The thesis might seem controversial in 2021 when in many rankings such as TIOBE, Java seems to be slowly overtaken by languages such as Python. However, despite the changes due to growth of areas in IT in which Java has never dominated (for example data analysis), there is no premise that in systems where this language is most popular it will be displaced. Listed below are some reasons why, in my opinion, Java still holds such a strong position today.
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Being the first is why Java remains so strong
In many ways, Java was a precursor of programming based on compiling language into intermediate code. The concept itself wasn’t new, as the first language to use this approach was Smalltalk developed in the 70s, but due to limitations in hardware and the nature of the syntax, it didn’t gain as much popularity.
The fact is that when Java was released, it had few elements that were revolutionary, but the key to its success was combining those elements in the right way and learning from predecessors’ strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft later used this approach in developing C# by utilizing Java’s experience.
On one hand, the syntax based strongly on C++ which was the most popular language in the general-purpose category at the time, made the migration very easy for its users. Also it simplified many elements such as memory management via garbage collector or optimizations via Just in Time compiler. In addition, it gave a set of predefined tools and components in JDK.
This attracted many users at Java’s launch and boosted the start of this technology. Even now, the number of programmers skilled in this language is a common reason for choosing it for a project from a business perspective.
Backward compatibility as one of the strengths of Java
This is a big advantage, especially for systems with long-term support. Thanks to this policy, the language avoided perturbations known to programmers for example from Python 2 to 3 migration.
An approach like that doesn’t just affect syntax, it is even more explicit on the virtual machine level, as evidenced by the fact that from the beginning of existence to the Java 8 release, only 2 instructions were added to the bytecode on the virtual machine. This of course doesn’t make migrations between versions costless but it certainly reduces their complexity.
Such an conservative approach creates yet another non-obvious advantage. Java is not a syntax sugar laden language, which on one hand makes many things impossible to do in a very short way. On the other hand though, this verbose approach in many cases makes code refactoring easier, without a very high level of necessary knowledge.
In other words, badly written code is easier to read and fix in Java than in more complex languages.
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Java can be easily integrated with a variety of tools and libraries
Here comes probably the biggest advantage of the discussed language – its age. Because of it, Java encourages maturity of solutions and has a large community. It’s hard to find technologies without prepared integration with Java or functions that aren’t provided by external libraries.
An important attribute of Java is that although the syntax evolves slowly, progress of tools is fast enough to never deviate from current trends.
A good example of this is the transformation that the Java systems underwent through the creation of the Spring framework. It greatly improved the development of enterprise systems, especially in relation to Java EE. Huge evolution was also made in other areas as well, such as tools for managing dependencies and building. The Java community has gone from requiring complete manual configuration Ant to much more convenient and automated solutions like Maven and Gradle. In other words, it is an ecosystem that is alive and evolving.
Another important feature is the independence of choosing languages compatible with Java as it allows one to benefit from the toolset without using Java syntax. Apart from Java itself, alternatives include the increasingly popular Kotlin, dynamically typed Groovy or more functional and competing mainly in the big data area Scala. There is no shortage of opinions that Java may at some point move into the role of “assembler for the JVM,” giving way to current alternatives within the same technology stack.
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After 26 years of existence, the position of Java on the market seems to be unthreatened. The technology stack based on it constantly adapts to new trends, allowing to start new projects based on it without lagging behind solutions offered by the competition. It is still attractive enough to be the first chosen language for many programmers.