Is Ruby’s Popularity Fading?

By Josh Catone
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Mostly due to the very hyped Ruby on Rails web application framework, Ruby has been talked about a lot over the past four years or so — perhaps disproportionately so to the amount of people actually using it. However, Ruby usage had also been growing like a weed based on all available metrics. But has that changed recently? Are people starting to jump off the Ruby bandwagon?

Analysts are high on Ruby’s future. Gartner research vice president Mark Driver predicted in his April 2008 report “Open Source in Programming Languages,” that there would be 4 million Ruby developers by 2013. Further, he noted that Ruby would enjoy huge popularity in the enterprise. “Ruby will enjoy a higher concentration among corporate IT developers than typical, dynamic ‘scripting’ languages, such as PHP,” he wrote.

Black Duck Software, who owns the code search engine Koders, said in October that Ruby searches were up 20-fold last year and had passed Python, PHP, and Perl to become the fourth most searched for language on their site. That result seems to be anomalous, however, when compared with the rest of the web.

The TIOBE Index, which looks at search data from the top mainstream search engines — Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and YouTube, currently ranks Ruby at number 11 — a push year-over-year. Though Ruby actually had the third largest one year growth, it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10 languages, and off ranking highs reached two years ago.

Over the past five years, Python is actually growing faster than Ruby — at least in search volume.

Another metric, Ohloh’s language comparison tool, which measures commits, lines of code, and contributors for open source projects, shows steady growth for Ruby starting 2005, but a dip recently. That trend is repeated across all the metrics Ohloh measures. PHP and Python, on the other hand, show more or less continued steady growth over the past ten years.


So is Ruby’s popularity declining? It might be a bit premature to say that — TIOBE actually show that Ruby gained search share this year faster than any other language except C and C++, and there are still more and more ruby jobs available each month, according to Indeed. What the numbers in this post might show, however, is a slight slow down in Ruby’s rate of growth.

Determining what is the most popular programming language is an difficult prospect, but it would certainly appear from the numbers we do have that Gartner’s guess that Ruby would be outstripping PHP among corporate developers by 2013 might not be accurate. PHP and Python both have more activity than Ruby in almost every measure, and show no sign of declining — while Ruby’s growth seems to be leveling off a bit.

The good news all around, of course, is that the job trend line for all three languages is on the upswing.

Full disclosure: I co-own a popular Ruby on Rails community site, so have a vested interest in the popularity of the Ruby language.

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  • Dan Moore

    Regarding search volume – Maybe people just need less help with Ruby than with other languages.

  • dev_cw

    I got in to Ruby when the hype first started. Although I loved working with it, at the time descent hosting was a joke (and is still an issue) so it was riled out for most of my client projects. I have since then put aside all my Ruby literature and gone back to focusing on PHP since the field is much larger. There are a large number of Ruby job searches, but a large percent are for advanced positions (it would be interesting to see how many available jobs were actually filled by competent professionals). I love Ruby and think it is the ‘bees knees’ and for enterprise it rocks. But how many websites are enterprise?

    On the negative side the constant failing of Ruby driven apps is not good marketing. Sure most of the time it is not Ruby’s fault and more likely server issues. Look at Twitter, the search functions are regularly out of order, and the same goes for most other large scale Ruby apps.

    Ruby is maturing and finding it’s place in the market. It is not the new PHP, it is Ruby and now that people realize this it will enjoy a healthy growth.

  • blisshome

    No offense, Josh, love your work, but I have trouble making sense of soft analyses like this one. I don’t understand the metrics being used in your article or in any of the reports referenced, nor do I see the criteria for popularity? Dan Moore sums up the problem simply, and even his point relies on the assumption that all programming language searches are efforts to get help with a somehow deficient or otherwise difficult language. Without knowing what the pattern of search terms are we can’t really use “number of searches” as a reliable metric. Etc.

  • @blisshome: No offense taken. I certainly understand where you’re coming from re: searches — they’re definitely not the best indicator of language popularity, but I do think they probably get things right in terms of a general trend — the more people searching for a language and needing help with it, likely the more people there are using that language (and perhaps the more new developers the language is picking up).

    The Ohloh stats I mentioned are different. They’re based on the number of changed lines of code, commits, and individual developers contributing to open source projects. Also maybe not the best representation of the whole of web development — but the best I could find. :)

  • Python Boy

    @Dan Moore

    Nice there buddy. Ruby has gained search volume is what he said, which means two things:

    1) Ruby programmers don’t read very well
    2) If that’s what higher search volume means (which is ridiculous), then Ruby programmers are the ones having more trouble.

  • filterfish

    Who cares? Those who use ruby because it’s productive, intuitive, fun … will continue to do so. The pundits who whitter endless on the next will continue to do so.

    So why even bother to ask the question. Just be happy with what you’ve got.

  • roosevelt

    Even though I see the power of ruby, and the combination of rails framework, I honestly don’t like to use anything that takes a ton of work to setup. (depends on how you define ton)

    For instance, deploying a rails application is no easy task for beginners and to be honest it’s very inefficient.

    For instance, I prefer to code, upload and run. But, rails has been a huge pain in the neck to setup for apache, run mongrel separately if apache fails, and of course the whole rake db file executes in command line (where’s the fun in that?)

    As for ruby alone goes, when was it that popular to begin with?

    For instance, when I asked people if they know ruby, they mixed it up with ruby on rails.

    When RoR comes out of the closet and plays like PHP, ‘Ruby’ will automatically become popular than ever ;)


    As web hosting business owner, I must know a bit of every thing related to web, and I used to do programming with Perl then with PHP then I tried some Ruby and RoR… and I think RoR hype is going to fade .. my reasons are:

    – Average hosting provider can’t support RoR out of box, you need to do hacks in order to make it works in cpanel server for example, This may be not a problem for the pro developers, but for the average website owner, you still want a $5 host for your website.

    – RoR is geeky, Ruby like Perl is general-purpose programming language it can produce web pages but it not made only to procuce web pages like PHP, you can grow your HTML skills into PHP skills, you can’t do the the same with Ruby and RoR.

    – With PHP frameworks (I prefer CodeIgniter) I see no need to learn something new, you already made form-to-mail using PHP then you already learned a lot of PHP enough -with the help of frameworks- to build nice applications… you can upload CodeIgniter and go, there is no command line, no gems, ..etc

    RoR is good .. but not for the majority of website owners.

  • If popularity has plateaued and jobs are increasing, then this is the perfect time to be a Ruby developer because you’re going to be in high demand. Ruby may be niche, but being the best in a niche is one of the best ways to be successful.

  • Jeremy

    I will preface by saying that I don’t know a huge amount about Ruby. I do a little. I would just wonder if part of the slow down may be because other platforms have started to focus on creating MVC frameworks and DAL frameworks. This takes some of the other platforms closer to a Rails-like concept. I am not saying that they do it as well as ROR or not (not getting it religious arguments). Just a thought!

    Refocusing Technology

  • Chucho

    Ruby popularity faded because of Python, JRuby and IronRuby, and of course, tons of Rails clones. However, Ruby is considered a good programming language, but so was Delphi. And look what happened to Delphi, it was out shadowed by Visual Basic, and then it died. There’s a lesson to be learnt there.

  • Anonymous

    Well i can agree with you more.
    I have felt this happen suddenly. There has been a dip in ruby and rails based searches specially over Django / python and i assumed that search should not be a the right and final criterion initially.

    However, I had some other startling facts.
    Jobs have been declining on the popular sites, infact there are few and far jobs and calling freelancing gigs as jobs/ comparing them with corporate stuff is just not plausible.

    Books in the bookshops are rarer to find.

    There is an activism group on the community to target just this the Marketing of rails.

    However, i am presently playing it safe, from being a complete ruby developer i am gonna move does not mean if the language rises into corporate stream i feel left out. I can jump on it again, but yes i am one of those desperately seeking to move out now.

  • skeptic

    Although I like ruby , I can’t see it going enterprise.. the main reason is it is not strongly typed. No serious language for enterprise development is weakly typed.
    the other reason, is it doesn’t have good hosting server like iis for .net and tomcat, weblogic for java. this is changing though, with Jruby and Ironruby. But i’ts been too long in the making, these will be available for enterprise, when the hype has died. and the crowd has moved on to something else.
    third reason, it lacks a standard specification, again too long in the making, and the doc is sparse. compare with PHP, or c# or java, you just go their web site and download the latest language reference. for ruby they are still showing ruby 1.4 documentation on the ruby site.

  • Billee D.

    I don’t think that Ruby’s popularity is fading so much as the hype has slackened off. More hosts support Ruby/Rails and the community is finally getting back to work after all the fanfare and pomp.

    I know that personally I coded more Ruby/Rails apps in 2008 than I had in the previous 4 years. More clients are requesting apps built on Rails these days than PHP it seems. My Java and ColdFusion work stopped abruptly in 2003. I think that Rails is just quietly infiltrating the cracks in Enterprise Business and infecting the masses with that darned beautiful expressive syntax. Time to put down the party favors and get back to work, so to speak. Just my 2px… :-)

  • let’s wait see

    I believe Ruby’s popularity is fading. I know a few people who got on board around 2004, who have gone back to their original development language.

    Ruby will become a ‘has been language” even before it will make a serious enterprise impact to the development language landscape. It won’t die, but will just be one of the many existing marginal languages, except if something drastic happens in the future.

    Let’s face it, the jobs offers for Ruby is not that high anyway, despite the claims of Ruby die hards, that it is growing exponentially. I don’t personally know of any enterprise application developed in Ruby. the only apps that we hear are mostly those for small startup companies or some small apps in the backoffice.

    I may be wrong, but let’s see whether the future confirms what I said.

  • another_skeptic

    another skeptic here.
    if use of Ruby is really increasing , why does the tiobe index stays around 2% ?
    I believe it’s more noise about Ruby than substance. I was taking ruby seriously from around 2004 myself until around first quarter of 2007, now I have dropped it from my list of language to have. I prefer to spend more time on java and .net(c#) ,
    the funny thing is I suspect even bash may be more popular than ruby, despite the very vocal ruby community.