I feel like we may have enough data on this site to meaningfully break programming languages into classes.

What I mean by classes is akin to Go's ranking system:

If a player can win 90% of even games against a 2 kyu player, the AGA believes he or she is 1.33 ranks higher, the EGF believes (s)he is 2.42 ranks higher, and the IGS believes (s)he is more than 3 ranks higher.

We may need to break the competition down into tags (e.g., a puzzle may have a different ranking system than a puzzle (cough, Bubblegum).

The use case for this would be to more reasonably compare your success - If a Python answer beats one in J, the author should be pretty proud. If Pyth beats Java by just a bit, the Java author should also be pretty happy with themselves (or the Pyth author ashamed).

Would anyone be interested in this endeavor?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's an interesting idea, but I think most of us have already formed subjective opinions; for example, I consider Ruby, Python, Perl, etc. in a higher and fairly well-defined "class" than Java, Rust, etc. Nevertheless, if you do attempt something like this, I'd be very curious to see the results! (I have a language-detection script floating around somewhere, in a Github Gist I think, that could come in handy.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Doorknob Mod
    Mar 25 '16 at 16:58
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ I think there are two (broad) schools of thought on what "success" means here in golf terms. One is getting the overall shortest by choosing the appropriate language for each task (choosing your tools). The other is finding the shortest given a certain tool (language). While I like to beat up on C# with Java as much as the next guy, it's not a true comparison across all golfs, because the real difference is (mainly) which builtins are there and how they're named. So I'm not sure I see how ranking each would help people in either school of thought judge their success. \$\endgroup\$
    – Geobits
    Mar 25 '16 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ To echo what Geobits said -- defining the tasks that make up the metric is going to be extremely difficult and subject to much debate. Many languages are very close on the Hello World challenge, simply because "Hello, World!" (with or without the trailing ") is a valid program in dozens of languages. Or ones where a particular language has a clear built-in that leapfrogs it ahead of where it would "normally" sit. Challenges like that would skew the numbers incorrectly. Not that I'm against the idea, it just needs a lot of rigor. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 17:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimmyD Yes - and I have no statistical background, so I'd like to get someone with more stats knowledge on board before pursuing it. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 17:53
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I honestly have no clue why this has been consistently downvoted so far. While the commenters have a point that it's going to be hard to figure out how to get the most meaningful data, I'm pretty sure that across all our code golfs we can find significant trends easily enough. It may be hard to determine with any certainty whether C# or Java is better for golfing, but I'm sure we can detect some fuzzy ranking. +1, I like the idea of trying to mine some data from our content. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 18:59
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @MartinBüttner, it's probably suspicion about motives. I'm fighting the temptation to downvote by reminding myself that we should assume good faith, but the context of previous meta questions by people who were pushing handicap systems does inevitably affect the subtext I read into this one. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 19:20
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor That's a good point, but I'd rather downvote the post making use of such a handicap system than an attempt to gather some interesting data from our challenges. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 19:28
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor I am not very active in meta and haven't read that thread. I don't have motives aside from what is presented. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 20:01
  • 14
    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor Also, for the record, I think a handicap system is a terrible idea. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 20:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another reason is that it would be nice to see a language competition - some sort of aggregate of all the work folks have done to abuse languages. Where does Perl beat Ruby? Does D beat C? Where does TI-BASIC beat Mathematica? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 25 '16 at 20:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I downvoted because, not only would this be very difficult and many people would disagree with the classes due to the subjectivity involved, but defining language classes opens the door to attempts to impose handicaps, which I am strongly against. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Mar 25 '16 at 21:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ We already have some data in response to this code challenge. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 25 '16 at 23:13
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see why people are so opposed to this. Everyone knows that some languages are golfier are other. Most golfers already have a vague sense of the ordering, and surely actual statistics are better. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Mar 26 '16 at 4:29
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Seems like a fine idea to me. While it shouldn't be considered definitive, it'll probably be interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – isaacg
    Mar 26 '16 at 7:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor Like I mentioned before, I don't think it's a worthwhile endeavor. The lines are too fuzzy to be able to create clear-cut classes, and there are lots of issues that skew the data such that the classes would not be meaningful (as I commented on Alex's answer). \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Mar 29 '16 at 1:18

Elo ratings, treating pairs of submissions as games.

I'm using the Elo system here.

Essentially, the solution is find the best solutions in each language to each challenge, and then treat each pair of such solutions as a match between those two languages, with the winner being the shorter submission.

Languages with less than 10 entries are discarded, and languages have a starting rating of 1000.

One drawback of this system is that ELO favors more recent entries. To compensate, I used a relatively low K value, which makes updates slower, and so old answer count for more.

The data is from this query, courtesy of Alex A. To run the code, put the two code blocks below in files with the names given, put the query csv file in ratings.csv, and run parse.py

New results, with bug fix

In the old version of the code, there were two bugs:

  • Answers with hyperlinks in the header were not counted.

  • Languages with numbers in the name were not counted.

I have fixed both bugs. In doing so, the code now considers differently named versions of a language (e.g. Python 2.7 and Python 2) to be different languages. I don't think this is a major problem - allowing languages with numbers in the name is much more important.

Also, since many more answers are correctly parsed, more languages meet the threshold to be displayed.

September 2021 Results:

Jelly:                            1939
SOGL V0.12:                       1919
05AB1E:                           1883
Husk:                             1874
Neim:                             1873
MathGolf:                         1844
MATL:                             1841
Pyke:                             1836
Gaia:                             1819
Stax:                             1785
Canvas:                           1764
Vyxal:                            1751
Japt v2.0a0:                      1740
Pyt:                              1735
Japt:                             1730
Brachylog:                        1723
Actually:                         1664
Pyth:                             1634
Jolf:                             1611
MMIX:                             1598
APL:                              1503
Charcoal:                         1494
Pip:                              1488
CJam:                             1488
Keg:                              1470
Pushy:                            1453
K:                                1440
Burlesque:                        1435
cQuents:                          1396
x86:                              1381
Dyalog APL:                       1378
x86 machine code:                 1369
J:                                1363
GolfScript:                       1362
Alice:                            1357
Attache:                          1353
Bubblegum:                        1327
K4:                               1306
APL+WIN:                          1281
Q/KDB+:                           1248
Runic Enchantments:               1246
Braingolf:                        1232
stacked:                          1226
Retina:                           1217
Labyrinth:                        1217
Aceto:                            1203
Vim:                              1187
Wolfram Language:                 1180
Raku:                             1176
Cubix:                            1152
Add++:                            1141
Octave:                           1138
Julia:                            1134
Retina 0.8.2:                     1129
MY:                               1128
sed:                              1115
V:                                1101
dc:                               1099
Julia 0.6:                        1082
q:                                1079
Hexagony:                         1077
Zsh:                              1064
Ly:                               1060
Julia 1.0:                        1055
Cheddar:                          1054
Bash + coreutils:                 1053
Perl:                             1049
QBIC:                             1043
Perl 6:                           1024
MAWP:                             1024
Haskell:                          1011
Proton:                           1003
Ruby:                             989
MATLAB / Octave:                  985
Befunge:                          976
Röda:                             966
Groovy:                           959
Perl 5:                           952
AWK:                              944
Matlab:                           943
GNU sed:                          943
Regex:                            940
PARI/GP:                          939
Mathematica:                      932
Factor:                           931
TI:                               930
Bash:                             927
PowerShell Core:                  913
SmileBASIC:                       910
JavaScript:                       908
Google Sheets:                    886
Jq 1.5:                           884
Python 2:                         856
Scala:                            822
PowerShell:                       822
Chip:                             821
ES6:                              820
R:                                813
Elixir:                           794
Clojure:                          791
Python 3:                         766
PowerShell v2+:                   755
Python:                           743
Excel:                            732
Rexx:                             731
Rust:                             726
Python 3.8:                       702
Desmos:                           694
C:                                688
Excel VBA:                        682
JavaScript ES6:                   681
Java:                             676
PHP:                              671
C#:                               669
Icon:                             659
QBasic:                           646
Kotlin:                           646
Forth:                            644
Red:                              634
Clean:                            631
TCL:                              610
Java 8:                           610
T:                                561
Yabasic:                          556
Prolog:                           546
Lua:                              541
Dart:                             538
Common Lisp:                      529
Brainfuck:                        524
Swift:                            507
Python 2.7:                       507
Batch:                            505
Nim:                              503
VBA:                              502
TSQL:                             490
Brain:                            488
Racket:                           485
F#:                               481
Java 7:                           476
Java 10:                          467
C++14:                            436
Swift 3:                          397
C++:                              391
SNOBOL4:                          328
Oracle SQL 11.2:                  326
Pascal:                           295
Go:                               281
Whitespace:                       266
Rockstar:                         238
Deadfish ~:                       204
Taxi:                             86
Shakespeare Programming Language: 26



SCALE = 400
K = 10
PAD = 50

import itertools
def concat(x):
    return list(itertools.chain.from_iterable(x))

class Ratings:
    def __init__(self, challenges):
        langs = concat(challenges)
        self.ratings = {lang: STARTING for lang in langs}
        for challenge in challenges:

    def update_game(self, first, second, score):
        f_rat = self.ratings[first]
        s_rat = self.ratings[second]

        f_exp = 1/(1 + 10 ** ((s_rat - f_rat) / 400))
        s_exp = 1/(1 + 10 ** ((f_rat - s_rat) / 400))

        f_upd = K * (score - f_exp)
        s_upd = K * ((1 - score) - s_exp)

        self.ratings[first] += f_upd
        self.ratings[second] += s_upd

    def update_challenge(self, scores):
        for lang1 in sorted(scores):
            for lang2 in sorted(scores):
                if lang1 > lang2:
                    s1 = scores[lang1]
                    s2 = scores[lang2]
                    result = 1 if s1 < s2 else 0.5 if s1 == s2 else 0
                    self.update_game(lang1, lang2, result)
    def __str__(self):
        return '\n'.join(key + ':' +
                ' ' * (max(len(lang) + 1 for lang in self.ratings) - len(key)) + str(val)
                         for key, val in sorted(((lang, int(self.ratings[lang]))
                             for lang in self.ratings),
                             key=lambda x:x[::-1], reverse=True))


import csv
import re
import elo


lines = []
scores = {}
challenges = []
lang_counts = {}
canon_to_actual = {}

with open('ratings.csv') as csvfile:
    reader = csv.DictReader(csvfile)
    for row in reader:
        lines.append((row['Body'], row['ParentId']))

count = 0
for line, challenge in lines:
    line = re.sub("<s(trike)?>.*</s(trike)?>", "", line)
    line = re.sub("<a[^>]*>", "", line)
    line = re.sub("</a>", "", line)
    match = re.match("<.*>(.*)</.*>", line)
    if match:
        line = match.group(1)
        lang = re.match("([^-,\(:]*)", line)
        if lang:
            lang = lang.group(1).strip()
            canon = lang.lower().replace(' ', '')
            canon_to_actual[canon] = lang
            score = re.search("(\d+)\s*\w*\)?$", line)
            if score:
                score = int(score.group(1))
                c = scores.get(challenge, [])
                c.append((canon, score))
                scores[challenge] = c
                lang_counts[canon] = lang_counts.get(canon, 0) + 1

for c in sorted(scores, key=int):
    results = scores[c]
    c_map = {}
    for canon, score in results:
        if lang_counts[canon] > CUTOFF and re.match("\w", canon):
            lang = canon_to_actual[canon]
            old_score = c_map.get(lang, score)
            c_map[lang] = min(score, old_score)


Here are the original ratings, generated with the buggy code, for posterity.

2016 Results

Jelly:                1906
Pyth:                 1711
GS:                   1674
Japt:                 1653
MATL:                 1607
Dyalog APL:           1580
J:                    1579
CJam:                 1578
Jolf:                 1559
Seriously:            1535
TeaScript:            1499
GolfScript:           1497
Pip:                  1478
Burlesque:            1460
APL:                  1443
O:                    1427
Vitsy:                1424
𝔼𝕊𝕄𝕚𝕟:                1384
Vim:                  1371
q:                    1355
K:                    1322
TI:                   1301
sh:                   1294
Octave:               1289
PARI/GP:              1272
dc:                   1269
GNU sed:              1229
Retina:               1213
x:                    1209
Bash + coreutils:     1207
Bash + GNU utilities: 1201
bc:                   1189
golflua:              1187
Sed:                  1182
HTML:                 1168
Julia:                1165
QBasic:               1156
Sage:                 1146
Ruby:                 1124
AWK:                  1101
ZSH:                  1086
Mathematica:          1083
Gema:                 1079
Bash:                 1079
jq:                   1060
Haskell:              1051
MATLAB:               1042
PowerShell v:         1028
Perl:                 1028
BBC BASIC:            1022
Piet:                 1019
Score:                1018
Shell script:         1017
Mumps:                1015
Languages:            1013
ECMAScript:           1012
Regex:                1000
LiveScript:           993
Tcl:                  989
CoffeeScript:         988
Groovy:               986
Postscript:           984
Windows PowerShell:   981
Powershell:           966
R:                    964
Befunge:              964
gawk:                 951
AutoHotkey:           934
Javascript ES:        931
Smalltalk:            928
STATA:                926
Matlab/Octave:        926
REBOL:                923
SAS:                  917
Clojure:              913
ES:                   909
PHP:                  908
Dart:                 908
Python:               894
JavaScript:           894
Node.js:              893
F#:                   880
Marbelous:            875
Excel VBA:            858
AutoIt:               853
Shell:                850
Common Lisp:          845
Brainfuck:            843
Lua:                  835
Processing:           832
Scheme:               824
CSS:                  823
Pure bash:            821
SWI:                  786
Game Maker Language:  785
FORTH:                778
SpecBAS:              776
Scala:                772
Cobra:                769
HTML + JavaScript:    758
Whitespace:           750
Applescript:          739
T:                    724
Batch:                720
Fortran:              715
Prolog:               711
Turing Machine Code:  708
C:                    706
SQL:                  704
VBA:                  703
Factor:               700
Kotlin:               690
JS:                   686
Pascal:               685
Erlang:               674
Emacs Lisp:           673
OCaml:                668
Racket:               658
VBScript:             654
VB.NET:               643
Swift:                636
D:                    621
Windows Batch:        612
Ceylon:               591
C++:                  587
Java:                 559
Oracle SQL:           548
Delphi:               539
Go:                   537
C#:                   535
Rust:                 528
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This seems to get around the problem of some languages only being used on easy challenges, since two languages are only compared on challenges they have in common. \$\endgroup\$
    – trichoplax
    Apr 5 '16 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also like that a language is scored by its shortest answer to a question, so it approximates the best a language can do rather than the average performance across a number of different users. \$\endgroup\$
    – trichoplax
    Apr 5 '16 at 14:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The Elo system might actually be better that you say, assuming you parse the answers in posted-order. Languages here evolve over time. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5 '16 at 18:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanMerrill They're sorted by question age, so you might be right. \$\endgroup\$
    – isaacg
    Apr 5 '16 at 19:30
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think one of the reasons jelly ranks so high is that dennis is the only one who knows how to use it. =) \$\endgroup\$
    – DJMcMayhem
    Apr 22 '16 at 4:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @DJMcMayhem: I don't think so. I think Dennis uses Jelly because it's short (as do I), rather than Jelly being short because Dennis uses it. (You can observe that Dennis tends to do equally well, relative to other entries in the same language, when using a language other than Jelly; but the entry ends up overall longer.) \$\endgroup\$
    – user62131
    Apr 25 '17 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wish ShortC could be on the list. But almost no one uses it! (besides me and I didn't even make it). Though it's really a shortener because it just expands into C. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30 '20 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wezl Even after I fixed the first 2 bugs, shortC still isn't showing up. The language only appears 7 times in the results of my query, which is strange because it shows up way more than that when I search the site. Those 7 times are too few to give it a solid rating. I don't know what's wrong with the query, I didn't write it. \$\endgroup\$
    – isaacg
    May 1 '20 at 5:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @isaacg 1 I was just saying I wish people would use it; right now there's no one to compete with. \$\endgroup\$ May 1 '20 at 17:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like the query only lists 50000 results, and those are neither the first 50000 nor the last 50000, but several chunks from random places (or am I not using it correctly?) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 4 '20 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @isaacg Bug: TI-BASIC shows up as TI. (It seems that flags in answers are usually enclosed with code blocks (<code>...</code>) nowadays, so this should be easy to fix.) \$\endgroup\$
    – user99151
    Jan 1 at 8:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ How does this deal with flags? The Python parser is pretty difficult to read so I can't figure out exactly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Grain Ghost Mod
    Oct 4 at 8:38

K-means clustering by code length

Note: This is just a first-pass attempt with a very simple method. There are certainly better ways to approach this but at least this is a start.

My approach here was to get all answers to code golf challenges without bonuses that had (at least somewhat) appropriately formatted post headers, parse out the language name and byte count from the header, perform k-means clustering on the sizes with 6 groups, and for each language select the cluster into which most of the sizes for that language fell. Languages which have been used fewer than 10 times on the site, as well as any answer with a byte count greater than 170, were excluded.

The clusters are listed in ascending order of the values of their cluster centers.

Group 1, mean 12.03099

APL            GS2             Rebmu
Arcyou         Hexagony        rs
AutoIt         J               Sed
Batch          Japt            Self
BC             Jelly           Seriously
Beeswax        Jolf            Stuck
Befunge        K               TeaScript
Brachylog      Labyrinth       TI-BASIC
Brainfuck      Marbelous       Vim
Burlesque      MATL            Vitsy
Candy          Microscript     zsh
Clip           Minkolang
DC             Mouse
DUP            O
Element        Piet
ESMin          Pip
Factor         Platypar
Fission        Prelude
Gema           Pyth
GolfScript     QBASIC

Group 2, mean 31.75217

Milky Way

Group 3, mean 54.14769

Game Maker Language

Group 4, mean 79.65123

BBC Basic        Scala
CoffeeScript     SQL
Common Lisp      Swift
CSS              TCL
Emacs Lisp       VB.NET
Fortran          VBScript

Group 5, mean 109.9524


Group 6, mean 147.5168


Thoughts on this grouping

This is roughly what one might expect, with the golfing languages in tier 1 and Java in tier 5. This particular grouping appears to be somewhat of a success in that regard. However, 6 was probably too many groups; 4 or 5 would likely be sufficient. Heirarchical clustering may be another interesting route for analysis since no number of classes is prespecified.


This should not, under any circumstances, be used to impose any kind of language handicap or restriction. It's merely for the sake of interest and giving folks a group to mentally compare their scores to, should they feel the need.

For the curious

The data were collected via this Stack Exchange Data Explorer query. The analysis was done in R and is available via this Gist.

  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ I can spot one fatal flaw in this approach: challenges that would require significantly long code in golfing languages are usually not answered with those languages. For example, as the source of almost all of the Seriously answers, I admit that I usually don't try to answer a challenge with Seriously unless it's under 40 or so bytes (because any longer becomes unmanageable thanks to my poor design decisions). This skews Seriously towards a higher tier than what it probably should be. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Mar 27 '16 at 7:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Mego Yep. There's a whole lot I didn't take into account. This is just a means of getting the ball rolling on an approach in the simplest possible way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex A.
    Mar 27 '16 at 7:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ 404 on the gist. When you say "perform k-means clustering on the sizes with 6 groups", what exactly was the input to the clustering algorithm? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 27 '16 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor Looks like I accidentally deleted the gist. I've readded it and updated the URL. The input was the code lengths as parsed from the headers. Those were grouped into 6 classes using k-means and merged back to their respective languages. Then, for each language, I selected the class into which it fell most often. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex A.
    Mar 27 '16 at 18:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ As an avid vim user and a vim golfer, I'm really happy to see it in the same tier as the golfing languages. =D \$\endgroup\$
    – DJMcMayhem
    Mar 28 '16 at 1:34
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I was quite surprised to see QBASIC in the top tier, until I looked at the QBASIC answers on the site. It's pretty good backup for Mego's comment. I suppose there's probably a somewhat better way to do this, but I'm not really sure it won't be filled with these outliers as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Geobits
    Mar 28 '16 at 2:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps sampling from a set of challenges with many answers in many different languages would be better, rather than across the entire site, to avoid the problem I brought up. Granted, I still don't think this will result in anything useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – user45941
    Mar 28 '16 at 7:04
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think that @Mego's comment deserves some thought. Perhaps we should score based on relation to the median answer of each question? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28 '16 at 14:31
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ What poor souls answered in Delphi? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 28 '16 at 18:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I think BATCH is in the first group because not many people answer in BATCH, and, when they do, it's usually on an easy question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 3 '16 at 22:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CᴏɴᴏʀO'Bʀɪᴇɴ more reasons why this is biased -- cool, but biased \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Apr 5 '16 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mego this is probably how Brainfuck ended up in group 1 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 6 '17 at 2:25

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