Python vs Java: Which Programming Language is Right for You?
The Python vs Java debate has been ongoing for years. Java consistently topped lists of the most popular programming languages since the turn of the century. However, Python’s popularity has grown at an impressive rate in recent years.
GitHub’s latest Octoverse report saw Python surpass Java in its “Top languages” list. Meanwhile, Java continues to rank as the most popular programming language on the TIOBE Index, an index that tracks programming language popularity based on web search traffic.
There are good reasons both languages are mainstays on these types of lists. Both languages have solid cross-platform support, large communities, well-documented standard libraries, and a wide variety of applications.
Since both are open-source (note: Java licensing is quite complex, but there are open source development kits like OpenJDK) object-oriented languages achieving high levels of popularity in software development communities, how do you know which one is right for you?
In this article, we’ll compare Java vs Python to help you answer that question.
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Python vs Java: Dynamic typing vs static typing
One of the biggest differences between Python and Java is the way that each language handles variables. The difference comes down to the fact that Python is a dynamically typed language while Java is a statically typed language.
If you’re new to programming, the idea that “Python is dynamic” and “Java is static” when it comes to “typing” won’t mean much. Let’s break down what is meant with the terms typing, dynamic, and static.
What is typing?
Typing is the application of a type to a given variable. If you are familiar with the difference between integers, floats, strings, and Boolean values, this concept should be intuitive. Data types help contextualize data for programming languages. For example, while adding two integers would involve mathematical addition (e.g. 2 + 2= 4), “adding” two strings would concentrate them (e.g. “hello ” + “world” = “hello world”).
If a given piece of data has an incorrect type, it can lead to errors during run time, compile time, or execution. Dynamic vs static typing is an important distinction for checking typing errors.
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Dynamic typing is the act of checking for type errors as code is executed. For example, consider the Python code below:
foo = "a string" eggs = 2 if eggs + 2 > 3: print("Well Done") else: print(foo + 1)
While adding a string to a number, as in “foo + 1”, would normally produce an error, it will not in this case. That is because Python uses dynamic typing and the else statement never executes.
Static typing, on the other hand, checks types before runtime. Variables must be specified or inferred before the code is compiled. For example, Java code comparable to the example above would throw an error due to the typing mismatch.
Static types vs dynamic types: Which is better?
Which is better, a statically typed language like Java or a dynamically typed language like Python? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. If you’re a beginner, the ease of dynamically typed languages can help you dive in and become productive faster.
However, many developers argue that static typing reduces the risk of undetected errors plaguing your code. When variables do not need to be explicitly declared before you use them, it is easy to misspell a variable name and accidentally create a whole new variable.
The takeaway: Python’s dynamic typing is easier for beginners. Java’s static typing reduces errors.
Python vs Java: Whitespace
Python is unusual among programming languages in that it uses indentation to separate code into blocks. Java, like most other languages, uses curly braces to define the beginning and end of each function and class definition. The advantage of using indentation is that it forces you to type code in a way that is easy to read, with no chance of errors because of a missing brace.
You can learn more about the unique features of Python in the Complete Python Bootcamp. This course will teach you to create clear, efficient code, as well as how to debug your applications after writing them.
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The takeaway: While Java uses curly braces to separate code, Python uses whitespace.
Python vs Java: Ease of use
Most programmers agree that Python is an easier language for novice programmers to learn. You will progress faster when learning Python as a first language rather than Java.
However, things change a bit if you’re an aspiring mobile app developer. Java is essential if you want to develop apps for Android. If you do need to learn Java, then Java Programming Masterclass for Software Developers will walk you through everything you need to know including private and public classes, for loops, compiling programs, and more.
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The takeaway: Python is a great first language, but aspiring Android mobile developers should consider Java.
Python vs Java: Communities and support
Python and Java are both extremely popular. As a result, there are large developer communities and plenty of support for both. For example, there are Java User Groups across the globe. Similarly, there are Python enthusiasts all over the world. The “Python” group on Meetup.com has over 2.3 million members!
Because they are so widely used, it’s easy to find help on forums, message boards, and other online communities should you need Java or Python technical support.
The takeaway: Both Python and Java have excellent support channels online and large communities.
Python vs Java: Performance
As you might expect, the question of which programming language performs best is often answered with “it depends.” However, when it comes to Java vs Python in terms of speed and performance, in most cases, Java is the winner. This has been proven in benchmark tests such as the Debian Computer Language Benchmarks Game Team’s Python 3 vs Java tests. In some cases, Java is more than an order of magnitude faster than Python.
That being said, there are some Python implementations, like CPython that give Python a performance boost. Websites and services like YouTube, Spotify, and Quora, which are written in Python, prove there are plenty of examples that show the language can perform well enough to scale.
Additionally, what Python lacks in raw speed, it makes up for with flexibility. For example, Python is one of the most popular languages for data science thanks to libraries like Pytorch and a TensorFlow Lite interpreter. Since it is generally easier to work with, Python can also help improve the overall productivity of development teams and individual programmers.
The takeaway: Java is faster in most cases, but Python is more flexible.
Python or Java: Which one is right for you?
There is no single right answer to the question of which language is right for you. However, we can use what we have learned here to make some suggestions. The “right” language for you will depend on what you want to accomplish, and which tradeoffs make sense. Here are our tips to help you choose between Python and Java for your next project.
Python is a good choice if:
- You’re a beginner looking for an easy-to-learn first programming language
- You’re a data scientist first and a programmer second
- You’re looking for a DevOps scripting language
- You’re interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence
Java is a good choice if:
- You want to develop Android applications
- You want to develop cross-platform applications
- You want to develop backend solutions for large corporate systems
- You want to develop video games (although, we’d suggest taking a look at the C++ and C languages too!)
If none of that quite fits your situation, take a look at this table explaining the differences and tradeoffs Python versus Java.
Final thoughts: Getting started is what matters
Python and Java are two very different programming languages, but both can be useful tools for modern developers and data scientists. If you are thinking about learning to code for the first time, then you might find Python easier to pick up. Python’s syntax is designed to be intuitive and its relative simplicity allows newbies to hit the ground running. Conversely, Java has a steeper learning curve but is known for its portability and performance.
Whichever path you choose, take the first steps to get started. Learning to code in Java versus Python isn’t mutually exclusive. You can pick one up and learn the other down the road. It’s better to get hands-on with a language now rather than putting it off while searching for the “perfect” choice. Today’s Java programmers can be tomorrow’s Python developers and vice versa.
Want to learn Python? Find a Python course that’s right for you and get started learning the major features of the popular language.
Ready to try your hand at programming in Java? Try a popular Java course, many of which require no prior programming knowledge.
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