Java is a versatile and popular programming language that has played a key role in software development for more than two decades. Its use cases range from developer large scale enterprise applications to the creation of Android mobile apps and desktop software. In this tutorial, we will explore the many advantages and disadvantages of programming with Java, shedding light on its strengths and weaknesses.
Overview of Java?
Java was originally created by James Gosling and a team of researchers at Sun Microsystems back in the mid 90s. Java was developed to be a programming language for consumer electronics, and it can still find purpose in that arena, as the popularity of embedded development and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to grow. That being said, Java’s core philosophy of “Write Once, Run Anywhere” – or WORA – and its robust feature set inevitably made it appealing for virtually every type of software imaginable.
The language itself is considered a general purpose language with object-oriented features and commonly mislabeled as a true object-oriented programming (OOP) language. While it can certainly mimic the functionality provided by OOP, Java features primitive and non-primitive data types, making it not truly OOP, as everything in object-oriented languages is considered objects.
That being said, Java developers can make use of OOP concepts like polymorphism, classes, objects, inheritance, and encapsulation, making the code you create more readable, maintainable, and reusable – not to mention less prone to errors.
What is the Java Virtual Machine (JVM)
Before we dive into Java’s advantages and disadvantages, it is worth mentioning one other important feature of Java – the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The JVM is the tool that allows Java programs to run on any platform that has a compatible JVM implementation, which makes Java platform independent – a feature that contributed greatly to its early success.
You can learn more by reading our tutorial: What is the JVM?
Advantages of Java
Below is a highlight of some the main advantages Java has to offer, including:
- Platform independence
- OOP features
- Multithreading and Concurrency
- Use cases
As noted, Java’s WORA principle is a big highlight for the language, as Java programs can be compiled on a single platform and executed across any platform featuring the JVM, which constitutes most modern systems. This makes Java very compatible and affords it a high degree of portability.
Java’s OOP features make it an ideal language for modular design and reusable code. It promotes best coding practices for concepts such as encapsulation, inheritance, and polymorphism, which, in turn, leads to more maintainable and scalable code.
You can learn more about object-oriented programming as it pertains to Java in our tutorial: What is OOP in Java?
Java has been around for several decades now and is very well supported, benefiting from frequent updates to both its features and its security. Java features a robust syntax with features such as strong tying (requiring data types to be declared at creation), built-in exception handling to handle errors and code issues before they become a problem, and automatic memory management – also known as garbage collection.
All of these core features make applications created in Java less prone to errors, crashes, and memory-related issues.
Java Standard Library (JSL)
While not quite as large as competitor Python’s library, Java does have a comprehensive standard library known as the Java Standard Library (JSL) or Java API (depending upon who you ask). This extensive set of pre-built code modules offer helpful tools and utilities for common tasks revolving around networking, input/output operations, data structures, error handling, and much more.
Libraries – both built-in and third-party – are designed to help developers code more efficiently and reduce human errors.
Multithreading and Concurrency
Java has excellent built-in support for multithreading and concurrency, making it much easier for coders looking to develop applications that can perform tasks concurrently. This is of particular use if you are building responsive user interfaces or highly scalable server applications, where performance is key.
Java has a large and active community of programmers that contribute not just third-party libraries, frameworks, and tools for software development, but also valuable support. This support comes in the form of forum discussions, written tutorials, and other learning resources designed to help other coders learn, troubleshoot, and fix Java applications.
Java is a powerful language that can be used in many software development domains. It is particularly useful for:
- Enterprise-level applications
- Mobile development for Android
- Scientific computing and data analysis
- Web development and web apps
- Embedded programming and the IoT
- Desktop software
Disadvantages of Java
Despite its many benefits and features, Java does have some notable disadvantages worth mentioning. We highlight the most important ones below, which include:
- Slower execution speed and performance
- Syntax verbosity
- Memory usage
- Low-level access
- Lack of multiple inheritance
- Compatibility with legacy code
- Learning curve
Slower Execution Speed
While Java’s platform independence is a big benefit, it also comes at a cost to performance. Java programs (on average) run a bit slower than its natively compiled “cousin” like C and C++. A lot of these performance issues, however, have been mitigated by a number of factors, such as modern hardware processing power, optimizations in the JVM in more recent versions of Java, and further performance optimizations by Java’s built-in garbage collector. Still, when dealing with applications that require more access to low-level hardware resource manipulation, you may want to consider options like C or C++, both of which excel in this arena.
Java syntax is known to be verbose, meaning that applications written in Java tend to require more lines of code than options like Python or Kotlin. This syntax verbosity and boilerplate code can lead to longer development time and greater maintenance effort, so always keep this in mind when considering which language to use for a project.
While Java is great for developing mobile apps and large scale enterprise software, it is important to keep in mind that Java tends to consume more memory than languages like C and C++. Keep this in mind when developing for mobile or in resource-constrained environments and consider integrating and extending Java with Kotlin or one of the C-family of languages in these instances to better optimize and manage memory resources.
Java intentionally restricts and limits low-level access to system resources as a means to increase security and portability. While this make Java apps more secure and usable across many platforms, it does make Java less of a good option for system-level applications that require a good degree of access to hardware manipulation.
Lack of Multiple Inheritance
While Java does support single inheritance through its OOP features, classes in Java can only inherit from one superclass. This is good and bad; on one hand, it helps developers avoid some of the complexities often associated with multiple inheritance. On the other, it can limit the design patterns programmers can take advantage of to tackle common problems.
Compatibility with Legacy Code
Java has benefited from many updates and iterations to its core, but this has also caused an issue with the Java ecosystem accumulating a large amount of legacy code. Developers may find maintaining legacy code and upgrading older software built on previous versions of Java to be a challenge, especially when introducing newer language features and libraries. Always keep this in mind when dealing with legacy applications.
Java’s verbose and strongly typed syntax, coupled with its vast ecosystem of libraries, can make the language somewhat difficult to learn. This is particularly true if you are new to programming. Java is more challenging to learn than Python, but easier than the C-family of languages. That being said, if you are familiar with programming in C or C++ then Java will be easier to learn, as they share many features and syntax rules. Additionally, once you know Java, it will be easier to learn Kotlin, as it is based on Java.
Final Thoughts on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Java
In this guide, we learned that Java’s main advantages included:
- Platform independence
- A large library
- Built-in garbage collection and memory management
Java also has a great community and vast developer ecosystem of tools, libraries, and frameworks to help programmers create software more efficiently.
We also learned that Java has a few weaknesses, such as slower execution speed and syntax verbosity, which makes it more difficult to learn.
Finally, now that you have a firm understanding of Java’s advantages and disadvantages, you may want to learn how the language stacks up against other languages in its class. We have a few programming language comparisons to help in this endeavor: