How Java stayed in style for 25 years - Technical.ly Philly

Software Development

Oct. 19, 2020 2:18 pm

How Java stayed in style for 25 years

The programming language celebrates its 25th birthday this year. Here's why Java has stayed relevant in tech circles for so long.
Chariot Solutions’ director of training and mentoring services, Ken Rimple.

Chariot Solutions' director of training and mentoring services, Ken Rimple.

(Courtesy photo)

Correction: Mention of the programming language Ruby has been updated to refer to Ruby on Rails, the web framework. (10/20/20, 10:31 a.m.)

Chariot Solutions’ director of training and mentoring services, Ken Rimple, is a programmer who has worked with web-based technology since the late ’90s. Back then, he was growing tired of using different systems for different platforms. Languages like C++ were still fairly primitive and required a lot of effort to use.

Java changed all of that.

“Java said, ‘We’re going to let you write this code once and you could run it on your servers and desktops,'” he said. “I got into it because it wasn’t as cryptic or hard to understand for programmers when stuff went wrong. That’s why a lot of developers said it changed the game.”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Java, Chariot Solutions is hosting “Java at 25: Retrospective & Futures,” a free virtual event on Wednesday, Oct. 21, designed to show how the programming language has become a fixture in programmer toolboxes for a quarter of a century.

Rimple said one of the biggest reasons for Java’s staying power has been its backward compatibility: New versions of Java have consistently had the ability to interface with previous versions and created continuity. This continuity saved programmers valuable time by not making them rewrite pieces of code to fit new versions. The web framework Ruby on Rails, released in 2007, is an example of an app with far less backward compatibility.

Ruby on Rails, “as an alternative, made it very easy to stand up a web application,” said the 2019 RealLIST Engineers honoree. “But the contrast was that when you went to major changed versions like Ruby [on Rails] 2.3 or … 3.0, you had to rewrite a lot of pieces of code. The interfaces you wrote against changed radically, but it wasn’t backward compatible. It was a reaction against the steadiness of Java ecosystem. But if you took an application from Ruby [on Rails] and looked at it today, those projects are dead.”

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Java was innovative for its concept of having a central place that all open source contributors could used to share libraries. Rimple said that if you tried, you could still pull Java libraries dating back to the first version’s inception. In addition, Java’s fluidity as a programming language and concept allows for programmers to use it on any device from a mainframe system or tablet.

As Java developed alongside a rapidly evolving World Wide Web, Java gave the internet a networking stack that allowed developers to better build tools for the internet. Eventually, major tech companies like IBM built their own servers using Java.

Another tech company that saw Java’s potential was Oracle, which now owns Java had made it a backbone language for a lot of its work. Brian Goetz is the Java language architect at Oracle and will speak at Chariot Solutions’ event about the direction Java is going in its future as one of many programming languages now available at programmers’ disposal.

As Rimple continues his journey in tech and uses other programming languages like Python, his preference for Java as a programming language is still clear.

“It just needs to be reliable, fast and get what you want,” he said. “If I had to pick a project to start from scratch, I know I can reach back to 15 years of software that other people have used out there.”


Michael Butler is a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-
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