The Java Buzzwords
No discussion of Java’s history is complete without a look at the Java buzzwords. Although the fundamental forces that necessitated the invention of Java are portability and security, other factors also played an important role in molding the final form of the language. The key considerations were summed up by the Java team in the following list of buzzwords:
Two of these buzzwords have already been discussed: secure and portable. Let’s examine what each of the others implies.
Java was designed to be easy for the professional programmer to learn and use effectively. Assuming that you have some programming experience, you will not find Java hard to master. If you already understand the basic concepts of object-oriented programming, learning Java will be even easier. Best of all, if you are an experienced C++ programmer, moving to Java will require very little effort. Because Java inherits the C/C++ syntax and many of the object-oriented features of C++, most programmers have little trouble learning Java.
Although influenced by its predecessors, Java was not designed to be source-code compatible with any other language. This allowed the Java team the freedom to design with a blank slate. One outcome of this was a clean, usable, pragmatic approach to objects. Borrowing liberally from many seminal object-software environments of the last few decades, Java manages to strike a balance between the purist’s “everything is an object” paradigm and the pragmatist’s “stay out of my way” model. The object model in Java is simple and easy to extend, while primitive types, such as integers, are kept as high-performance nonobjects.
The multiplatformed environment of the Web places extraordinary demands on a program, because the program must execute reliably in a variety of systems. Thus, the ability to create robust programs was given a high priority in the design of Java. To gain reliability, Java restricts you in a few key areas to force you to find your mistakes early in program development. At the same time, Java frees you from having to worry about many of the most common causes of programming errors. Because Java is a strictly typed language, it checks your code at compile time. However, it also checks your code at run time. Many hard-to-track-down bugs that often turn up in hard-to-reproduce run-time situations are simply impossible to create in Java. Knowing that what you have written will behave in a predictable way under diverse conditions is a key feature of Java.
To better understand how Java is robust, consider two of the main reasons for program failure: memory management mistakes and mishandled exceptional conditions (that is, run-time errors). Memory management can be a difficult, tedious task in traditional programming environments. For example, in C/C++, the programmer will often manually allocate and free all dynamic memory. This sometimes leads to problems, because programmers will either forget to free memory that has been previously allocated or, worse, try to free some memory that another part of their code is still using. Java virtually eliminates these problems by managing memory allocation and deallocation for you. (In fact, deallocation is completely automatic, because Java provides garbage collection for unused objects.) Exceptional conditions in traditional environments often arise in situations such as division by zero or “file not found,” and they must be managed with clumsy and hard-to-read constructs. Java helps in this area by providing object-oriented exception handling. In a well-written Java program, all run-time errors can—and should—be managed by your program.
Java was designed to meet the real-world requirement of creating interactive, networked programs. To accomplish this, Java supports multithreaded programming, which allows you to write programs that do many things simultaneously. The Java run-time system comes with an elegant yet sophisticated solution for multiprocess synchronization that enables you to construct smoothly running interactive systems. Java’s easy-to-use approach to multithreading allows you to think about the specific behavior of your program, not the multitasking subsystem.
A central issue for the Java designers was that of code longevity and portability. At the time of Java’s creation, one of the main problems facing programmers was that no guarantee existed that if you wrote a program today, it would run tomorrow—even on the same machine. Operating system upgrades, processor upgrades, and changes in core system resources can all combine to make a program malfunction. The Java designers made several hard decisions in the Java language and the Java Virtual Machine in an attempt to alter this situation. Their goal was “write once; run anywhere, any time, forever.” To a great extent, this goal was accomplished.
Interpreted and High Performance
As described earlier, Java enables the creation of cross-platform programs by compiling into an intermediate representation called Java bytecode. This code can be executed on any system that implements the Java Virtual Machine. Most previous attempts at cross-platform solutions have done so at the expense of performance. As explained earlier, the Java bytecode was carefully designed so that it would be easy to translate directly into native machine code for very high performance by using a just-in-time compiler. Java run-time systems that provide this feature lose none of the benefits of the platform-independent code.
Java is designed for the distributed environment of the Internet because it handles TCP/IP protocols. In fact, accessing a resource using a URL is not much different from accessing a file. Java also supports Remote Method Invocation (RMI). This feature enables a program to invoke methods across a network.
Java programs carry with them substantial amounts of run-time type information that is used to verify and resolve accesses to objects at run time. This makes it possible to dynamically link code in a safe and expedient manner. This is crucial to the robustness of the Java environment, in which small fragments of bytecode may be dynamically updated on a running system.
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