than C and C++ Higher learning curve than some other object-oriented languages like Python and PHP
C++ Object-oriented Low-level language Relatively complex and difficult to learn
  Very efficient general purpose language Large developer community Manual memory management, no garbage collection
  Fast execution and powerful language Platform independent Security can be an issue due to the use of pointers
PHP Object-oriented Low learning curve Relatively poor performance
  Built-in database connection Strong library support Not good for enterprise-level application
  Less verbose Platform independent Security issues

Debate About Top Languages Will Continue

There are a lot of programming languages on the market, and most developers know several languages. There are also a lot more professional and casual application developers. Due to this increasing interest in programming, the discussions about the top languages and which are better for specific situations will continue. This blog identifies the top backend languages based primarily on popularity and gives a summarized comparison. 

So, now that I’ve compared commonly used backend languages, it’s up to you to decide which is best for your situation and need. 

Author

Author

Posted by Rick Jacobs

Rick Jacobs is the Technical Product Marketing Manager at Couchbase. His varied background includes experience at many of the world’s leading organizations such as Computer Sciences Corporation, IBM, Cloudera etc. He comes with over 15 years of general technology experience garnered from serving in development, consulting, data science, sales engineering and technical marketing roles. He holds several academic degrees including an MS in Computational Science from George Mason University.

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