Programming Languages

Java or Kotlin: Which Should You Choose?

22 January 2020

Java is the go-to language for building apps—you may use this if you’re an app developer—and that’s no surprise. However, there are new languages that are becoming popular and challenging Java’s top spot in the Android universe.

One of the most popular of these new languages is Kotlin. Google has already chosen Kotlin as a “first-class” language for Android. While it’s still fairly new and under development, Kotlin is a mature ecosystem, which is quickly growing in popularity.

What is Kotlin?

Kotlin is a programming language designed by JetBrains. It was created to add more modern features to Java’s mobile development. Java has been around for over 20 years and can benefit from Kotlin’s addition to bring it up to modern standards.

Back in 2018, Google made the announcement that Kotlin was an official programming language for Android, which has helped the programming language gain importance and popularity as a result. In fact, Google also has internally switched over to Kotlin, rather than Java, for its Android platform.

Kotlin is a language that’s both open source and statically typed, and it’s based on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). However, it can also be compiled in JavaScript, or native to build code to run on iOS. It’s easy—all you need is to install the Kotlin Plugin, and then let it configure the project.

Kotlin Pros

So, what does Kotlin bring to the table as far as benefits? What are the pros of using Kotlin over Java? Let’s take a look:

  • It is gaining in popularity with development of android. It can also be used in the backend of projects, such as Spring 5.
  • Kotlin can compile to almost every platform such as JavaScript, JVM, Android. And using native, the Kotlin Multiplatform frameworks allows for extracting one common codebase, which will target all of the platforms at the same time.
  • Kotlin can be used directly in Gradle build scripts.
  • Making the switch from Java to Kotlin is simple. All you have to do is install the Kotlin plugin, then it to the Gradle build files, hit “convert.” That’s it.
  • Kotlin supports modern programming concepts such as higher order function, delegates, extension functions and more right out of the box. Developers can use it to build clean APIs.
  • It helps to eliminate null references with its built-in null safety support.
  • Kotlin is more expressive and concise, which means devs make fewer errors than when using Java.
  • Kotlin allows you to create new modules that will work with existing Java code. It’s compatible with all Java frameworks and libraries and can easily integrate with build systems such as Maven or Gradle.
  • Due to it’s increasing popularity, devs will find resources available from a collection of open source projects on GitHub that includes books, online courses and other learning resources.
  • Kotlin is free—all that’s needed is to learn it.

Kotlin’s Cons

Even with great programming languages, you’ll find a few cons. Here are some Kotlin’s cons:

  • There’s a steep learning curve, especially when an entire team is making the switch. The reason is that the language has a concise syntax.
  • Kotlin’s compilation speed is slower than Java’s.
  • It has a relatively smaller developer community compared to Java. This makes Kotlin more limited when it comes to learning resources and finding answers to questions.
  • Because Kotlin is more declarative, it has a tendency to generate large amount of boilerplate in JVM bytecode.

What is Java?

Java is also a programming language that was designed especially for use on the Internet and is a favorite of many developers for Android app development. This is because Android used to be written in Java.

The language was developed by Sun Microsystems, which is now the property of Oracle. It’s an object-oriented programming language and is the second most used language on GitHub. While it’s been around for over 20 years, Java’s popularity continues to grow.

Java’s Pros

Let’s be balanced—just as we looked at Kotlin’s pros, let’s take a look at the pros that come with using Java:

  • Java’s easy to learn and understand.
  • It’s flexible and can be run in a virtual machine or a browser window.
  • Android relies on Java; the Android SDK is made up of many Java libraries that are standard.
  • Java is open source.
  • It has a faster assembly within Gradle, which makes it faster for compiling larger projects.
  • Java apps are compact and easy to optimize, especially when you need high performance. Java is also lighter than Kotlin.

Java’s Cons

Now let’s review some of Java’s cons—remember, we need to stay balanced:

  • Developers find it is necessary to write more code when using Java, which can lead to a higher number of bugs and errors.
  • It has limitations that can cause issues with Android API design.
  • Java tends to be slower than other languages and requires a large amount of memory.

Why Use Kotlin Instead of Java?

So, why should you use Kotlin instead of Java? Why make the switch?

Kotlin was specifically designed to address the issues found in Java. It provides a measure of safety, along with being a more expressive and concise language than Java.

We believe this is what makes Kotlin one of the five top languages chose by developers around the world. In fact, more and more developers are increasingly opting for Kotlin over Java.

Kotlin does bring many benefits over Java, but it still has issues. Remember that transitioning to a new language isn’t always exciting or easy for your team of developers. The reason is that they’ve most likely already found tools and methods that work well for them. In that case, it can be difficult to persuade developers to give a new language, such as Kotlin, a fair try.

It generally takes a month or more to learn Kotlin and become comfortable with this programming language. Some developers on the team may not be able to make the switch, or at least not in time for a specific Kotlin project.

Be patient and give them the time needed to learn Kotlin. It can take a while before developers see the benefits of this relatively new programming language.

Remember that Java is still an important language that will continue to be used into the future. It’s an essential language for the development of Android apps.

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