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Java vs Kotlin for android development is a popular debate in the developers’ den. While Java is considered the best Android programming language, Google’s Kotlin is also a strong contender when it comes to the best programming languages, and the decision to choose one language over the other can be a daunting task.
Java & Android Relationship – A Brief History
Back in the day, we had a programming language called C. In the pursuit of adding object-oriented programming, the creators just added the ability to create “classes”. Later, it was named C++ (which actually sounds much cooler than a plain C). Its implementation was not up to the mark either and developers were not happy because of the limitations caused by C++.
In 1995, James Gosling of Sun Microsystems Inc created Java to fix the problems and it was built from scratch, with object-oriented programming in mind. It was a lot more intuitive and the objects were a lot smarter. Eventually, Sun Microsystems was acquired by tech giant Oracle, giving them legal rights to Java SE.
Fast forward to 2008, another tech giant Google created the Android operating system. Today. Google’s operating system powers over 70% of all Android smartphones. Other than smartphones, smart TVs, tablets, and even refrigerators are run by Android. Even though the Android OS code is written in C, the android app development aspect of it was created using Java. And since Java lacks in some departments, Google built Android SDK, which basically allows for complete android app development.
Why did Google switch to Kotlin?
Oracle wasn’t happy with Google using its Java code and eventually ended up suing them for copying Java code. The Google vs Oracle lawsuit went on for a good 10 years until finally the verdict was given in Google’s favor.
So what was Google up to during this period? Well, they aimed to move away from Java ASAP. They achieved this by collaborating with a Czech company, JetBrains, that develops tools for software developers. IntelliJ is their main product, which is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), used to write and debug Java programs.
They took IntelliJ and forked Android Studio out of it and this was the first application specifically for Android development. Prior to this, developers had to use Eclipse but it had to be integrated with a bunch of plugins. It was also full of bugs and setting things up with it was easier said than done. So the creation of Android Studio was a breakthrough in Android development.
What does this have to do with Java vs Kotlin for Android development debate? So JetBrains are the developers of the Kotlin programming language. It was created back in 2011 and is quite similar to Java because it uses Java Virtual Machine (JVM). In it, the compilation is done into bytecode or Dot Class Files and any OS that has the JVM on it can read the bytecode.
Now Kotlin also compiles to bytecode. You have the Kotlin code going through the compiler and it ends up as a bytecode. It does not require changes to the entire architecture when switching to Kotlin. All the developer has to do is swap out the Java code and compiler and there you have it. You’ve got Kotlin that compiles down to bytecode.
Java vs Kotlin for Android Development – Key Differences
In 2019, Google made Kotlin the official programming language for Android app development. And that’s what really boosted this language and started a Java vs Kotlin debate. So now that we are familiar with the history and the current state of affairs, let’s how two of the best programming languages for mobile apps stack up against each other in the technical department.
Kotlin is Null Safe
In Java, you can set your objects equal to null but there is a possibility of getting a null pointer exception. This can pose difficulties because most of the time you won’t be able to catch it until its run time. Kotlin was like, we don’t really trust developers and we are not going to allow any of the objects to be knowable.
Now, it is possible to override this but it is a good safety feature.
Kotlin allows you to Extend existing classes with new Functionality
You can do this in Java too but it is a tedious process. You have to create a new class, inherit from the parent class, and then override your function.
In Kotlin it can be done simply by writing String.lastChar to define a new method and then every string will have that .lastChar method going forward. Saving developers tons of coding and development time.
A con of Kotlin for Android development is that there are no checked exceptions. Whereas in Java this is a requirement and that means Java has a robust code, efficient better error management.
Kotlin allows you to create data classes. So if you have a class that is only required for storing data, all you need to do is declare the class with the keyword “data” and the compiler will take care of everything else.
In Java, you will have to explicitly write the complete and that is not time-effective.
So for instance; if you want to create an integer in Java your code will look like int i=10 or string S=Smith.
In Kotlin you can simply write Var i=10 and it will automatically know that this is an integer.
So Java vs Kotlin for Android development, which one is better? Well, back in 2014, Apple released the Swift for iOS development. Up till that point, Objective-C was the go-to programming language for IOS app development. Fast forward to the year 2021 and no one is really developing apps for iOS with Objective-C.
A similar thing might happen to Java. Especially after the whole Google vs Oracle fiasco, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if one day Java goes obsolete as an Android development tool.
It does not seem like Java is going to go obsolete any time soon though, so if you are already learning it and you think you are good at it then stick to it. However, if the Java vs Kotlin for Android development debate is causing confusion and you want to play it safe, it is a good idea to opt for Google-backed Kotlin. It will ultimately boil down to your preferences and the career level you are at right now.
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