What Makes a Language Hot?

It seems that there are many factors in what languages are hot. We can boil them all down to one statement. A language is hot because many programmers are interested in programming in it. From this definition, we can also look at the factors that make a language desirable to program in. Also, the factors that make a language hot may not be the same that keep it hot. For example, both Fortran and COBOL became hot languages for ease of use reasons. They were simply easier to use that their alternatives. However, they stayed hot languages because of experienced programmers and legacy code.

Ease of use

This seems to be very important in the choice of a new language. Is this language going to be faster and easier to use then other languages. This should be viewed in an historical perspective. Is COBOL easy to use? Was it in 1960? New languages and programming paridigms change what we consider to be easy to use.

Language Features

A language may also be chosen because it has a particular feature. You would write in Java if you wanted to write an application that ran over the Internet. You would not use COBOL if you wanted to write scientific programs.


In some applications performance is a big issue. This alone will keep Fortran and C alive for a long time to come. Other applications don't need a high performance language to get good responses on some hardware. Why do we need to write interactive software in a very fast language?

Corporate Support

Is there a large corporation or organization that is pushing the language? Would C have become so popular if Unix had not been written in it? Also, the reappearance of Basic may be solely due to Microsoft's support of it.

Experienced Programmers

This is especially important on long projects. Are future programmers going to be able to understand the code and continue development? Also, you are more likely to program an application in a language you know well instead of a language you will need to learn.

Legacy Code

The amount of legacy code dictates the need for programmers to understand a language. This in itself can make a language hot. The prime example is COBOL. Long after this language should have faded away, it was still in heavy use. The only reason was the large amount of code written in COBOL that was still necessary to support.

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