Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why I adore Java NOT.

Ok, here are some of my thoughts about Java as both a language and a development platform.

TL;DR: when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Don't try shoving java up every task. Even better, don't use it at all.

Let me warn you: I am fully aware that Java was created by enterprise consultants to allow building enterprise bullshit quickly and to make sure you don't have to make efforts to support your crap once written. I fully recognize the importance of Java language as such, but any claims to use Java as a general-purpose language make me cry.

The language and the JVM:
Ok, first of all, Java language is very dull and unpleasant to program in. And it sucks hard as an OO language.

1. It has both objectified and non-objectified POD. That is, it has both int and Integer. And this leads to several interesting consequences. You can't just call a toString() method on an integer. like "1.toString()". Or, well, here's a better example. Try it out yourself in java or BeanShell

$ cat Foo.java 
class Foo {
static Integer a = 9999;
static Integer b = 9999;

static Integer c = 9;
static Integer d = 9;

public static void main(String args[]) {
System.out.println(a == b);
System.out.println(c == d);

$ java Foo

Do you find it logical? Well, if you've been programming in java for a while, you may be braindamaged enough to think it's OK, but it is not. In fact, the behaviour of a complex system must be predictable without reading through all the dark corners of documentation. (for those who are still living in the bliss of ignorance: the behaviour observed is because JVM keeps cached copies of Integers in the range [-127, 128])

Ok, you may argue that it's a nice idea performance-wise, but it is not. Proper VMs and languages (CLR/C#, ocaml) have found better ways around this problem. For example, CLR allows to directly work with the raw untyped memory and all numeric types actually consume just the amount of bits needed to keep precision while all 'object' methods are implemented as syntactic sugar - i.e., compiler voodoo)

2. Generic types just suck. The reason is that in order to keep compatibility with the ancient crap, generics were introduced as a syntactic sugar. Once you compile your 'generic' code, type information is erased. Therefore, you lose type safety when using reflection - you can't determine the real type of a generic type variable if the concrete type is a class inheriting from multiple interfaces. Moreover, type erasure is the same precise reason why you can't create an array of generic types.

3. The language has no lambda closures. Really, creating tons of one-function interfaces like Runnable is just a pain. Even more pain is declaring an interface just to pass a single closure.

4. No on-stack memory allocation. This is a problem for applications using little amounts of memory, because all memory, even for locals, has to be heap-allocated. This raises several performance problems (of course, it ends up being placed in stack or registers, but there's no explicit way to state that).

5. There's no proper way to interact with native code and untyped data. For example, the already mentioned .Net has the p/invoke interface which allows to conveniently call into native libraries without modifying them, without writing a C stub calling into the VM, without additional marshalling overhead. And you even have the same flexibility when specifying structure layout as you would in C.

[StructLayout(LayoutKind.Explicit, Size=8)]
public struct Foo
    public byte A;
    public int B;
    public short C;
    public byte D;
[DllImport("Foo.dll", EntryPoint="TransmitToHell")]
public static extern int SendToLimbo(struct Foo foo);

6. No pointer arithmetic. C# does have that. While one may argue that it is unsafe, in a managed language running in an environment with virtual memory, it is possible to check boundary crossing and prevent typical C buffer overflow and stack smashing vulnerabilities while still delivering flexibility.

7. No type inference. Seriously, what the fuck is that?
CoolFoo coolFoo = new CoolFoo();
why couldn't I just write
let coolFoo = new CoolFoo();?
The compiler can clearly deduce the variable type here. And proper languages (ML, Haskell) can actually type-check the whole program without explicitely specifying types in most cases due to Hindley-Milner type inference.

8. Badly programmed standard library violating OO principles. Javatards like to claim their language is fully OO, but violate the principle multiple times. The most obvious cases:

  • Empty interfaces (like, Cloneable). Like, they ain't doing anything. Well, they should've not been doing anything, but then reflection voodoo comes in.
  • Unmutable mutable data. You all know that the final modifier makes a memory location immutable. But not all people know that using reflection you can obtain write access to it. Even standard streams (System.out, System.in) can be reassigned using System.setOut, System.setIn calls. R U MAD?

The aforementioned factors make programming in java a miserable exercise in futility when it comes to integrating with native code or writing algorithms that have to crunch large arrays of numbers (DSP). One interesting example is the Android platform where most high-level Java code is just a set around native libraries written mainly in C and DSP assembly extensions (NEON, SSE, AVX). The lack of built-in implementations of many DSP routines (convolution, FFT) and the buggy implementation of the RenderScript library make writing high-performance video processing applications an extremely daunting task.

Enterprise crap:
  • Counter-intuitive poorly documented frameworks. Indeed, do you know anyone who could figure out Spring or Hibernate without digging through tutorial blog posts?
  • XML, XML everywhere. Completely human-unfriendly and resource-consuming. There are better formats out there - JSON which is kind of human-readable and BSON/MsgPack when speed matters.
  • AbstractFactoryFactoryImpl and so on. Design patterns are a real cargo cult of java pseudoengineering

So, to sum up. If you want to set up yet another enterprise-level megaproject and drain all the money of a local enterprise, go ahead and use Java. But please don't make me have any business with java ever again.