Kotlin vs. Java: All-purpose Makes use of and Android Apps

It’s true that Java misplaced the Android battle to Kotlin, which is now Google’s most popular language and subsequently higher suited to new cellular apps. However each Kotlin and Java provide many strengths as general-purpose languages, and it’s vital for builders to grasp the language variations, for functions akin to migrating from Java to Kotlin. On this article, we’ll break down Kotlin’s and Java’s variations and similarities so you can also make knowledgeable selections and transfer seamlessly between the 2.

Are Kotlin and Java Related?

Certainly, the 2 languages have so much in widespread from a high-level perspective. Each Kotlin and Java run on the Java Digital Machine (JVM) as an alternative of constructing on to native code. And the 2 languages can name into one another simply: You’ll be able to name Java code from Kotlin and Kotlin code from Java. Java can be utilized in server-side purposes, databases, internet front-end purposes, embedded methods and enterprise purposes, cellular, and extra. Kotlin is equally versatile: It targets the JVM , Android, JavaScript, and Kotlin/Native, and may also be used for server-side, internet, and desktop improvement.

Java is a way more mature language than Kotlin, with its first launch in 1996. Although Kotlin 1.0 was launched a lot later, in 2016, Kotlin shortly turned the official most popular language for Android improvement in 2019. Outdoors of Android, nonetheless, there isn’t any suggestion to interchange Java with Kotlin.

Yr

Java

Kotlin

1995–2006

JDK Beta, JDK 1.0, JDK 1.1, J2SE 1.2, J2SE 1.3, J2SE 1.4, J2SE 5.0, Java SE 6

N/A

2007

Venture Loom first commit

N/A

2010

N/A

Kotlin improvement began

2011

Java SE 7

Kotlin mission introduced

2012

N/A

Kotlin open sourced

2014

Java SE 8 (LTS)

N/A

2016

N/A

Kotlin 1.0

2017

Java SE 9

Kotlin 1.2; Kotlin assist for Android introduced

2018

Java SE 10, Java SE 11 (LTS)

Kotlin 1.3 (coroutines)

2019

Java SE 12, Java SE 13

Kotlin 1.4 (interoperability for Goal-C and Swift); Kotlin introduced as Google’s most popular language for builders

2020

Java SE 14, Java SE 15

N/A

2021

Java SE 16, Java SE 17 (LTS)

Kotlin 1.5, Kotlin 1.6

2022

Java SE 18, JDK 19 EAB (Venture Loom)

Kotlin 1.7 (alpha model of Kotlin K2 compiler)

Kotlin vs. Java: Efficiency and Reminiscence

Earlier than detailing Kotlin’s and Java’s options, we’ll look at their efficiency and reminiscence consumption as these elements are usually vital concerns for builders and purchasers.

Kotlin, Java, and the opposite JVM languages, though not equal, are pretty comparable when it comes to efficiency, at the least when in comparison with languages in different compiler households like GCC or Clang. The JVM was initially designed to focus on embedded methods with restricted sources within the Nineties. The associated environmental necessities led to 2 predominant constraints:

  • Easy JVM bytecode: The present model of JVM, during which each Kotlin and Java are compiled, has solely 205 directions. As compared, a contemporary x64 processor can simply assist over 6,000 encoded directions, relying on the counting methodology.
  • Runtime (versus compile-time) operations: The multiplatform strategy (“Write once and run anywhere”) encourages runtime (as an alternative of compile-time) optimizations. In different phrases, the JVM interprets the majority of its bytecode into directions at runtime. Nevertheless, to enhance efficiency, chances are you’ll use open-source implementations of the JVM, akin to HotSpot, which pre-compiles the bytecode to run sooner by way of the interpreter.

With comparable compilation processes and runtime environments, Kotlin and Java have solely minor efficiency variations ensuing from their distinct options. For instance:

  • Kotlin’s inline capabilities keep away from a perform name, bettering efficiency, whereas Java invokes extra overhead reminiscence.
  • Kotlin’s higher-order capabilities keep away from Java lambda’s particular name to InvokeDynamic, bettering efficiency.
  • Kotlin’s generated bytecode accommodates assertions for nullity checks when utilizing exterior dependencies, slowing efficiency in comparison with Java.

Now let’s flip to reminiscence. It’s true in concept that the usage of objects for base varieties (i.e., Kotlin’s implementation) requires extra allocation than primitive knowledge varieties (i.e., Java’s implementation). Nevertheless, in follow, Java’s bytecode makes use of autoboxing and unboxing calls to work with objects, which might add computational overhead when utilized in extra. For instance, Java’s String.format method solely takes objects as enter, so formatting a Java int will field it in an Integer object earlier than the decision to String.format.

On the entire, there are not any vital Java and Kotlin variations associated to efficiency and reminiscence. You could look at online benchmarks which present minor variations in micro-benchmarks, however these can’t be generalized to the size of a full manufacturing software.

Distinctive Characteristic Comparability

Kotlin and Java have core similarities, however every language gives totally different, distinctive options. Since Kotlin turned Google’s most popular language for Android improvement, I’ve discovered extension capabilities and specific nullability to be probably the most helpful options. Alternatively, when utilizing Kotlin, the Java options that I miss probably the most are the protected key phrase and the ternary operator.

From left to right are shown a white Variable oval, an equals sign, a green First Expression box, a question mark, a dark blue Second Expression box, a colon, and a light blue Third Expression box. The First Expression box has two arrows: one labeled “Is True” points to the Second Expression box, and the second labeled “Is False” points to the Third Expression box. Second Expression and Third Expression each have their own Return Value arrow pointing to the Variable oval.
The Ternary Operator

Let’s look at a extra detailed breakdown of options accessible in Kotlin versus Java. You could observe together with my examples utilizing the Kotlin Playground or a Java compiler for a extra hands-on studying strategy.

Characteristic

Kotlin

Java

Description

Extension capabilities

Sure

No

Means that you can lengthen a category or an interface with new functionalities akin to added properties or strategies with out having to create a brand new class:

class Instance 

// extension perform declaration
enjoyable Instance.printHelloWorld()  println("Hi there World!") 

// extension perform utilization
Instance().printHelloWorld()

Good casts

Sure

No

Retains observe of situations inside if statements, protected casting robotically:

enjoyable instance(a: Any) 
  if (a is String) 
    println(a.size) // computerized solid to String
  

Kotlin additionally supplies protected and unsafe solid operators:

// unsafe "as" solid throws exceptions
val a: String = b as String
// protected "as?" solid returns null on failure
val c: String? = d as? String

Inline capabilities

Sure

No

Reduces overhead reminiscence prices and improves pace by inlining perform code (copying it to the decision website): inline enjoyable instance().

Native assist for delegation

Sure

No

Helps the delegation design pattern natively with the usage of the by key phrase: class Derived(b: Base) : Base by b.

Sort aliases

Sure

No

Gives shortened or customized names for current varieties, together with capabilities and internal or nested lessons: typealias ShortName = LongNameExistingType.

Non-private fields

No

Sure

Affords protected and default (also called package-private) modifiers, along with public and personal modifiers. Java has all 4 access modifiers, whereas Kotlin is lacking protected and the default modifier.

Ternary operator

No

Sure

Replaces an if/else assertion with easier and extra readable code:

if (firstExpression)  // if/else
  variable = secondExpression;
 else 
  variable = thirdExpression;


// ternary operator
variable = (firstExpression) ? secondExpression : thirdExpression;

Implicit widening conversions

No

Sure

Permits for computerized conversion from a smaller knowledge kind to a bigger knowledge kind:

int i = 10;
lengthy l = i; // first widening conversion: int to lengthy
float f = l; // second widening conversion: lengthy to drift

Checked exceptions

No

Sure

Requires, at compile time, a technique to catch exceptions with the throws key phrase or handles exceptions with a try-catch block.

Observe: Checked exceptions had been supposed to encourage builders to design sturdy software program. Nevertheless, they will create boilerplate code, make refactoring tough, and result in poor error dealing with when misused. Whether or not this function is a professional or con relies on developer desire.

There may be one subject I’ve deliberately excluded from this desk: null security in Kotlin versus Java. This subject warrants a extra detailed Kotlin to Java comparability.

Kotlin vs. Java: Null Security

For my part, non-nullability is likely one of the biggest Kotlin options. This function saves time as a result of builders don’t must deal with NullPointerExceptions (that are RuntimeExceptions).

In Java, by default, you may assign a null worth to any variable:

String x = null;
// Operating this code throws a NullPointerException
attempt 
    System.out.println("First character: " + x.charAt(0));
 catch (NullPointerException e) 
    System.out.println("NullPointerException thrown!");

In Kotlin, then again, we have now two choices, making a variable nullable or non-nullable:

var nonNullableNumber: Int = 1

// This line throws a compile-time error as a result of you may't assign a null worth
nonNullableNumber = null

var nullableNumber: Int? = 2

// This line doesn't throw an error since we used a nullable variable
nullableNumber = null

I take advantage of non-nullable variables by default, and reduce the usage of nullable variables for greatest practices; these Kotlin versus Java examples are supposed to reveal variations within the languages. Kotlin freshmen ought to keep away from the lure of setting variables to be nullable with no function (this could additionally occur whenever you convert Java code to Kotlin).

Nevertheless, there are just a few circumstances the place you’ll use nullable variables in Kotlin:

Situation

Instance

You’re looking for an merchandise in a listing that’s not there (normally when coping with the information layer).

val listing: Listing<Int> = listOf(1,2,3)
val searchResultItem = listing.firstOrNull  it == 0 
searchResultItem?.let  
  // Merchandise discovered, do one thing 
 ?: run  
  // Merchandise not discovered, do one thing

You wish to initialize a variable throughout runtime, utilizing lateinit.

lateinit var textual content: String

enjoyable runtimeFunction()  // e.g., Android onCreate
  textual content = "First textual content set"
  // After this, the variable can be utilized

I used to be responsible of overusing lateinit variables after I first acquired began with Kotlin. Finally, I ended utilizing them virtually fully, besides when defining view bindings and variable injections in Android:

@Inject // With the Hilt library, that is initialized robotically
lateinit var supervisor: SomeManager

lateinit var viewBinding: ViewBinding

enjoyable onCreate()  // i.e., Android onCreate

  binding = ActivityMainBinding.inflate(layoutInflater, parentView, true)
  // ...

On the entire, null security in Kotlin supplies added flexibility and an improved developer expertise in comparison with Java.

Shared Characteristic Variations: Shifting Between Java and Kotlin

Whereas every language has distinctive options, Kotlin and Java share many options too, and it’s crucial to grasp their peculiarities with the intention to transition between the 2 languages. Let’s look at 4 widespread ideas that function in a different way in Kotlin and Java:

Characteristic

Java

Kotlin

Knowledge switch objects (DTOs)

Java information, which maintain details about knowledge or state and embody toString, equals, and hashCode strategies by default, have been accessible since Java SE 15:

public file Worker(
  int id,
  String firstName,
  String lastName
) 

Kotlin knowledge lessons perform equally to Java information, with toString, equals, and copy strategies accessible:

knowledge class Worker(
  val id: Int,
  val firstName: String,
  val lastName: String
) 

Lambda expressions

Java lambda expressions (accessible since Java 8) observe a easy parameter -> expression syntax, with parentheses used for a number of parameters: (parameter1, parameter2) -> code :

ArrayList<Integer> ints =
  new ArrayList<>();
ints.add(5);
ints.add(9);
ints.forEach( (i) ->
   System.out.println(i);  );

Kotlin lambda expressions observe the syntax parameter1, parameter2 -> code and are at all times surrounded by curly braces:

var p: Listing<String> =
  listOf("firstPhrase", "secondPhrase")
val isShorter =  s1: String,
  s2: String -> s1.size < s2.size 
println(isShorter(p.first(), p.final()))

Concurrency

Java threads make concurrency doable, and the java.util.concurrency bundle permits for straightforward multithreading by way of its utility lessons. The Executor and ExecutorService classes are particularly useful for concurrency. (Project Loom additionally gives light-weight threads.)

Kotlin coroutines, from the kotlinx.coroutines library, facilitate concurrency and embody a separate library department for multithreading. Kotlin 1.7.20’s new memory manager reduces earlier limitations on concurrency and multithreading for builders shifting between iOS and Android.

Static conduct in lessons

Java static members facilitate the sharing of code amongst class cases and be sure that solely a single copy of an merchandise is created. The static key phrase may be utilized to variables, capabilities, blocks, and extra:

class Instance 
    static void f() /*...*/
 

Kotlin companion objects provide static conduct in lessons, however the syntax shouldn’t be as simple:

class Instance 
    companion object 
        enjoyable f() /*...*/
    

In fact, Kotlin and Java even have various syntaxes. Discussing each syntax distinction is past our scope, however a consideration of loops ought to provide you with an thought of the general scenario:

Loop Sort

Java

Kotlin

for, utilizing in

for (int i=0; i<=5; i++) 
  System.out.println("printed 6 instances");
for (i in 0..5) 
  println("printed 6 instances")

for, utilizing till

for (int i=0; i<5; i++) 
  System.out.println("printed 5 instances");
for (i in 0 till 5) 
  println("printed 5 instances")

forEach

Listing<String> listing = Arrays.asList("first", "second");

for (String worth: listing) 
  System.out.println(worth);
var listing: Listing<String> =
  listOf("first", "second")

listing.forEach 
  println(it)

whereas

int i = 5;
whereas (i > 0) 
  System.out.println("printed 5 instances");
  i--;
var i = 5
whereas (i > 0) 
  println("printed 5 instances")
  i--

An in-depth understanding of Kotlin options will help in transitions between Kotlin and Java.

Android Venture Planning: Further Concerns

We’ve examined many vital elements to consider when deciding between Kotlin and Java in a general-purpose context. Nevertheless, no Kotlin versus Java evaluation is full with out addressing the elephant within the room: Android. Are you making an Android software from scratch and questioning if you happen to ought to use Java or Kotlin? Select Kotlin, Google’s most popular Android language, certainly.

Nevertheless, this query is moot for current Android purposes. In my expertise throughout a variety of purchasers, the 2 extra vital questions are: How are you treating tech debt? and How are you caring for your developer expertise (DX)?

So, how are you treating tech debt? In case your Android app is utilizing Java in 2022, your organization is probably going pushing for brand spanking new options as an alternative of coping with tech debt. It’s comprehensible. The market is aggressive and calls for a quick turnaround cycle for app updates. However tech debt has a hidden impact: It causes elevated prices with every replace as a result of engineers must work round unstable code that’s difficult to refactor. Corporations can simply enter a unending cycle of tech debt and value. It might be value pausing and investing in long-term options, even when this implies large-scale code refactors or updating your codebase to make use of a contemporary language like Kotlin.

And the way are you caring for your builders by way of DX? Builders require assist throughout all ranges of their careers:

  • Junior builders profit from correct sources.
  • Mid-level builders develop by way of alternatives to guide and educate.
  • Senior builders require the ability to architect and implement stunning code.

Consideration to DX for senior builders is particularly vital since their experience trickles down and impacts all engineers. Senior builders like to study and experiment with the most recent applied sciences. Maintaining with newer developments and language releases will permit your staff members to succeed in their biggest potential. That is vital whatever the staff’s language selection, although totally different languages have various timelines: With younger languages like Kotlin, an engineer engaged on legacy code can fall behind developments in lower than one yr; with mature languages like Java, it can take longer.

Kotlin and Java: Two Highly effective Languages

Whereas Java has a variety of purposes, Kotlin has undeniably stolen its thunder as the popular language for the event of latest Android apps. Google has put all of its efforts into Kotlin, and its new applied sciences are Kotlin-first. Builders of current apps would possibly take into account integrating Kotlin into any new code—IntelliJ comes with an computerized Java to Kotlin tool—and may look at elements that attain past our preliminary query of language selection.


The editorial staff of the Toptal Engineering Weblog extends its gratitude to Thomas Wuillemin for reviewing the code samples and different technical content material introduced on this article.

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