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Software Development

Java – An Overview of a Language Shaping Modern Technology

August 31, 2023
Pedro Paranhos

After almost three decades since its first release, Java remains one of the most popular programming languages worldwide. Sun Microsystems developed Java in the 1990s as a leading example of the object-oriented programming (OOP) technologies that revolutionised the IT world.

One aspect that caught people’s attention was its cross-platform capabilities – Java allows developers to create a single program that can run on multiple platforms with the power of the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). This was one of the reasons web and software developers eagerly adopted Java throughout the 90s and 2000s.

History of Java

Developed by James Gosling while working at Sun Microsystems, Java was released in 1995 and designed as a language that could run on any device or platform. In fact, Java was originally created to allow the development of remote controls for different home appliances – we could say Java was at the inception of ”smart devices”.

Back then, “Write Once, Run Anywhere” (WORA) was a groundbreaking idea, revolutionising software development. Java accomplishes this by using a virtual machine (VM) that can convert human-written code into a portable and condensed version of Java instructions, better known as Java Bytecode, which can run on multiple machines thanks to the JVM.

From there, it gained popularity among web developers for its ability to create dynamic and interactive web pages using applets. Not only that, it also became a dominant force in mobile applications, powering the Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME), a framework for developing applications for devices such as phones, PDAs, and TVs.

After developing itself as a leader in enterprise-grade solutions for building distributed and multi-tiered systems, Java further established its stability. Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) was launched in 1999 to support the development of enterprise-level applets. It provided a set of specifications and APIs for developing web services, business logic, data access, messaging, security, and more.

In 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, and since then it has been the copyright holder for the Java name and technology.

Java 8 marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Java programming language and ecosystem. In order to modernise and keep up with other languages, it introduced features such as lambdas, streams and other functional programming concepts.

Recent developments in Java include Java 17, the latest long-term support (LTS) version that offers improved performance, security, and compatibility. Project Panama is an initiative that aims to simplify the interaction between Java and native code. Project Loom is an effort to introduce lightweight concurrency primitives such as fibres and continuations.

Since 2017, Java follows a 6-month release cycle, which means it is constantly evolving. Java 20, released on March 16, 2023, is the latest non-LTS version at the time of publication of this article. Java 21 is set to release on September 19, 2023, with several new features.

Features of Java

Java offers many benefits for businesses that want to create secure, robust, and reliable applications that can run on any platform, be modified and extended easily, and handle multiple tasks concurrently. Let’s look at some of its features in more detail.

Object-Oriented Programming (OOP)

Java follows the object-oriented paradigm, which means that nearly everything in Java is an object that has data and behaviour. Classes can also inherit from other classes, which allows code reuse and polymorphism. This approach makes Java more modular, scalable, and maintainable.

Cross-platform capabilities

Suppose a team of developers is working on a software application for a particular operating system. As the development progresses, the project requirements change, and now the application must be compatible with multiple operating systems, including macOS, Linux, and Android. This situation could have quickly devolved into a nightmare of managing different codebases.

However, with Java’s WORA philosophy, the team can write the code once and run it on any device or operating system that supports a Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

On top of that, cross-platform development tools, such as Eclipse and IntelliJ IDEA, facilitate code editing, debugging, testing, and deployment. They make it easier for teams to manage the development process and ensure that the application is compatible with various devices and operating systems.

Modular design

Java’s modular design allows software teams to build systems that can be easily modified and extended, using components that can be reused and replaced.

Modules are self-contained units of code that encapsulate functionality and dependencies. They can be packaged into libraries or applications and deployed independently or together. Modules help tech leads and product owners manage the development process more efficiently, as they can focus on developing new features and improving the system’s performance without worrying about compatibility issues.

Concurrency Support

The rich concurrency features of Java allow developers to design systems that can handle several processes simultaneously, greatly enhancing overall performance and responsiveness. Threads, synchronized blocks, volatile variables, atomic classes, locks, and executors are among the mechanisms available to handle concurrency in the language.

Furthermore, Java supports reactive programming, a method for handling asynchronous data streams and event-triggered systems. Frameworks like Vert.x and Project Reactor further facilitate the creation of responsive, resilient, elastic, and message-driven reactive applications.

Pros and Cons of using Java

pros and cons of using java

Pros:

  • Multi-threaded: Java supports multi-threading, meaning it can execute multiple tasks simultaneously by creating multiple threads of execution within a single program. Threads share the same memory space and can communicate with each other using shared variables or synchronization mechanisms. Multi-threading improves the performance and responsiveness of Java applications by utilizing the available CPU cores and resources.
  • Rich Ecosystem: There are many tools, libraries, frameworks, and resources to assist Java developers in almost any use case, from web development with Spring, to mobile apps with Android, to data processing with Hadoop. This rich ecosystem accelerates the development process and reduces the need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Secure: The absence of explicit pointers, which may lead to memory leaks and unauthorized access to private memory locations, makes Java a highly secure programming language. Additionally, Java runs inside a virtual machine sandbox, isolating the program from the underlying operating system and hardware, thus further increasing its security. These features prevent malicious code from harming the system or accessing sensitive data.

Cons:

  • Slower Apps: Java may be considered relatively slow compared to native languages such as C/C++. Java programs can take longer to run because the code must be interpreted to machine-level code. Java tends to consume more memory than other languages because it runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which adds an extra layer of complexity and overhead to the execution process.
  • Legacy Codebase: Java is still stuck with old versions and legacy codebases. Many enterprises are reluctant to migrate to newer versions of Java because of compatibility issues, security risks, or lack of support. This hinders the innovation and modernization of Java applications.
  • Verbose: Java is relatively verbose and requires more lines of code than other languages to achieve the same result. Java syntax is less concise than other languages like Python or Ruby. Java developers have to write more boilerplate code and follow strict conventions, which can reduce productivity and readability. This can also end up causing delays in the workflow.
  • Licensing: Since Oracle implemented a new commercial Java licensing model in 2019, corporate users have had to pay for updates, bug patches, and Oracle’s support. While the expense is relatively low, it is nevertheless present. Furthermore, suppose you do not renew your membership. In that case, you may lose your rights to use any product licensed under it, which may be a deal breaker for certain businesses considering Java adoption.

Business and Java – are they a good match?

Java and Business are more than just a good match. As one of the most widely adopted programming languages globally (currently ranked #4 on the TIOBE index, after Python, C and C++), Java's features can form a solid foundation for building various applications.

Rapid Action Development with Java

Since Java is surrounded by a vast ecosystem of tools, frameworks, and libraries, it provides developers with everything they need to build complex-level applications effectively. On top of that, it facilitates agile development methodologies, allowing organisations to react more swiftly to changing market conditions and consumer demands.

Future-Proof Technology

Due to its features, wide adoption, and continuous improvements, Java can be considered a future-proof programming language. It's a great choice for enterprises looking to make software on the most recent technological breakthroughs, such as cloud computing, machine learning, and AI.

Furthermore, since Java has a big developer and user community, corporate users can access support, training, and tools to handle problems on the fly and keep their Java programs up-to-date and secure. Consequently, Java is a fantastic choice for businesses looking for a reliable technology solution to support them in the long run.

Where is Java used?

Java’s capabilities have enabled many organizations to innovate, pivot, and thrive in various sectors and domains. Here are a few examples of applications that run on Java:

where is java used?

Cloud Computing

Amazon is one of the world’s largest e-commerce and cloud computing companies, serving millions of customers and businesses daily. Amazon uses Java extensively in its web services, such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Lambda, and more. Java helps Amazon offer scalable, reliable, secure, and cost-effective solutions for its customers.

Mobile Apps

Many of the mobile applications used daily by millions of people are built with Java. Uber is a well-known example, and there are other mobile heavy hitters using Java such as Spotify, X (formerly Twitter) and Linkedin. Considering that the Android OS itself was built in Java, that's no surprise!

Deep Learning

This might be surprising to some, but Netflix – one of the most popular streaming services worldwide – uses Java to implement some of its deep learning models, such as character-level convolutional neural networks (CNNs) and Universal Sentence Encoder (USE).

These models are used to analyze and cluster log data in real time, which then helps Netflix gain operational insights and improve the alerting-on-logs experience. To deploy these models in production, Netflix uses Deep Java Library (DJL), an open-source deep learning toolkit for Java.

IBM's AI-powered chatbot, Watson, was also written mostly in Java.

Games

Minecraft, a hugely popular video game developed by Mojang Studios, is written entirely in Java. One of the main reasons for using Java to develop Minecraft was its cross-platform compatibility. Minecraft can run on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS without any modifications. Moreover, the game demonstrates the speed and efficiency of Java, as it can generate infinite virtual worlds with simple graphics.

FAQ about Java

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