Manage code yourself
Those who know me know it well that I am not a big fan of languages which produce managed code. In this article I would like to cover the reasons behind my skepticism. Also I would like to dispel the myths around such languages and try to prove them with facts (we will see how well I manage to achieve this). If you disagree with me, you’ll most probably hate me because of making this post but please, respect my personal point of view.
As I’ll mostly talk in this post in general about managed code I would like to emphasize that I have worthwhile experience only with Java and have barely used C# and other managed languages so my primary arguments maybe apply directly only to Java but still would like to present my arguments in general as they still apply in some way to all such languages.
Without the intension to insult anybody, I would like to start with a citation from one of my friends, who often says that “Java is just a pseudo-language”. Mostly I agree with him and it’s not just because I have my not so delightful experiences with the language but also because it introduced a brand new way of coding style that is a complete nightmare for an old-school coder like me. As I don’t want to start another religious war, I’ll stop my preposterous arguments here as I would like to prove my concerns with facts that nobody can disclaim.
“… nowadays Java is almost as fast as native code…”
This used to be a common myth in the last few years. For those who are still arguing by shouting this loud on forums and blogs, I would like to draw their attention to the fact that Java is still an interpreted language no matter if the latest JVM versions do some on-the-fly compilation of the code and as such it is inherently slower than any language that generates native code.
As my hobby is computer graphics I have to talk a bit about the case of PC games. Have anybody seen a game fully written in Java or any other interpreter based language that produces state-of-the-art graphics which competes with the best professional games and it also provides the same performance? I think not, and this is not a coincidence.
GPUs are getting more horsepower in a much faster pace than CPUs. That is what resulted in the batch crisis lately. It’s already happening for several years that the CPU is simply not powerful enough to feed the GPU with enough data in complex real-time rendering situations. There have been already tons of different software and hardware technologies which already targeted this issue a long time ago but as a perfect example that is the reason which resulted in the appearance of the completely redesigned DirectX 10 API and which emerged the need for a cleaner architecture for OpenGL as well. That’s why there are no advanced games written in interpreted languages as they waste those very valuable CPU cycles which would have great benefits otherwise.
“… Java has a much greater expression power…”
I tend to agree with this one. As these languages are interpreted by a virtual machine they provide great room for such features that would be impossible or simply very inefficient in a native language. That’s why one of my favorite programming language is PHP as an example. It is even more flexible then Java, for example, but never forget that PHP never meant to try to replace native languages as instead it is used in a totally different domain.
There are many language features that are not available in native languages but they weren’t left out unintentionally. Their lack is primarily justified by the fact that most of these features are rather inefficient and they simply not fit in the philosophy of a performance oriented language like C++. However, the most important ones like reflection, delegates and most OOP related facilities are present for example in Delphi, which is one if not the best OOP language that doesn’t make too much trade of between flexibility and run-time performance. Also, even if most of these features are not present in C++, Objective-C and other popular native languages, they can be made available with a little programming knowledge in the particular language (maybe not just little).
“… you don’t have to care about resource deallocation as there is the garbage collector…”
This is one of the most annoying “features” of managed code based languages. I understand that the prevention of memory leaks can have a great impact on development effort, however the unpredictable behavior of garbage collectors is simply unacceptable in certain situations. The issue of lost references has been already addressed in almost all native languages with the use of reference counted objects so I simply don’t get it why is this still an important feature. For efficient resource management you need much finer control over the time and way how resources are released.
“… you just have to care about the basics and Java will make you the rest…”
While I strongly support the idea of COTS, the way how Java and friends interprets this concept is simply unacceptable for me. Sometimes you need to know what is going on under-the-hood. This is basically the same issue like that of the garbage collector. Beside that, according to my personal taste, I don’t like if the compiler tells me how to do a particular thing. I rather do it in my way and even if I tend to agree that the compile time static analysis what the Java compiler does can be very valuable in some situations, simply denying code generation even in the case of a very minor semantic problem is simply makes me angry.
“… Java eliminated almost all unsafe features inherited from C++…”
This is one of the things that hurts me most. While Java really managed to achieve this, it sacrificed flexibility, ease of use and the fun of programming to make this possible. One such removed feature is operator overloading. I love them! As an example a linear algebraic library, which is often used in graphics programming, or the string library is not just makes the coding more natural, it eases the reading of code which is written with these in mind and that greatly effects the maintenance cost of a particular software as the code is read ten times more than modified. Java in this domain seems too verbose for me and it is much harder to read the long method invocation chains, that is not just used to be used by the developers, but is the recommended way how to code in Java.
This post already ran wildly long so I will close the topic for now. As a conclusion, I have to point it out that this article presented the subject from a rather subjective perspective at the end. Sorry for that, I will recap on the topic in a later post where I will try to be more detached and I’ll present actual use case examples but for now, this is all that came from my heart so please, don’t be very harsh with me if I was very biased. I hope you enjoyed the article anyway.
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