Chapter: Java The Complete Reference - The Java Language - The History and Evolution of Java

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Java’s Lineage

Java is related to C++, which is a direct descendant of C. Much of the character of Java is inherited from these two languages. From C, Java derives its syntax.

Java’s Lineage

 

Java is related to C++, which is a direct descendant of C. Much of the character of Java is inherited from these two languages. From C, Java derives its syntax. Many of Java’s object-oriented features were influenced by C++. In fact, several of Java’s defining characteristics come from—or are responses to—its predecessors. Moreover, the creation of Java was deeply rooted in the process of refinement and adaptation that has been occurring in computer programming languages for the past several decades. For these reasons, this section reviews the sequence of events and forces that led to Java. As you will see, each innovation in language design was driven by the need to solve a fundamental problem that the preceding languages could not solve. Java is no exception.

The Birth of Modern Programming: C

 

The C language shook the computer world. Its impact should not be underestimated, because it fundamentally changed the way programming was approached and thought about. The creation of C was a direct result of the need for a structured, efficient, high-level language that could replace assembly code when creating systems programs. As you probably know, when a computer language is designed, trade-offs are often made, such as the following:

 

     Ease-of-use versus power

 

     Safety versus efficiency

 

     Rigidity versus extensibility

 

Prior to C, programmers usually had to choose between languages that optimized one set of traits or the other. For example, although FORTRAN could be used to write fairly efficient programs for scientific applications, it was not very good for system code. And while BASIC was easy to learn, it wasn’t very powerful, and its lack of structure made its usefulness questionable for large programs. Assembly language can be used to produce highly efficient programs, but it is not easy to learn or use effectively. Further, debugging assembly code can be quite difficult.

 

Another compounding problem was that early computer languages such as BASIC, COBOL, and FORTRAN were not designed around structured principles. Instead, they relied upon the GOTO as a primary means of program control. As a result, programs written using these languages tended to produce “spaghetti code”—a mass of tangled jumps and conditional branches that make a program virtually impossible to understand. While languages like Pascal are structured, they were not designed for efficiency, and failed to include certain features necessary to make them applicable to a wide range of programs. (Specifically, given the standard dialects of Pascal available at the time, it was not practical to consider using Pascal for systems-level code.)

 

So, just prior to the invention of C, no one language had reconciled the conflicting attributes that had dogged earlier efforts. Yet the need for such a language was pressing. By the early 1970s, the computer revolution was beginning to take hold, and the demand for software was rapidly outpacing programmers’ ability to produce it. A great deal of effort was being expended in academic circles in an attempt to create a better computer language. But, and perhaps most importantly, a secondary force was beginning to be felt. Computer hardware was finally becoming common enough that a critical mass was being reached. No longer were computers kept behind locked doors. For the first time, programmers were gaining virtually unlimited access to their machines. This allowed the freedom to experiment. It also allowed programmers to begin to create their own tools. On the eve of C’s creation, the stage was set for a quantum leap forward in computer languages.

 

Invented and first implemented by Dennis Ritchie on a DEC PDP-11 running the UNIX operating system, C was the result of a development process that started with an older language called BCPL, developed by Martin Richards. BCPL influenced a language called B, invented by Ken Thompson, which led to the development of C in the 1970s. For many years, the de facto standard for C was the one supplied with the UNIX operating system and described in The C Programming Language by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie (Prentice-Hall, 1978). C was formally standardized in December 1989, when the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for C was adopted.

The creation of C is considered by many to have marked the beginning of the modern age of computer languages. It successfully synthesized the conflicting attributes that had so troubled earlier languages. The result was a powerful, efficient, structured language that was relatively easy to learn. It also included one other, nearly intangible aspect: it was a programmer’s language. Prior to the invention of C, computer languages were generally designed either as academic exercises or by bureaucratic committees. C is different. It was designed, implemented, and developed by real, working programmers, reflecting the way that they approached the job of programming. Its features were honed, tested, thought about, and rethought by the people who actually used the language. The result was a language that programmers liked to use. Indeed, C quickly attracted many followers who had a near-religious zeal for it. As such, it found wide and rapid acceptance in the programmer community. In short, C is a language designed by and for programmers. As you will see, Java inherited this legacy.

 

C++: The Next Step

 

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, C became the dominant computer programming language, and it is still widely used today. Since C is a successful and useful language, you might ask why a need for something else existed. The answer is complexity. Throughout the history of programming, the increasing complexity of programs has driven the need for better ways to manage that complexity. C++ is a response to that need. To better understand why managing program complexity is fundamental to the creation of C++, consider the following.

 

Approaches to programming have changed dramatically since the invention of the computer. For example, when computers were first invented, programming was done by manually toggling in the binary machine instructions by use of the front panel. As long as programs were just a few hundred instructions long, this approach worked. As programs grew, assembly language was invented so that a programmer could deal with larger, increasingly complex programs by using symbolic representations of the machine instructions. As programs continued to grow, high-level languages were introduced that gave the programmer more tools with which to handle complexity.

 

The first widespread language was, of course, FORTRAN. While FORTRAN was an impressive first step, it is hardly a language that encourages clear and easy-to-understand programs. The 1960s gave birth to structured programming. This is the method of programming championed by languages such as C. The use of structured languages enabled programmers to write, for the first time, moderately complex programs fairly easily. However, even with structured programming methods, once a project reaches a certain size, its complexity exceeds what a programmer can manage. By the early 1980s, many projects were pushing the structured approach past its limits. To solve this problem, a new way to program was invented, called object-oriented programming (OOP). Object-oriented programming is discussed in detail later in this book, but here is a brief definition: OOP is a programming methodology that helps organize complex programs through the use of inheritance, encapsulation, and polymorphism.

 

In the final analysis, although C is one of the world’s great programming languages, there is a limit to its ability to handle complexity. Once the size of a program exceeds a certain point, it becomes so complex that it is difficult to grasp as a totality. While the precise size at which this occurs differs, depending upon both the nature of the program and the programmer, there is always a threshold at which a program becomes unmanageable.

 

C++ added features that enabled this threshold to be broken, allowing programmers to comprehend and manage larger programs.

C++ was invented by Bjarne Stroustrup in 1979, while he was working at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Stroustrup initially called the new language “C with Classes.” However, in 1983, the name was changed to C++. C++ extends C by adding object-oriented features. Because C++ is built on the foundation of C, it includes all of C’s features, attributes, and benefits. This is a crucial reason for the success of C++ as a language. The invention of C++ was not an attempt to create a completely new programming language. Instead, it was an enhancement to an already highly successful one.

 

The Stage Is Set for Java

 

By the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, object-oriented programming using C++ took hold. Indeed, for a brief moment it seemed as if programmers had finally found the perfect language. Because C++ blended the high efficiency and stylistic elements of C with the object-oriented paradigm, it was a language that could be used to create a wide range of programs. However, just as in the past, forces were brewing that would, once again, drive computer language evolution forward. Within a few years, the World Wide Web and the Internet would reach critical mass. This event would precipitate another revolution in programming.

 


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