Posted on January 30, 2018
Kotlin, a new programming language, has gained an astounding amount of interest among developers in the past two years—especially following Google’s #IO17 announcement supporting it as an official language for Android apps. On Udemy, learners taking Kotlin courses spiked by 95% last year, making it the #1 hot tech skill for 2018. So what makes this language so special, what are the benefits of Kotlin vs. Java, and how can it help your business?
Kotlin is a programming language for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and can, therefore, be used anywhere Java is used today (which is virtually anywhere). This includes server, client, web, and Android development. It’s developed by JetBrains who are currently working to bring Kotlin to embedded systems and iOS as well, potentially making it a one-stop language for all application areas.
What makes Kotlin so popular among developers is its clean language design and powerful features. Its goal is explicitly not to introduce new concepts, but to bring together programming language features that have proved to be beneficial for large-scale projects.
Although Kotlin can be used anywhere Java is used (and soon in more places), it is currently predominantly used for Android app development, spurred on by Google’s official support. Companies using Kotlin to stay competitive include Google, Trello/Atlassian, Pinterest, Kickstarter and Uber to name just a few.
The first version of Java was released over 20 years ago. This inevitably adds legacy baggage to the language because each newer version must be compatible with the previous. As a modern language, Kotlin has the natural advantage of being able to leverage all the language design expertise gained in the past 20 years and focus on state-of-the-art features that have proven to work well. Here are 9 benefits of Kotlin vs. Java and ways it can improve your business.
First, Kotlin is way more concise than Java in many cases, solving the same problems with fewer lines of code. This improves code maintainability and readability, meaning engineers can write, read, and change code more effectively and efficiently. Features such as type inference, smart casts, data classes, and properties help achieve conciseness.
Kotlin code is inherently safer than Java code because it prevents common programming mistakes by design, resulting in fewer system failures and application crashes. When using Java, certain error causes are more likely to occur again. Kotlin nudges developers to think about potential problems with their code explicitly, hence helping them write more robust code.
Functional programming is a development paradigm that allows developers to solve many tasks more easily and consistently. It was also introduced in Java 8, but Kotlin has better support for functional programming. In short, functional concepts can be used more concisely and explicitly with proper function types. Also, performance can be improved via inlining which is not currently possible in Java.
In addition, Kotlin offers a myriad of handy features that facilitate every-day development tasks–something Java does not offer. These include default parameter values, object declarations, extension functions, and many more. All these help speed up development time while keeping the code base more maintainable.
The Kotlin compiler aims to fail-fast whenever possible. This greatly facilitates searching for bugs and can even prevent them in the first place.The Kotlin compiler performs many checks, avoiding runtime errors and reducing the cost and effort of error fixes.
Technical debt can be mitigated to some degree by migrating to Kotlin. “Technical debt” is the deadweight developers carry due to shortcuts made in programming, often to reach a deadline. It slows down future development and reduces productivity. It can be minimized with Kotlin because the code base shrinks while increasing in quality (maintainability, readability etc.) at the same time. Implemented correctly, this means fewer lines of code that are easier to maintain. Reports of such migrations often speak of reducing lines of code by 20-30%.
According to RebelLabs’ survey of over 2000 Java developers, Kotlin is the technology they’re most excited about using, and the one they’re most satisfied with as well (9.1 of 10). JAXenter even proposed Kotlin as a potential candidate for the programming language of the year 2017 due to the satisfaction stats, its ascent in the popular TIOBE index, Google’s official support, and its own survey which confirmed that Kotlin catches the interest of a surprising portion of JAXenter’s readers (C was ultimately awarded the title). However, due to the increasing preference for Kotlin by developers and its easability of use, adopting Kotlin can help keep your engineers more satisfied and engaged on the job.
Lastly, developer expertise will improve while learning about Kotlin. Java developers will be able to learn Kotlin well enough to use it very quickly. As they dive deep into the language, they’ll learn about good compiler and language design, asynchronous programming challenges and solutions, why certain language design decisions were made, and more.
What’s essential is that developers don’t stagnate at a basic level of understanding Kotlin. This will lead to Kotlin code that looks like Java code and is neither more concise nor safer. If this occurs, there is no point in migrating over to Kotlin. Developers must familiarize themselves with advanced concepts of the language now and learn to write idiomatic and beautiful Kotlin code. That way, the investment is very well worth the effort. The first step to adopting Kotlin at your company will be to train your developers to become well versed in Kotlin through my beginner Kotlin course and advanced Kotlin course both offered on Udemy and Udemy for Business.
Kotlin has brought together a thriving and supportive community that is highly responsive and open so that developers can connect to share expertise and get their questions answered, for instance in the active Kotlin slack channel.
With the increasing adoption of Kotlin, there are also more resources available for developers every day, including online courses, books, and tutorials. There are now thousands of StackOverflow questions on Kotlin which provides a go-to resource for developers.
Kotlin is 100% interoperable with Java, making it possible to use Kotlin code from Java and vice versa. This is crucial for migrating even large software projects from Java to Kotlin step-by-step and allows developers to use the myriad of Java libraries from Kotlin seamlessly.
Ultimately, introducing Kotlin at your company is not a small task and has to be well planned. But there’s no need to migrate completely right away, thanks to the seamless interoperability with Java. A good way to start the process is to introduce Kotlin in non-business-critical code to enable initial evaluation and let developers gain experience. For example, test cases can often be greatly simplified using Kotlin. While migration to a new programming language can seem daunting, in this case, the benefits of Kotlin outweigh the costs.