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Dead Programming Languages

Dale Gillard on Flickr

There are, apparently, at least 8500 programming languages in existence. Whether one or more of these languages is dead depends on your point of view.

Many people in 2007 would have said Java was bloated, lightly used, and therefore a dead programming language. Yet today Java is used frequently and taught in high schools and colleges. Perl, on the other hand, appears dead. People still use the language. However, the next generation of the Perl language, Perl 6, started in 2000 and has yet to be completed.

Dice.com, the site for programming and technology jobs, recently posted a fun article claiming Perl, Ruby, Flash, Visual Basic.NET, and Delphi’s Object Pascal all are dead languages, no longer worthy to learn or use. Instead of “Hello World!” code examples from each language, the article offered “Goodbye, World!” code examples.

The mention of Ruby is instructive. While Twitter moved away from Ruby, and the language works differently from other languages, which bothers some coders, Ruby still works well in some coding projects. It makes a good language to learn in schools, for example, where you want programmers to develop a broad hands on experience with programming languages, how they work, and their limitations. Ruby is far from dead.

Here are a few dead programming languages that may or may not be dead. Your mileage will vary.


The primary reason Perl may be a dead programming language is its origin as a CGI (common gateway interface) scripting language. CGI languages were created to manage form data on early web servers circa the mid to late 1990s. However, Perl evolved into a much more flexible and rich language. While I personally found Perl too flexible and, therefore, annoying to learn, real programmers swear by the language. It’s also worth noting the PHP language, which also started as a CGI scripting language, is still widely used. Real programmers also tell new coders to avoid PHP, of course. But Perl and PHP work in a lot of projects.


This language is not to be confused with cold fusion, the so far hypothetical form of nuclear fusion. For a few years, I loved to tease a friend of mine one of his favorite programming languages, ColdFusion, was dead. ColdFusion was created in 1995 as a simple to use language to create web applications. It used HTML-like markup tags, called ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML) to make it easy for developers to create software. Adobe bought the language when it bought Macromedia in 2005. It is used by many developers but unknown to most new coders. ColdFusion works on Windows, Linux, Solaris, and the Mac OS.


My favorite (hopefully soon to be) dead language is Flash. I recall a COMDEX expo in the late 1990s where I passed a booth stuffed with young, blonde, impossibly cheerful people from San Diego, California who touted a great new technology which became Flash 1.0. Not much later, Macromedia bought their company and Adobe acquired Flash (and ColdFusion!) when it bought Macromedia in 2005. Flash solved the problem of presenting website content and form functionality in a more flexible way than the HTML table layouts common in the 1990s. At the time, CD-ROMs (Remember them? Maybe not) presented content in more dynamic and interesting ways than web pages. Flash worked a lot like CD-ROMs, with all the fun happening in a clearly defined rectangle on the web page.

However, the web has moved on from CD-ROM style presentations. Sadly, Flash also became a security risk to use. People also resisted having to download the Flash player plugin for their web browser before they could see content. HTML5 also has appeared with an open standard way to deliver all kinds of content, without the security hassles or plugin software.


Are Perl, ColdFusion, and Flash truly dead languages when lots of people enjoy them and often are paid to work with these languagtes? Calling a programming language dead maybe is more a fun game and an indication of popularity. 

There are many other candidates for dead programming languages. The links below explore these three languages, as well what makes a programming language dead.

Learn More

5 Programming Languages Marked for Death (Dice.com)


The Top 10 Dead (or Dying) Computer Skills


The Rise and Fall of Languages in 2012


I Use Dead Programming Languages


6 Ways to Determine a New Programming Language is a Turkey



An updated list of commonly used programming languages, one way to measure the mortality of languages.

List of Programming Languages (Wikipedia)








Not Dead Yet: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Java