In the software development world, choosing the right programming language for a project (or career path) is vital to a developer’s success. Ensuring the language has all of the features to meet the project’s requirement is key. In this tutorial, we will look at two languages that have been around for decades and enjoy widespread use. In particular, we will delve into Java, an Object-oriented language, and Perl, a scripting language. Each has their own strengths, weaknesses, and applications, which we will be reviewing. In addition, we will also discuss their benefits, features, and differences from one another, all in an effort to help programmers choose which language is right for their needs.
What is Java?
Java was developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystem, prior to it being acquired by Oracle. It was released in 1995 as a high-level, general purpose programming language with Object-oriented features. While often referred to as a true OOP language (we do so in this tutorial for simplicity’s sake), it is not truly 100% OOP because of its support of primitive data types (OOP languages view data types strictly as Objects). The language was built under the concept of WORA, which means “Write once, run anywhere”, and as such is platform independent. This independency is gained from the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which allows applications written in Java to be used on any platform or architecture.
Java is known for its strong typing, garbage collection (which handles automatic memory management), and powerful exception handling capabilities. It can be used in most software development scenarios and excels in web development, Android app development, gaming, and Enterprise applications – to name but a few.
You can learn more about what a Java developer does in our tutorial: Roles and Responsibilities of a Java Developer.
What is Perl?
Perl stands for Practical Extraction and Reporting Language. It was created by Larry Wall during the end of the 1980s as a tool for text processing and system administration tasks. It is a dynamic, high-level scripting language featuring robust support for regular expressions and a simple syntax, making it an ideal choice for those that need to process files, parse text, or manipulate data without having to learn a more complicated programming language.
Perl follows the “There’s more than one way to do it” philosophy and Perl developers are known for dreaming up ways to tackle a given problem from multiple approaches. The language is not as popular or widely used as Java – which battles Python as the top language – but it does rank within the top 20 languages by measurements such as the TIOBE Index. The Perl community is very large and active, particularly in terms of Unix and Linux programmers, as well as web developers relying on CGI scripting and system admins seeking to automate tasks.
Differences Between Java and Perl
In the sections below, we will look at the differences between Java and Perl, including:
- Developer ecosystem
- Learning curve
Syntax Differences between Java and Perl
Java is often considered to be a member of the C-family of languages, which includes such notables as C, C#, and C++. Because it is strongly influenced by these high-functioning languages, Java syntax is known to be verbose and enforced strict coding conventions and requires semicolons to end each statement. Having Object-oriented features, Java code is organized into classes and follows the paradigm and OOP principles of inheritance, encapsulation, and interfaces.
Although Java enforces some strong coding standards, Java codebases are more readable and easier to maintain when compared to languages like C, particularly in larger applications, where codebases can become cluttered and disorganized. Again, this is due to its OOP nature.
Perl’s syntax, meanwhile, is very flexible, which can make it a bit harder to read and understand from a programming logic and structure standpoint. The language itself is pretty human-readable and even non-programmers can typically get the gist of what code itself means. Perl features a variety of shortcuts and implicit behaviors, however, that can further contribute to its lack of readability if you are not overly familiar with the language.
That being said, Perl’s syntax allows for concise and powerful codebases, even if it does come at the cost of readability. Larger Perl applications will be more laborious to maintain, troubleshoot, and understand, which is why Perl really excels for smaller tasks like task automation and scripting.
From a performance perspective, Java code gets compiled immediately into bytecode, which is then executed by the JVM. Java bytecode is platform-independent, which makes it so that Java software can run on any system with a JVM, making Java extremely portable.
Java also makes use of JIT (Just in Time) compilation, and the JIT compiler has built in optimizations that automatically enhance bytecode during runtime. This results in enhanced performance when compared to other interpreted languages. Java is often thought to be very fast, but lagging behind in speed when paired against low-level languages like C or C++. However, the optimizations by the JIT compiler and with the resources of most modern machines, make it so that those differences in performance will largely go unnoticed.
Perl, for its part, does not need to undergo an additional compilation step, and, instead, is executed directly by the Perl interpreter. This causes the language to not perform as well as Java in terms of speed. However, Perl is very powerful in terms of text processing, and those seeking to use the language for data parsing, file manipulation, or for regular expressions will find the language to be highly performant at those tasks.
Java is a statically typed language. This means that its data types are explicitly declared during compile-time. This feature makes it easier to catch type errors during development, leading to a reduction in runtime issues.
Java’s static typing is a double-edged sword. On one hand it helps developers avoid common programming errors; on the other, it can lead to more code, larger code bases, a longer development lifecycle, and more complicated data structures.
Perl, on the other hand, is a dynamically typed language. This means that its data types get chosen at runtime, allowing for greater flexibility and ease of use, as variables are able to change types as the code executes.
The dynamic typing of Perl allows for faster prototyping and is great for creating smaller scripts. That being said, it also can lead to a greater chance of type-related errors and bugs at runtime, making it more difficult to catch errors and debug code.
A developer ecosystem includes available libraries, frameworks, and developer tools for a programming language. Java, being a mature language, has a vast developer ecosystem, making it a great option for software, web, and Enterprise-level development. Some of the popular Java frameworks include options like Spring, Hibernate, and JSF (JavaServer Faces), which help build “skeletons” of applications and web platforms.
Java’s platform independence also makes Java code reusable across multiple environments, which is another factor in its popularity for Enterprise applications.
Check out our tutorial on The Top Java Frameworks for more about its great ecosystem.
Perl has a large ecosystem as well, though it is not quite as large as Java’s. In particular, the CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network) repository is home to thousands of community built, free modules that help Perl programmers tackle a variety of common (and not so common) tasks, such as text processing, networking, and web development.
CPAN community members contribute frequently to the expansion and maintenance of the modules hosted in the repository. In addition, Perl has a strong presence in the Unix and Linux arena and its use as a preferred choice for administrators helps to ensure that Perl remains a popular option within those environments.
Speaking of developer ecosystems and communities, Java, as you might imagine, is host to a huge and active community of developers that contribute a bevy of resources, including documentation, tutorials, and interactions on programming forums. This means that there are plenty of opportunities for Java developers to network, as well as find information on how to troubleshoot and fix code issues. This is especially invaluable to newer developers, as it is much easier to find help and guidance from some of the more experienced coders within the Java community than it is in some other, less active languages.
You can’t speak of Java’s community without referencing its caretaker, Oracle, who also provides tutorials, how-tos, documentation, and frequent updates, all of which contribute to Java’s maintenance, evolution, and security.
As you might suspect from our ecosystem discussion, Perl’s community is not as large as Java’s, but it is vibrant and has its own set of programmers and system administrators that are known to be quite welcoming and helpful to new coders.
Perl’s community also contributes to its documentation and tutorials, and you can find a lot of great learning material on both Perl’s official website and CPAN. The language benefits from updates and tweaks as well, ensuring it stays relevant and useful.
As noted, Java has strict typing and rule enforcement, meaning that its syntax can have a bit of a steeper learning curve than languages like Python, Ruby, PHP, or Perl. That being said, Java is one of the foundational languages taught in universities and colleges, and it is often part of any computer programming curriculum.
Because of its power and use across so many industries, Java is a terrific choice for a primary programming language. There are many resources to help mitigate the steep learning curve, and, once you learn Java, it is an easy step to learn complex languages like C, C++, and C#. It also makes learning languages like Python a breeze.
Finally, since Java is often the top language in the world used by organizations, finding employment with Java under your development toolbelt is much easier than a lesser used language, such as Perl.
Perl has flexible syntax that lets programmers approach solving issues and common tasks from multiple approaches, which can make it a bit of a challenge to initially learn. Its primary feature of being a powerful tool for regular expressions further complicates things, as regular expressions can be a difficult topic for newcomers to grasp.
That being said, overall, Perl’s syntax is not overly difficult to learn and is much less involved than a higher-level language like Java. It makes a great choice for beginner developers, web developers, and system administrators. It is also a great option as a second or third language.
Final Thoughts on Comparing Java to Perl
In this programming tutorial, we look at Java and Perl as options for projects, as well as choices for career paths. We learned that Java and Perl are both unique programming languages that have their own strengths and weaknesses. Java is known for its strong typing, platform independence, and large ecosystem of plugins, frameworks, and libraries, which add to the language’s functionality and extensibility. Java can also be a bit tougher to learn, but its use of OOP features make the code more readable, maintainable, and reusable. Java is also a perfect choice for web development, desktop applications, gaming, mobile app creation, and Enterprise-level applications.
Perl, for its part, is a great option for web development, scripting and automations for administrative tasks, file processing, and regular expressions or text parsing. It can be difficult to grasp the features that it excels in (regular expressions and file processing), but is much simpler to learn in other areas than options like Java or C.
At the end of the day, which language(s) you learn will depend on the project requirements, your career goals, and personal preferences. Either way, you cannot go wrong learning either Java or Perl, or, if you are truly enterprising, both.