If you’ve ever had to contact customer support for anything like a missing food delivery order or an internet outage, chances are, you’ve encountered a chatbot. While many companies offer support from people who can chat with you in real time, the wait times for that kind of service can often be frustrating. That’s where chatbots come in.
Chatbots can handle customer questions in seconds; and when they are asked a complex question, they can forward the chat session to a live agent. Companies see this as a big win: They can satisfy customers, keep them on their site, and save money on the support staff they have to hire. It's no wonder why the global chatbot market, which was valued at $17 billion in 2020, is expected to grow to over $102 billion by 2026.
In other words, Chatbot Developers — people who create the software to automate communications for chatbots — are in high demand. So if you are looking for an exciting programming field where you will have plenty of opportunities, chatbot development is a good choice. To get into the field, you’ll need to have a good command of the programming languages used to develop chatbots, because certain languages are more suited to chatbot development than others.
6 programming languages for chatbots
Chatbots use machine learning (which gives computer systems the ability to learn from data) and natural language processing (the branch of computer science that gives computers the ability to understand text and spoken words). They are written in on the back-end that runs on a server. There are several programming languages that support these features either themselves or through third-party libraries — let’s take a look at them.
Python is a preferred language for data projects, machine learning projects, and chatbot projects. It has a simple syntax that even beginner developers find easy to read and understand. Because Python isn’t as verbose as many other languages, it’s a relatively simple language to use to prototype chatbots and doesn't require the extra compilation step that some programming languages need. Python also has an extensive selection of libraries for machine learning and natural language processing (NLP), including the powerful Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK), which many developers consider to be the best NLP library.
You can start learning Python in our beginner-friendly Learn Python 3 course.
Java is also a widely used language for chatbot projects because it's a general-purpose, object-oriented language that is platform-independent and portable. One of Java's claims to fame is that programs written in it can run on any system that has the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) installed, making it a versatile language. Java allows multi-threading, resulting in higher performance than many other languages in this list. It's also used widely in enterprise development — meaning a chatbot written in Java can be easily integrated with enterprise ecosystems. Java also has a large selection of third-party libraries for machine learning and NLP, including Stanford Library NLP and Apache Open NLP.
Our free, beginner-friendly course Learn Java is a great place to start.
Ruby is another popular programming language for chatbots. It's a high-level, object-oriented programming language that can make building chatbots simple. Like Python, its syntax is easy to read and understand. Ruby also supports a common algorithm design technique called dynamic programming, where you can modify the code at runtime to fit a system's changing needs. Many developers swear by the language because of its clean syntax and third-party libraries that are user-friendly and well-documented. Ruby has a wide variety of machine learning and NLP libraries, including a complete framework called Stealth that was designed from the ground up for developing chatbots.
If you’re interested in using Ruby, you can learn how in our free, beginner-friendly course Learn Ruby.
You can also use C++ to create chatbots. It has the fastest speed of the programming languages in this list, so it’s often used when performance is a priority. However, it’s also a low-level programming language, so this increase in performance comes with a tradeoff. C++ is not the easiest language to learn, and there are not many high-level libraries in the language specifically for building chatbots, which means you will have to build a big part of a chatbot from scratch. Still, it’s unbeatable when it comes to speed and performance.
You can start learning C++ in our free, beginner-friendly course Learn C++.
PHP was created for developing websites and web applications and has been around as long as web development has been. It’s also a great language for building chatbots. One of the advantages of PHP is that a lot of developers know it, and many websites already use the language, which makes it simpler to integrate a PHP chatbot into existing systems. In 2021, W3Techs reported that PHP was used in 79.2% of all the websites where they knew the server-side language, making it one of the most popular programming languages. There is also a framework in PHP called Botman, which provides all the tools you need to build a chatbot and integrate with other PHP web development frameworks like Laravel.
If you already know HTML, you can take our free intermediate-level course Learn PHP.
Clojure is another programming language that is popular for chatbot development. It runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and can integrate seamlessly with existing systems written in Java. Clojure is a functional programming language that is a dialect of Lisp. It uses recursive functions (which refer to themselves for execution) instead of loops to iterate through lists and arrays, a feature preferred by many developers for the data processing involved in NLP.
Learn how to build chatbots
All the programming languages above have libraries or frameworks available that were created to help develop intelligent systems, including chatbots. The language you decide to learn or use to create a chatbot application depends upon the features you need and the project requirements.
If you are a beginner or are just starting to work with machine learning, it helps to know that most developers consider Python to be a great programming language to start with because of its simple syntax and the abundance of machine learning and NLP libraries available in the language.
To that end, you can start learning how to build a chatbot today with our online courses. Our Build Chatbots with Python skill path will teach you how to build chatbots from scratch, even if you are a complete Python beginner. And if you need any help while going through the course, tune into our communities on our Codecademy Forums and our Discord.