In this article, we’ll debunk the notion that Java is a relic of the past and showcase the language’s modern features, thriving ecosystem, and unwavering presence in enterprise and open-source communities.

Is Java Still Keeping Up with Modern Programming Languages - digmajava21

For over a decade, Java has been my primary go-to programming language, but in recent years, it has come under scrutiny and debate for all the wrong reasons. Some folks claim it’s outdated, not up to the mark, and that newer languages outshine it in every way. But as someone who has seen Java evolve over the years, I’d like to debunk a few myths and misconceptions and tell you why I believe Java 21 is far from falling behind.

Java’s frequent criticism often stems from misconceptions and a lack of awareness about its modern capabilities. Critics might be influenced by the enthusiasm of Rust aficionados advocating for rewrites, or they might mindlessly repeat statements without evaluating the current state of Java.

In this article, we’ll embark on a journey to explore the enduring relevance of Java 21. We’ll dive into its rich history, its role in shaping the programming world, and its continued prominence in 2023. We’ll debunk the notion that Java is a relic of the past and showcase the language’s modern features, thriving ecosystem, and unwavering presence in enterprise and open-source communities.

Join me in rediscovering Java, a language that has not just stood the test of time but has evolved to meet the demands of modern software development.

Java’s Legacy

Java’s enduring legacy is built on its pioneering approach to cross-platform development, its influence on programming paradigms, and its role in developing enterprise applications.  

Programming paradigms –  Java’s introduction and widespread adoption of object-oriented programming (OOP) significantly impacted how software is designed and structured. OOP principles became a standard in programming, and Java played a crucial role in this paradigm shift. 

Platform independence – Java introduced the revolutionary WORA “Write Once, Run Anywhere” concept. This innovation allowed developers to write code that could run on any platform with a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), regardless of the underlying operating system. This platform independence removed the need for platform-specific development, making Java a versatile choice for cross-platform applications.

Robust and secure –  Java was designed with a focus on robustness and security. It featured memory management, exception handling, and a strong type system, reducing the likelihood of crashes and vulnerabilities. These qualities made it an appealing choice for mission-critical applications in finance, healthcare, and government sectors.

Community support –  Java quickly gained a dedicated developer community. The availability of forums, libraries, and online resources fostered a supportive ecosystem facilitating learning and problem-solving. This strong community continues to be a significant asset for Java developers.

Enterprise-Ready – Java found its niche in the heart of enterprises. It became the preferred language for building large-scale enterprise applications, web services, and middleware components. Its ability to deliver scalability, reliability, and high performance made it an ideal choice for businesses worldwide.

Rich ecosystem –  Java’s extensive ecosystem of libraries and frameworks simplifies common programming tasks. Developers can access tools for everything from database connectivity to user interface design. This rich repository of resources accelerates development and reduces the time to market. 

Java’s Popularity in 2023

Despite the criticism towards Java over the years, it remains one of the most popular and widely used programming languages in 2023. Java’s enduring relevance is evident in various statistical measures and industry surveys, consistently highlighting its prominence and demand.
For instance, according to the TIOBE index for 2023, Java still ranks among the top 5 programming languages among Python, C, and C++.

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Similarly, the RedMonk Programming Language Rankings for Q1 2023 ranked Java as the third most popular language, after JavaScript and Python, based on data from GitHub and StackOverflow.

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What Makes a Programming Language Modern?

To determine if Java is behind, we need to analyze what modern programming languages offer. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  1. A strong type system

Java’s type system is robust, but it lacks some advanced features like higher-kinded types found in languages like Rust.

  1. Memory management

 Languages should offer efficient memory management, either through automatic garbage collection or modern memory safety features, to prevent common memory-related errors.

  1. Abstraction

Modern languages should allow developers to work at various levels of abstraction, from low-level memory management to high-level, domain-specific concepts, enabling efficient and concise code.

  1. Concurrency support

With the prominence of multi-core processors, languages should offer features for managing concurrency, such as threads, async/await, and parallel processing, to help developers write efficient and scalable code.

  1. Platform neutrality

Java’s “write once, run anywhere” philosophy remains a significant advantage, especially in enterprise settings.

  1. Tooling

Java’s tooling is exceptional, with a strong emphasis on enforcing conventions and type safety. These tools facilitate the creation, testing, and maintenance of Java applications.

  1. Language Features

Modern Java versions have introduced language features like records and pattern matching, reducing boilerplate code.

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Java’s continued popularity is attributed to several key factors:

Cross-Platform compatibility –  Java’s platform independence remains a compelling feature. You can write code once and deploy it on various operating systems without modification. It is a top choice for software running on diverse platforms, including desktop computers, servers, and Android mobile devices.

It’s enterprise dominance –  Java has entrenched itself in the enterprise world. Many organizations rely on Java for building business-critical applications, web services, and backend systems. It’s known for its scalability, stability, and the ability to handle high loads.

Android app development – While Kotlin has emerged as a strong alternative and, in some cases, a preferred choice for many developers, Java continues to be a popular alternative for Android app development. Java’s interoperability with Kotlin makes it easier for developers to develop in the existing Java codebase while leveraging Kotlin’s new features.

Versatile use cases –  Java is versatile, supporting various programming paradigms. It’s suitable for everything from web development to data science, scientific computing, and enterprise applications.

Security –  Java’s legacy is also intertwined with its unwavering commitment to security, with built-in mechanisms for handling encryption, authentication, and access control. This makes it a popular choice if you’re developing applications requiring high security, such as financial systems and healthcare platforms.

Java has a strong community and open-source reach –  Java benefits from a robust and active community that continuously contributes to the language’s growth. The open-source nature of Java ensures that it remains accessible and adaptable.

Java’s Modernity – New Features in Java 21

In various programming communities, it’s not uncommon to come across criticisms like, “With Rust, I could simply do this with X.” Such comparisons are often a way of highlighting perceived limitations or areas for improvement in existing programming languages. Java has certainly faced its share of criticism over the years. Earlier versions of Java were not immune to criticisms, with some of the common concerns including:

1. Verbosity – Java was often criticized for its verbosity, requiring developers to write a lot of code for relatively simple tasks. This verbosity was seen as a drawback in terms of development speed and code readability.

2. Lack of Modern Language Features – Java was considered to be lagging behind other languages in terms of modern language features like functional programming constructs. This perceived lack of modern features led to code that was often less concise and expressive.

3. Memory Consumption – Java received criticism for its relatively high memory consumption, which could be inefficient for certain applications, particularly in resource-constrained environments.

4. Slower Start-up Times – Java applications were known to have slower start-up times compared to natively compiled languages. While this wasn’t a concern for many applications, it could be problematic for scenarios requiring real-time or embedded systems.

However, Java has actively responded to these criticisms through a series of language enhancements and modernization projects. Newer versions of Java, in conjunction with initiatives like Project Valhalla, have significantly addressed these concerns.

The introduction of features like structured concurrency, key encapsulation mechanisms, and the disallowance of dynamic loading of agents reflects Java’s commitment to security, performance, and code integrity. Additionally, improvements in concurrency, scalability, and performance have made Java a competitive choice for a wide range of applications.

With these advancements, Java has evolved to offer a compelling combination of performance, developer productivity, and adaptability. It has proven its mettle as a language that companies can confidently rely on for future projects, regardless of the diverse and demanding needs of modern software development.

Java 21 has arrived with exciting new features

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 Source: JDK

So Java 21 has arrived with exciting new features that have sparked discussions among developers on different developer platforms such as Reddit. While Java 21 offers exciting new features, some developers are still appreciative of the strengths of Java 8 and features such as lambda expressions. As you can see in the post below:

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Source: Reddit.

Here is an overview of some of the exciting features you can find in the new JDK 21 release:

Structured Concurrency API

This feature that Java 21 offers an advanced approach to handling concurrent programming. It addresses the challenge of managing related tasks running in different threads by treating them as a cohesive unit of work. Structured concurrency streamlines error handling, improves cancellation, enhances observability, and boosts code reliability. 

This feature aligns with the goal of eliminating common pitfalls associated with concurrent programming, such as thread leaks and cancellation issues. It also simplifies the identification of relationships between tasks and subtasks, making it easier to manage complex concurrent operations.

try (var scope = new StructuredTaskScope.ShutdownOnFailure()) {
    Supplier<String> user = scope.fork(() -> findUser());
    Supplier<Integer> order = scope.fork(() -> fetchOrder());


    // Handle the results of subtasks, which are now guaranteed to be complete
    return new Response(user.get(), order.get());

Structured concurrency ensures that these threads are correctly and robustly coordinated, preserving the natural task hierarchy. This hierarchy allows observability tools to present threads in a way that aligns with the developer’s understanding of their code. The result is enhanced observability, making it easier to track the flow of execution and pinpoint issues in server applications.

How Structured Concurrency and Continuous Feedback (CF) improve the observability of concurrent code

Concurrent programming has a reputation for causing headaches with its intricacies and challenges. However, introducing the new Structured Concurrency feature in JDK 21 provides a structured and organized foundation for managing concurrent code. This structural approach brings clarity to the chaos, making it easier to understand, manage, and debug concurrent systems.

Digma, a continuous feedback platform, further reinforces the observability process by ensuring you have access to key insights throughout the development cycle. With CF as your observability companion, you can proactively identify and address issues rather than simply reacting to them. This combination of Structured Concurrency and Continuous Feedback empowers developers to gain deep insights into concurrent systems. Here is how:

Evidence-based observability – Digma uses OpenTelemetry behind the scenes to collect data (traces, logs, and metrics) about your code when you run it locally. You can also easily forward test and production data to Digma. After collecting the data, Digma analyzes it to detect meaningful insights about the code. It looks for regressions, anomalies, code smells, or other patterns that can be useful to know about the code and use in development. Effectively shortening the feedback cycle for developers.  

Parent-Child relationships– In structured concurrency, tasks are organized hierarchically, creating clear parent-child relationships. This hierarchy mirrors the syntactic structure of the code, making it evident which tasks are responsible for spawning subtasks. This parent-child relationship is key to building observable applications.

Error isolation –  When an issue occurs within a structured concurrent program, it’s easier to identify the source. The parent task can communicate problems to its subtasks, facilitating the isolation of errors. This feature is crucial for debugging and troubleshooting. This can save you the time you spent trying to retrace an error.

Lifecycles and scopes –  Structured concurrency divides tasks into scopes with well-defined lifecycles. The syntactic structure of the code delineates the lifetimes of subtasks, which corresponds to the execution of concurrent operations. This allows you to easily observe the relationships between tasks, subtasks, and the overall program structure.

Structured thread dumps –  Structured concurrency often includes mechanisms to generate structured thread dumps, making it easier for you to understand the task hierarchy. These thread dumps display the relationships between parent and child tasks, helping you analyze and troubleshoot concurrent programs. 

Intuitive observation – Observing the concurrent program becomes more intuitive. You can easily track the progress and status of subtasks within the structured hierarchy. This clear structure enhances the observability of how tasks interact and behave.

Virtual Threads

Virtual threads, which were initially introduced as a preview feature in JDK 19 and JDK 20, have now officially arrived in JDK 21. Each instance of java.lang.Thread has traditionally been associated with a platform thread, binding it to an underlying OS thread throughout its lifecycle. 

However, virtual threads bring a paradigm shift. There are still instances of java.lang.Thread but operate in a manner where they run Java code on an underlying OS thread without monopolizing it. This breakthrough enables multiple virtual threads to share a single OS thread efficiently. Unlike platform threads, virtual threads do not lock down precious OS threads, and their numbers can scale well beyond the constraints of OS thread availability.

You now have the flexibility to choose between virtual threads and traditional platform threads based on their application’s specific requirements. 

To illustrate, consider this example program, which leverages virtual threads to execute a substantial number of tasks concurrently. It begins by obtaining an ExecutorService tailored to create new virtual threads for each task submitted. Subsequently, it submits 10,000 tasks and efficiently awaits their completion. This Java enhancement empowers developers to harness the benefits of virtual threads, making concurrent programming more efficient and adaptable.

try (var executor = Executors.newVirtualThreadPerTaskExecutor()) {
    IntStream.range(0, 10_000).forEach(i -> {
        executor.submit(() -> {
            return i;
}  // executor.close() is called implicitly, and waits

Virtual threads are a compelling addition to JDK 21. They can have a substantial positive impact on application performance, particularly in scenarios where there’s a high volume of concurrent tasks, often exceeding several thousand. These virtual threads are seamlessly integrated with established tools designed for monitoring, analyzing, diagnosing, and enhancing Java applications. 

For instance, Java Flight Recorder (JFR) seamlessly interfaces with virtual threads, enabling the generation of events when a virtual thread commences or concludes its execution, identifies instances where a virtual thread failed to start, and detects situations where a virtual thread becomes blocked while being pinned down.

Pattern Matching for switch

This exciting feature had its origins in the JDK 17 proposal and went through a series of refinements in JDK 18, JDK 19, and JDK 20. Now, it’s all set to become a part of JDK 21, with additional improvements based on the feedback and experience from the Java community.

The main aim of this feature is to expand the capabilities and versatility of switch expressions and statements. It is also about letting patterns play a more prominent role in case labels, allowing for a bit more flexibility when it comes to handling null values and making switch statements safer by requiring comprehensive coverage of all possible input values using pattern switch statements.

 And don’t worry if you’re already using switch expressions and statements; the goal is to ensure that they’ll continue to work just as they do now, without requiring any changes.

 public static double getPerimeter(Shape shape) throws IllegalArgumentException {
        return switch (shape) {
            case Rectangle r -> 2 * r.length() + 2 * r.width();
            case Circle c    -> 2 * c.radius() * Math.PI;
            default          -> throw new IllegalArgumentException("Unrecognized shape");

The code example above calculates the perimeter only for instances of Rectangle or Circle.

String Templates

String templates have arrived in Java, finally bringing support for string interpolation, something developers have longed for. Until now, combining multiple strings or wrangling with string.format was the only way to go, and let’s admit it, it was annoying. But with Java 21, we’re in for a treat. This new feature empowers developers to take Java’s string literals and text blocks and infuse them with string templates. 

These templates work their magic by allowing you to blend literal text seamlessly with embedded expressions and processors. The endgame here is simple yet significant: to make writing Java programs a smoother experience, enhance the clarity of expressions that merge text with values, and boost the security of Java programs that assemble strings from user input.

String name = "Isaac";
String info = STR."My name is \{name}";
assert info.equals("My name is Isaac");   // true

These are just some of the exciting additions in the latest Java version, showing that the Java ecosystem is marching forward, embracing new features, and staying competitive in the world of programming languages.

AWS Lambda Support

Is Java Still Keeping Up with Modern Programming Languages -

The availability of Java support on AWS Lambda has been a topic of discussion. Historically, the integration of new Java versions on AWS Lambda has taken time. Developers are looking forward to seeing how quickly AWS adapts to Java 21.

It is also good to recall that AWS Lambda expanded its support for Java 17, offering it as both a managed runtime and a foundational container image. This enhancement empowers developers crafting serverless applications in Lambda with Java 17 to harness the capabilities of the latest language features. 

These include the utility of Java records, sealed classes, and the convenience of multi-line strings. Additionally, the Lambda Java 17 runtime introduces various performance enhancements, ensuring optimal execution, with specific optimizations tailored for Lambda functions running on Graviton 2 processors.

What to Expect from Java in the Future?

While predicting the future of any technology is challenging, Java’s adaptability, strong community, and continual evolution suggest that it will likely remain popular and relevant for many years to come. Its versatility and extensive use in various domains, such as web development, mobile apps, and enterprise systems, contribute to its staying power in the ever-evolving field of software development.

Java has a predictable release cycle, with new features and improvements regularly added. Projects like Valhalla, Panama, and Loom are addressing performance, memory efficiency, and concurrency, making Java more competitive and capable of meeting the needs of modern software development.

Summing it up

Java isn’t falling behind; it’s different. In the right hands, Java stands as a formidable contender in today’s software development scene.

The next time someone tells you that Java is passé, remember it’s not about being the flashiest new language but about having the right tool for the job. With its vast ecosystem and the right know-how, Java is still very much a force to be reckoned with in today’s software development landscape.

FAQ: Java 21

Is Java still a relevant programming language in 2023?

While Java has been around for a while, it is still relevant in 2023. Many organizations use Java for a wide range of applications, including web development, mobile apps, and large-scale enterprise systems.

Is Java suitable for modern web development and cloud-based applications?

Yes, Java is still suitable for web development and cloud-based applications. Technologies like Spring Boot and JavaEE have evolved to support microservices, containerization, and cloud deployment.

How does Java 21 compare to newer languages such as Rust and TypeScript?

Java is a robust and versatile language suited for enterprise applications and Android development, relying on automatic memory management. Rust stands out for its memory safety and performance, offering fine-grained control over memory. TypeScript, specifically designed for web development, provides strong typing and enhanced tooling. The choice among these languages depends on project requirements, performance needs, and your familiarity with the language

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