The Java Language Environment

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8.2 The Java Language Compared

There are literally hundreds of programming languages available for developers to write programs to solve problems in specific areas. Programming languages cover a spectrum ranging across fully interpreted languages such as UNIX Shells, awk, TCL, Perl, and so on, all the way to "programming to the bare metal" languages like C and C++.

Languages at the level of the Shells and TCL, for example, are fully interpreted high-level languages. They deal with "objects" (in the sense they can be said to deal with objects at all) at the system level, where their objects are files and processes rather than data structures. Some of these languages are suitable for very fast prototyping--you can develop your ideas quickly, try out new approaches, and discard non-working approaches without investing enormous amounts of time in the process. Scripting languages are also highly portable. Their primary drawback is performance; they are generally much slower than either native machine code or interpreted bytecodes. This tradeoff may well be reasonable if the run time of such a program is reasonably short and you use the program infrequently.

In the intermediate ground come languages like Perl, that share many characteristics in common with Java. Perl's ongoing evolution has led to the adoption of object-oriented features, security features, and it exhibits many features in common with Java, such as robustness, dynamic behavior, architecture neutrality, and so on.

At the lowest level are compiled languages such as C and C++, in which you can develop large-scale programming projects that will deliver high performance. The high performance comes at a cost, however. Drawbacks include the high cost of debugging unreliable memory management systems and the use of multithreading capabilities that are difficult to implement and use. And of course when you use C++, you have the perennial fragile superclass issue. Last but definitely not least, the binary distribution problem of compiled code becomes unmanageable in the context of heterogeneous platforms all over the Internet.

The Java language environment creates an extremely attractive middle ground between very high-level and portable but slow scripting languages and very low level and fast but non-portable and unreliable compiled languages. The Java language fits somewhere in the middle of this space. In addition to being extremely simple to program, highly portable and architecture neutral, the Java language provides a level of performance that's entirely adequate for all but the most compute-intensive applications.

Prospective adopters of the Java language need to examine where the Java language fits into the firmament of other languages. Here is a basic comparison chart illustrating the attributes of the Java language--simple, object-oriented, threaded, and so on--as described in the earlier parts of this paper.

From the diagram above, you see that the Java language has a wealth of attributes that can be highly beneficial to a wide variety of developers. You can see that Java, Perl, and SmallTalk are comparable programming environments offering the richest set of capabilities for software application developers.

Copyright © 1997 Sun Microsystems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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