Why Should You Use Java for Your Backend Infrastructure?

Are you a developer or a development manager in an Enterprise IT organization? You could be having a debate over what to use in your backend.

On the other hand, if you are building your start-up, the scenario could be different. Some of your application developers are probably rooting for Ruby on Rails or Scala, while others champion Java. Read more about such intra-organization debates in “Choosing the Right Programming Language for Your Startup”.

In this article, I will describe why should you use Java for your backend infrastructure. The objective isn‘t to show Ruby on Rails, Python or Scala as ineffective. I intend to analyze dispassionately the advantages Java offers, and why they make a difference.

Contents

The beginning of Java programming and its‘ evolution
Special features of Java that made it so important today
Different types of Java platforms:
Why Java for your backend? Scalability is the 1st reason
2nd reason for using Java for your backend: cross-platform usage
3rd reason for developing Java backend is the powerful memory management
Multi-threading is the 4th reason for using Java for your backend infrastructure
Rich ecosystem facilitates backend Java development: the 5th reason
Java security advantages are your 6th reason to use it for backend:
Availability of skilled manpower is your 7th reason to use Java for your backend:
Should you use Java for your startup back-end?
Blockchain enables the creation of rarer in-game assets:

The beginning of Java programming and its‘ evolution

While it‘s been there since 1995, the first full increment of Java was released first in January 1996. The original name was “Oak”, however, there were trademark concerns. It was then renamed to Java. Read the definition of Java in “The Server Side” for more details.

James Gosling, the Sun Microsystem engineer who invented Java, hadn‘t envisaged its‘ wide use in the Internet economy. As a matter of fact, in 1996 the Internet and World Wide Web were just a couple of very new concepts. Rather, Gosling thought that Java will be used in small interconnected devices that could talk to each other.

A large set of improvements in Java API in Java 2 was a big milestone. Java 5 saw the addition of ’Generics‘, a feature that made significant changes to Java syntax.

Google released their Android ’Software Development Kit‘ (SDK) in 2009, basing it on Java. This was another major milestone for the language. Shortly thereafter Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010, causing some delay in Java 7 release.

By now, Java had become the most popular choice for object-oriented programming, however, 2014 saw the addition of more features. Java 8 release in 2014 saw the inclusion of the “Lambda” expression, giving developers ability to write their functional-oriented apps. Read about the evolution of the language in the definition of Java in “The Server Side”.

Special features of Java that made it so important today

More than 3 billion devices use Java in some form, and Oracle estimates that it‘s the most common runtime environment that enterprises use. Read about their estimate in the Oracle whitepaper titled “Java Usage Tracking and Visualization with Oracle Fusion Middleware”.

This popularity is due to the following features:

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  1. Simplicity: Developers find it easy to learn.
  2. Familiarity: Most developers in the 1990s or early 2000s had started their career with C/C++. Since Java looked so like those languages, they learned it quickly. Moreover, Java removed C/C++ complexities like pointers.
  3. It‘s a fully object-oriented programming language.
  4. The language enables automatic garbage collection and simple memory management, besides, features like generics. All of these make it a robust language.
  5. Static type-checking at compile-time and runtime checking make it a highly secure language.
  6. Compilation into bytecodes enable Java Virtual Machine (JVM) to execute the code fast, hence Java offers high performance.
  7. Java allows multi-threading.
  8. You can run it in any system with a JVM. This portability is a major advantage.

Read “Features of the Java programming language” for more details on the features.

A rich ecosystem supports the language. Technology giants like Oracle, IBM, and Google back it. An abundance of open-source libraries, rich ’Integrated Development Environments‘ (IDEs), tools, frameworks, and a large developer-community are added advantages.

Different types of Java platforms:

All Java platforms have a JVM and application programming interfaces (APIs). There are four different Java platforms, as follows:

  1. Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE): This is the most common Java platform developers use. Java SE APIs provide the core functionalities. This platform defines the basic types and objects, while it also defines high-level classes for networking, security, database and ’Graphical User Interface‘ (GUI).
  2. Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE): This is built on top of the Java SE, and it‘s suitable for enterprise-scale apps.
  3. Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME): A subset of Java SE API, it provides a lighter JVM, and it‘s suitable for apps running on small devices like mobile phones.
  4. Java FX: You can create Internet applications using a light-weight ’User Interface‘ (UI) API. Apps built using it use hardware-accelerated graphics and media engines, while they also use high-level APIs to access networked data sources.

Read more about the different types of Java platforms in the Oracle documentation “Differences between Java EE and Java SE”.

Why Java for your backend? Scalability is the 1st reason

Java is highly scalable. Take the case of Java EE. Assuming you have done the right planning and used the right kind of application server, the Java EE can transparently cluster instances. It also allows multiple instances to serve requests.

In Java, separation concerns allow better scaling. When processing or Input-Output (IO) increases, you can easily add resources, and redistribute the load. Separation of concerns makes this transparent to the app.

Java components are easily available, making scaling of large web apps easy. The language is flexible, and you need to do less invasive coding to improve scalability. Read more about it in this stackoverflow thread on Java scalability.

2nd reason for using Java for your backend: cross-platform usage

One great advantage of Java is “Write Once, Run Everywhere”. We also call this feature ’portability’. You can execute a compiled Java program on all platforms that have a corresponding JVM.

This effectively includes all major platforms, for e.g. Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Read more about the cross-platform feature of Java in this stackoverflow thread titled “Is Java cross-platform”.

You first write your Java program in “.java” file. Subsequently, you compile it using the Ecplise IDE or ’javac‘, and thereby you create your “.class” files. While it isn‘t mandatory, you can also bundle your “.class” filed into a “.jar” file, i.e. an executable.

You can now distribute your “.jar” file to Windows, Mac OS, and Linux, and run it there. There may be occasional confusion, because you may find different set-up files for different platforms for one Java program. However, these have nothing to do with Java.

There are applications that depend on specific features certain platforms provide. For such apps, you need to bundle your Java “.class” files with libraries specific to that platform.

3rd reason for developing Java backend is the powerful memory management

Javas‘ automatic memory management is a significant advantage. I will describe it briefly here to show how it improves the effectiveness and speed of web apps.

In programming parlance, we divide memory into two parts, i.e. the ’stack’ and the ’heap’. Generally, the heap has a much larger memory than the stack.

Java allocates stack memory per thread, and we will discuss threads a little later in this article. For the time being, note that a thread can only access its‘ own stack memory and not that of another thread.

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The heap stores the actual objects, and the stack variables refer to these. The heap memory is one only in each JVM, therefore it‘s shared between threads. However, the heap itself has a few parts that facilitate garbage collection in Java. The stack and heap sizes depend on the JVM.

Now, we will analyze the different types in which the stack references the heap objects. The different types have different garbage collection criteria. Read more about it in “Java Memory Management”.

Following are the reference types:

  1. Strong: It‘s the most popular, and it precludes the object in the heap from garbage collection.
  2. Weak: An object in the heal with a weak reference to it from the stack may not be there in the heap after a garbage collection.
  3. Soft: An object in the heap with a soft reference to it from the stack will be left alone most of the time. The garbage collection process will touch it only when the app is running low on memory.
  4. Phantom reference: We use them only when we know for sure that the objects aren‘t there in the heap anymore, and we need to clean up.

The garbage collection process in Java runs automatically, and it may pause all thread in the app at that time. The process looks at the references that I have explained above and cleans up objects that meet the criteria.

It leaves the other objects alone. This entire process is automated; therefore, the programmers can concentrate on their business logic if they follow the right standards for using reference types.

Multi-threading is the 4th reason for using Java for your backend infrastructure

Multi-threading allows multiple users to run one application program simultaneously for their individual tasks. Multi-threading isn‘t a new concept, for e.g. IBM Customer Information Control System (CICS) has championed it since long in the centralized computing environment.

However, in the network computing environment, Java was the first programming language to offer this to developers. Users can simultaneously execute multiple tasks using a Java program, which have separate execution paths.

There are several advantages of multi-threading with Java, and they are as following:

  1. Responsive servers: Irrespective of the time a process takes the server remains responsive and hence there are fewer issues.
  2. Quick application response: A Java app processes user inputs quickly irrespective of the number of concurrent users.
  3. You can run multiple operations simultaneously.
  4. The app uses cache and CPU resources optimally, thus delivering a better performance.
  5. Lower development time, simplified programming, and reduced application maintenance costs are some of the other advantages.

Note that your testing and debugging processes are more complex with multi-threading. However, the advantages of multi-threading in an enterprise or a mass-usage context vastly outweigh this disadvantage. Read more about it in “Common Advantages And Disadvantages Of Multithreading In Java”.

Rich ecosystem facilitates backend Java development: the 5th reason

I ask you to do a simple survey among programmers. Just ask them whether they have heard of Eclipse IDE, NetBeans, Maven, and Jenkins. The response will tell you how rich the Java ecosystem is!

I list a few important resources among many in the Java ecosystem, as follows:

  1. Eclipse IDE: Easily the most successful open-source IDE, Eclipse integrates with the Java compiler well. It highlights compilation errors, provides excellent facilities to organize your projects, and facilitates in Git version control. Although Eclipse needs no introduction, if you need more details, check the Ecplise website.
  2. Maven: You can manage your software with it, and it‘s really an enterprise build tool. Maven offers you with a standardized approach to build, test, package and deploy your code. It also allows you to document your project well. Check the Apache Maven project website for more details.
  3. Spring framework: The intention of creating it was to simply enterprise Java development. With over a million users now, it leads in the Java server framework space. It provides many useful modules and has other open-source frameworks like Spring Security and Spring Integration. Read the Spring Framework website for more details.

I have touched upon only a few prominent tools and frameworks in the Java ecosystem. You can study more about it in the series of articles starting with “A Walk Through the Java Ecosystem”.

Java security advantages are your 6th reason to use it for backend:

If you a senior executive or a development manager in an Enterprise IT organization, this would be your first reason to use Java as the backend. Java scores better than all other programming languages in making your app secure, due to the following:

  1. The security model isolates Java programs from potentially malicious programs that your users might download from unknown sources.
  2. Java doesn‘t use pointers, hence unauthorized access to memory blocks isn‘t possible.
  3. With the Java exception handling concept, you can handle a series of errors at one go, which reduces the risk of system failure.
  4. Different JVMs won’t execute code in different orders since Java defines all primitives with their predefined size. Java also sets the order of execution for operations.
  5. JVMs test Java bytecodes every time for virus etc. before execution.
  6. Java allows developers to use tested reusable code, which reduces risks.
  7. The language has an access-control mechanism to prevent unauthorized access requests from untested code.
  8. Java allows developers to declare classes as “Final”, which no one can override. This is another guaranty against hackers.

Read more about security mechanisms in Java in “Java application security features and measures”.

Availability of skilled manpower is your 7th reason to use Java for your backend:

Irrespective of your location, you will likely find Java developers. This reduces your staffing risks for development and maintenance. Global availability of Java skills also allows you to outsource if you need to.

Should you use Java for your startup back-end?

If you in a startup environment, some of your developers might want a trendier language like Ruby on Rails. I recommend that you approach such debates in a dispassionate manner keeping in mind that although developed in the 1990s, Java continues to evolve.

Also, consider the overwhelming evidence of the popularity that Java enjoys. It has the number 1 ranking in ’TIOBE programming community index’, ’Indeed job keyword trends’, and ’IEE Language Rankings 2015′.

Java ranks 2nd in GitHub, ’Stack Overflow‘, and ’RedMonk 2015‘ Programming language rankings. In each of these cases, Java closely follows JavaScript.

In addition to the advantages I have listed, these statistics are sufficient for you to trust Java for your start-ups, over other modern languages. Read more about the statistics in “DZone‘s Guide to The Java Ecosystem”.

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