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This Week in Programming: Is R Gaining Popularity Because of COVID-19?

This month the R programming language leaped to an "all-time high" on the TIOBE Index, which explores programming language popularity.
Jul 11th, 2020 6:00am by
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Every month, the TIOBE Index explores programming language popularity according to “the number of skilled engineers worldwide, courses and third-party vendors” as found using popular search engines. Having done this since the turn of the century, they have some consistent data to explore how, at least according to their criteria, language popularity changes over time, and this month they say that the R programming language has leaped to an “all-time high” of number eight. For historical context, we wrote of R’s spot in TIOBE nearly two years ago, and it had just made the leap from #50 to #39.

So, why the “all-time high” now? Obviously, the language has been on a general upward trend for some time now, but what finally propelled it into top ten territory and to its current peak?

There are tw0 trends “that might boost the R language, surmises TIOBE CEO Paul Jansen. One is that “the days of commercial statistical languages and packages such as SAS, Stata and SPSS are over. Universities and research institutes embrace Python and R for their statistical analyses,” He wrote. Secondly, “lots of statistics and data mining need to be done to find a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.”

I guess the number of COVID-19 hackathons we saw this year definitely backs up the idea that there are a lot of developers out there working with data, especially on the university side of things. If we go look over at the PYPL popularity index, which ranks languages according to Google searches for tutorials, it looks like R is sitting pretty steady. Meanwhile, ZDNet writes that there is some debate about R’s rise, citing R advocate and data scientist Hadley Wickham as being suspect of TIOBE’s latest ranking of R.

Of course, while we’re picking nits over R moving up the charts, Python is still sitting comfortably at #3, behind only C and Java, as the obvious choice for handling data. Jansen notes that “R’s popularity is still increasing in the slipstream of Python” and that “statistical programming languages that are easy to learn and use, gain popularity now.”

This Week in Programming

  • Orphaned Open Source: First up this week, Jack Wallen here at The New Stack takes a look at what happens when developers leave their open source projects, noting that the problem is one that spreads far and wide, with proprietary software often employing such projects and leaving themselves wide open to security exploits without updates or patches. While some might think the obvious solution is to automatically cull abandoned projects from repositories, Wallen posits that it might be a viable option, but there’s more to consider and that “there’s metaphorical gold to be mined in some abandoned projects.” Read on for the tale of one such fruitful project and Wallen’s ideas for a virtual open source orphanage, of sorts, where abandoned open source projects with promise can be left for those interested developers who might adopt them.
  • Facebook Makes Haskell Refactoring Easy: Facebook has decided to open source Retrie, its code refactoring tool for Haskell that it says “makes code modding faster, easier, and safer.” Now, Retrie isn’t for the small project, but rather for efficiently rewriting large codebases, such as those exceeding a million lines of code, and uses equations in Haskell syntax instead of regular expressions to do so, thereby avoiding large classes of code modding errors. The tool can rewrite expressions, types, and patterns, and respects and maintains local scoping, preserves white space, and does not rewrite code comments. Of the refactoring tools out there, Facebook says that Retrie “occupies a comfortable middle ground” in its methods, offering a more powerful method than string replacement and an easier one than defining a complex regular expression or AST traversal.

  • Get the Inside Scoop on Rust’s Lang Team: Continuing its navel-gazing look at the hows and whys of the evolution of Rust, the team penned a blog post this week offering an update on the Rust Lang team design meetings, which it says has regular meetings that you can find on their YouTube, with minutes posted into the lang-team repository. If you’re interested in diving a little deeper, “you can take a look at the open issues with the meeting proposal label to get an idea of what meetings are being considered,” they write, and “if a meeting has been scheduled, it will also be tagged with meeting scheduled and have some comments as to the current date.” Some upcoming meetings include a proposal to discuss the path to lang-team membership and a proposal to discuss enforcing bounds on type aliases.
  • Docker Hooks up with AWS: Of interest for you developers out there using Docker for containers and AWS for your compute (there’s just a few of you, right?) the two companies today announced a partnership that they say should make it easier to deploy straight from Docker to ECS. Essentially, the idea here is to preserve the simplicity offered by using the Docker CLI in Docker Compose and Docker Desktop. For a bit more on the news, you can also check out our post or give the ol’ explainer video a view.

  • GitHub Better Codifies Its Excuses for Downtime: GitHub, that site you spend oh so much time on and only occasionally wish were down so you had an excuse not to work, has introduced the GitHub Availability Report, a place where it will monthly explain its availability shortcomings. Until now, the company has published post-incident reviews for major incidents, but now they have promised to make this sort of thing available on the first Wednesday of each month, offering “a description of any incidents that may have occurred and update you on how we are evolving our engineering systems and practices in response.” They write that, “when things don’t go as planned, rather than waiting to share information about particularly interesting incidents, we want to describe all of the events that may impact you.”
  • Git Wants to Universally Authenticate You: Don’t worry now, it won’t hurt a bit. GitHub writes that it is building a universal authentication experience with the release of a new credential manager is available for Windows and macOS: Git Credential Manager (GCM) Core. GCM is a free, open-source, cross-platform credential manager for Git, that currently supports authentication to GitHub, Bitbucket, and Azure Repos. While GCM is currently in beta, the team has plans to make GCM Core available on Linux and, once accomplished and with some time getting some use, they expect GCM to take the spot of both GCM for Windows and GCM for Mac & Linux.

Amazon Web Services is a sponsor of The New Stack.

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