One of the first decisions that application developers encounter when coding internet of things (IoT) functions is what language to use.
The options, of course, encompass the entire programming universe, since the IoT does not require much in the way of specialized syntax or mathematical logic. So for the most part, the decision will depend on the same factors that drive traditional application development: What will the application do, how will it interact with its environment and how versed is the development team in a given language?
Here, then, are the top 10 programming languages guiding IoT application development at the moment:
One of the oldest and most widely used languages in the world, C was originally developed for writing Unix system software in the 1970s. As a structured, procedural language, however, it has proven effective for a wide variety of applications, including those inhabiting the IoT. Its advantages include the availability of multiple logical and mathematical operators plus the ability to apply multiple assignments to a single statement. This provides for more reliable and scalable code that is platform-independent and can be reused in multiple settings.
C++ is an object-oriented programming (OOP) extension of C, which means it can be utilized as either a C-style or OOP-style language depending on the needs of the application. It requires a bit more skill to master than C and is used primarily for systems and application software, as well as drivers, client-server functions and embedded firmware – in short, the key data points of an IoT ecosystem. C++ utilizes collections of predefined classes of data types that can be instantiated multiple times, which makes it an extremely efficient and flexible solution for distributed infrastructure environments.
The source of the once-ubiquitous applet, Java was the former Sun Microsystems’ answer to the need for a GUI-based web services development environment. Java’s main benefit to the IoT is its security features, which include API-driven standards updates and high levels of encryption. This gives Java code extra resiliency while maintaining a higher level of portability than more hardware-dependent solutions. On the downside, Java applets require a Java Virtual Machine to execute and must be developed using the Java Software Development Kit (SDK). (Learn more about Java in Why Is Java Preferred to Other Languages as a Building Block?)
Python is considered a multi-paradigm, general purpose, interpreted language that is mostly used for higher-level applications like search, video streaming and machine intelligence. It offers a range of programming styles, such as object, imperative and functional, and features an almost speech-like syntax for easy coding and rapid development. As an IoT solution, it holds promise for container-based microservice creation and the legions of applications that are expected to be very short-lived as intelligent systems start to build their own tools to accomplish requested tasks.
PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor
PHP is another scripting language that supports dynamic, interactive HTML functions. Many development shops are starting to use PHP because it provides an easy learning curve while maintaining many advanced features for more experienced coders. As an open-source solution that runs primarily on Apache servers, it has broad implications for big data analysis and multi-platform environments. It is also very lightweight and lends itself to the rapid development cycles that will characterize large portions of the IoT workload. (Learn more about PHP in PHP 101.)
Ruby is an open-source language that is geared primarily toward object-style programming but can also be applied to procedural and functional projects. Ruby is gaining popularity in advanced simulation environments, robotics and other complex environments, which means it will likely impact the IoT once it has reached a critical level of scale and complexity. Ruby can run on Windows, Linux, Mac and Solaris machines and is supported by numerous integrated development environments (IDEs) that smooth over many of its coding, debugging and execution functions.
The developers of Swift say one of the primary drivers behind its creation was safety. Coding errors can often slip through the debugging process and lead to sometimes costly undefined behavior in production environments. In the IoT, this can be particularly troublesome because many apps will function autonomously with little or no direct oversight. Additionally, Swift is designed around rapid development and more expressive syntax, making it more amenable to non-technical programmers who are simply looking for quick results.
Rust was also designed for safety and speed, but it targets multiple use cases that other languages avoid, such as low-level device drivers and OS functions, programs with specific space and time requirements and tools embedded into other languages. For the IoT, it features a number of innovative time-safety checks that produce zero runtime overhead and eliminate data races. It also enables the “zero-cost abstraction” of C++ to provide the expressiveness of higher-level languages without sacrificing control over code execution and data representation.
Go was developed at Google in 2007 and sometimes goes by the name golang. Go provides a high degree of concurrency (multiple processes executed simultaneously), which comes in handy in workload-intensive IoT environments. It also features additional benefits, such as memory management, structural typing and CPS-style programming. Its open-source compiler, gc, is compatible with Unix, Windows, OS X and Linux, and it is increasingly making its way onto mobile devices for programming on the “go.”
As the IoT gains in popularity, we can expect to see greater refinement in these and other languages to address the particular requirements of device-driven services and applications. This will likely proceed in conjunction with the general evolution of the IoT as users start to implement new products and services in unforeseen ways.
In the meantime, developers have plenty of options to turn ideas into working applications quickly and easily, and then build on the successful ones to create new revenues and new business models.
Did we miss your favorite IoT programming language? Let us know!