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Duking it Out for First Place

A programming language is a set of instructions designed to make your computer complete specific tasks. It is important to carefully select the right language for every project because each one is best suited for its own unique set of circumstances and has its own advantages and disadvantages. We are going to focus on the most powerful (and popular) languages in use today: Java and Python.

Every month, TIOBE, a software quality company, updates the Programming Community Index to indicate which languages are gaining popularity among developers. For the last year, Python and Java have been locked in competition to see which would unseat C as the most popular programming language. Python is still in third, but of the three it is growing the fastest in usage, so it will be important to keep an eye on Python going forward.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at both Python and Java so you can find out which one fits you and your needs.

Java vs Python: Overview

Java

Java is an object-oriented programming language that was originally created for embedded network applications running on multiple platforms. Its syntax is similar to C++; however, it’s simpler, and the programs are more structured. It is most often used by organizations building enterprise-scale applications. Java is commonly used for:

  • Middleware products
  • Mobile applications
  • Complex server-side programming
  • Mobile apps with Android and REST APIs
  • Desktop GUI apps

Python 

Python is a high-level scripting programming language with a comprehensive standard library. While Java uses static types, Python is dynamic. This means that Python doesn’t require you to declare variables explicitly like Java does. Python supports the use of modules and packages, so you can design programs in a modular style and reuse code in a variety of projects. Python’s easy syntax and portability makes it ideal for:

  • Web development
  • Data science
  • Test automation
  • Games
  • Image processing and graphic design
  • Language development
  • Machine Learning-based apps
  • Operating systems
  • Prototypes

So Which One is Right for Me?

Java and Python are both highly efficient programming languages, but there are definite pros and cons to each. We compiled a table with a detailed comparison based on the most important parameters to consider when you’re deciding which language to use and/or learn.

Dimension Java Python
Syntax Verbose Concise
Use of variables Requires variables Does not require variables
Code readability and formatting More dispersed, difficult to read Linear, easy to read
Brevity More lines Fewer lines
Speed Faster Slower
Typing Static Dynamic
Difficulty Difficult to learn Easy to learn
Compiled/Interpreted Compiled Interpreted
Checking your Work Takes more time Takes less time
Memory consumption Excessive Moderate
Availability  Must download and install Java Runtime Environment (JRE) Available on all *nix systems

Syntax

Java is more verbose than Python. It takes five times more lines to write Java than it does Python. If you miss a semicolon in Java, the code won’t work, but Python is more forgiving. Python uses whitespace to define program blocks, while Java defines each block using curly braces. The number of whitespaces in Python is not fixed.

Use of Variables

With Java, you can’t write code without defining a class, since it’s a compiled and statically-typed language. You also have to invoke a compiler before you can run directly. Python is an interpreted, dynamically-typed programming language, which means that it has no command for declaring variables. A variable is created the moment you first assign a value to it.

Code Readability and Formatting

Python’s coding format is linear and less dispersed than Java. Python uses whitespaces, tabs for nesting, and a full colon to start loops and conditional blocks. Some developers believe Python code is more uniform and easy to read than Java because your formatting choices are more limited. Java is a strict language that uses semicolons, parentheses, and curly braces. It’s harder to understand other people’s code and large programs in Java.

Brevity 

Python requires fewer lines, making it easier to handle text files. The constructs are more concise and less demanding. On the other hand, one of the most common complaints about Java is that it’s too repetitious. Still, the verbose nature of Java allows you to describe commands in a specific way.

Speed 

Speed is crucial in enterprise-level application development. Since it’s a compiled language, Java is faster at executing code than Python. Python is an interpreted language which determines the type of data at runtime.

Typing 

Java is a statically-typed language, which means that you have to declare a variable before it сan be assigned a value. Python is a dynamic language; it doesn’t require you to declare a variable while writing code because it is assumed at runtime.

Difficulty  

Many programming courses don’t recommend Java for beginners as it’s a more complex language with longer lines. It’s easier to grasp the concepts of programming with Python due to its dynamic nature and brevity. Once you’ve mastered the basics you can jump to C-family programming languages like Java.

Compiled/Interpreted

Java is a compiled programming language; it is directly converted into a machine code that the processor can execute. As a result, it tends to be more efficient to execute than interpreted languages, which run through programs line by line without previously compiling them into machine language instructions.

Checking Your Work

You’ll eventually have to test your functions to see if they work correctly. In Java, you’ll only need to compile a class and then interpret it before running a code that invokes a specific method. In Python, you have to open a console, activate the environment, run a Python interactive mode, and invoke the necessary function. While you can check your work in both languages, the process takes less time in Python, and you can easily see the result.

Memory Consumption 

Excessive memory usage is a serious issue for enterprise applications. Java is often criticized for excessive memory usage that can result in memory leaks or badly written software. Once your application no longer references an object, the Java garbage collector deletes it and clears the memory so that your application can use this memory again. This means that in Java, the more objects you have, the more memory your application consumes. Unlike Java, Python manages objects by using reference counting. This means that the memory manager keeps track of the number of references to each object in the program. When the object is no longer being used, the garbage collector (part of the memory manager) automatically frees the memory from that particular object.

Availability

Python comes preinstalled on most Linux distributions and is available as a package on all others. It’s available on a wide variety of platforms including Linux and Mac OS X. You just need to download the binary code applicable for your platform and install Python. When it comes to Java, you should download and install the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) — a piece of software designed to run other software. The JRE contains the Java class libraries, the Java class loader, and the Java Virtual Machine.

And the Winner Is…

We cannot definitively say that one language outperforms the other. Both languages are in high demand at software development companies, as they are crucial for most projects. When you’re choosing a programming language to learn, you have to prioritize the parameters that are most important to you. If you’re just learning the ropes of programming, Python is your best option, but if you’re a fully-fledged developer ready to start a big project, Java could be a great new skill for you to acquire.

While making the right choice can be daunting at first, when you pick the right language, you set yourself up for success down the road.

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