Why enterprises rely on JavaScript, Python, and Java

Despite advances in cloud computing, mobile development, and AI, the day-to-day business of enterprises around the world still runs on three programming languages that made their debut in the 1990s. In nearly every ranking system, JavaScript, Python, and Java appear near the top of the most popular languages.

In GitHub’s yearly State of the Octoverse report, the programming trifecta has held three of the top four spots every year since 2014. Why have these programming powerhouses remained the top choices for developers for nearly 30 years, with no sign of anything knocking them from their perch?

JavaScript (5.8 million users)

As Java powered the back end, JavaScript (which, despite the name, really has nothing to do with Java) powers the front end of applications. All the interactivity on a web page is written and controlled by JavaScript, which has held the #1 spot in GitHub’s programming language rankings for a decade.

JavaScript and its server-side companion, Node.js, became popular soon after their debut in 1995 because of their simplicity and versatility. By working seamlessly with HTML, the language used to build web pages, JavaScript established itself as the web development standard, even as mobile app development emerged.

You’ll find JavaScript in everything from Google to YouTube to Facebook, and it does amazing design work on sites like this one for the old St. Louis Browns baseball team to this one for the popular Design Matters podcast.

Python (5.2 million users)

As a scripting language, Python’s main strength is in making queries, automating tasks, and analyzing data. Perhaps surprisingly, given the programming language’s increasing popularity in modern big data and analytic applications, but Python made its debut in 1991 and is the oldest of the big three. Applications on Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and Instagram are all written in Python. It passed Java for the #2 spot in the GitHub report in 2019, and even made a 22.5% increase in popularity in 2022.

Although Python excels in one-off, general-purpose tasks, its biggest drawback is speed. It doesn’t match Java in supporting real-time tasks or financial transactions where milliseconds matter. Still, it remains a top choice for software developers as well as one of the top skills that employers look for.

Java (3.2 million users)

Java provides the underlying programming architecture for most enterprise applications and likewise does a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes: providing the logic and intelligence to authentication, storage, shipping, and more. Azul’s State of Java Survey and Report found that an overwhelming 98% of businesses continue to use Java in their software applications or infrastructure, and 57% of those organizations indicate that Java is the backbone of a majority (60% or more) of their applications.

Not only is Java well-established, but its enduring popularity is the result of a flywheel effect. Building applications in Java is fast and easy, and the more applications that are built in Java, the easier and faster the development process becomes.

Applications are rarely developed from scratch; they’re assembled using a variety of technologies arranged to produce particular capabilities and features. The real advantage of Java is the innumerable frameworks, libraries, and open-source material that allows a developer to create applications very quickly, knowing that the combination will work because all the components have been battle-tested.

And it’s not just its historical power that keeps Java near the top of the list. Java receives significant feature and capability updates every six months, and quarterly releases with minor enhancements, bug fixes, and security updates. It also has the flexibility to adapt to new technologies. Java 22 will likely be used to manage the applications of large language models and generative AI to enterprise applications.

The major languages are here to stay

As Gartner VP and Research Director Linda Ivy-Rosser writes, “Enterprise software … has historically been perceived as a support function, lacking innovation and taking ages to reap the benefits of a well-crafted application strategy.” Facing a shortage of skilled developers and tightening IT budgets, it’s understandable that enterprises are risk-averse and typically not in a hurry to change anything that isn’t broken.

At the same time, no other programming languages have emerged with the momentum and strength to overturn Java, Python, and JavaScript as the basic building blocks of software development. They’ve become elemental to the way digital businesses run today and will continue to be relevant years from now.

Simon Ritter is deputy CTO and Java champion at Azul.

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