When it comes to programming languages for today's IT environment, the two that get the most attention are Python and Java.
There are good reasons for this. Both offer a wide range of features and usability benefits that make them ideal options for many of the most common use cases businesses need. Software such as web applications, mobile tools, APIs and machine learning interfaces can all be created in either language, and both have large communities to offer support.
However, they’re far from the only choices out there. In fact, you can select from a wide range of programming languages, including emerging options and those that are specifically tailored towards certain niches, such as handling big data. Therefore, it pays to have a range of tools in your arsenal depending on what you want to achieve.
The pros and cons of Python vs Java
Java was traditionally the most popular option, but Python's swift rise has seen it overtake as the more established language in recent years.
Python and Java are both general-purpose, object-oriented languages. The main difference between the two is that Java is a statically-typed language, whereas Python is dynamically typed. What this means is Python checks the code at runtime, while Java performs type checking at compile time. Therefore, Python can compile even if the code contains errors that would prevent the script from running properly, while Java can't.
There are a few other differences as a result of this, but overall, Python is simpler to get to grips with and faster to work with. However, Java is faster at runtime and simpler to debug. It's also more clearly structured, which makes it easier to work with large volumes of code.
5 alternatives that might be right for you
While Java and Python are widely used, there may be occasions when other alternatives are better-suited for the task at hand. Knowing exactly what you want to do and how the structure and syntax of various options can help you achieve this can enable you to streamline your software development and deliver better results. Here are five to be aware of.
Nim has been described as "the best programming language you've never heard of" and combines the simple syntax of Python with the speed and efficiency of languages like C. Like Java, it's statically typed and offers very high speeds for calculations. It also offers a wide range of generics, templates and macros to make programming easier.
If you're familiar with Python's syntax, you'll find Nim very easy to pick up. However, its speed and portability advantages may make it an ideal choice when you need something done fast.
Ruby is another general-purpose language, but it's proven especially popular for solutions like web applications. This means there's a huge amount of documentation and support to help developers, while it also offers a large ecosystem of tools and libraries - known as gems - for almost any scenario.
While it's great for web development, it doesn't quite have the depth of Python for other applications and some of its requirements can be a little confusing for beginners.
Another language that's been around for a long time, PHP is one of the most flexible options available. Many small and large-scale solutions have been built in this platform, with some of the most notable being WordPress, making it the backbone of much of the web.
It's open-source, easy to learn, runs on a wide range of platforms and offers great flexibility with databases - with it being especially common to use PHP in conjunction with MySQL to create powerful web applications. However, it does have its share of security flaws and is a fairly limited language. If your needs are restricted to legacy web development, though, it offers everything you need.
Developed by Google, Go - or Golang, as it's sometimes referred to - is another open-source, statically-typed language that's been gaining popularity recently. One reason for this is its reputation as a very simple language to learn, while also offering powerful capabilities. This ease of use and clean syntax make it especially useful if you're working on legacy code with multiple developers who may need to work with each other's code.
However, some argue that this simplicity also means it lacks versatility, and it's still a relatively young language. While it's well-supported by both Google and the wider community, it doesn't yet have the large catalogue of code that established alternatives like Java can offer.
If you're looking to conduct data analytics and have familiarity with Java, Scala can be an ideal option. This was originally built for the Java Virtual Machine, which means it's very easy to interact with Java code. It also shares syntax features of languages such as Ruby, so it should be straightforward for experienced programmers to switch to.
Scala is useful for large-scale projects and can be used in conjunction with tools like Apache Spark, making it very useful when dealing with big data analytics projects. However, it’s seen as a complex language and can be intimidating for beginners.