Python vs Java: The Key Differences You Should Know

python vs java

While it would be nice to flip open a laptop and begin to code, you have to think a lot about what language to use. This is true for both beginner and professional developers alike. For some projects, you won’t have this choice. However, if you have more freedom, you’ll want to compare Python vs Java. Both have power under the hood and intuitive syntax.

This post will look at Python vs Java in a number of different areas. We’ll look to give you come code examples throughout, and tie up some key career questions you may have too.

What Python and Java are

Of course, both Python and Java are programming languages, but that’s where the similarities differ. Let’s compare Python vs Java in a general sense, then clear up some confusion with another popular language and Java.

Python

Python is unique in that it serves as an excellent language for beginner developers, yet offers enough to also serve those with advanced needs. It’s a general-purpose and high-level language that values readability first and foremost.

def configure_api_keys():
    file = Path('settings.json').absolute()
    if not file.exists():
        print(f"WARNING: {file} file not found, you cannot continue, please see settings_template.json")
        raise Exception("settings.json file not found, you cannot continue, please see settings_template.json")

    with open(file) as fin:
        settings = json.load(fin)
        openweather_service.api_key = settings.get('api_key')

Code example: tompropst.

On the whole, Python can be adaptable to many different tasks. It supports multiple paradigms, including Object-Oriented Programming (OOP,) but also niches and industries. Part of this is down to its “batteries-included” approach.

Python’s comprehensive standard library is arguably the best for any language, and it means that, in theory, you won’t need to download extra packages. However, even if you do need something extra, the pip package manager can find and install it for you.

Java

Java is also a high-level language that can adapt to different programming paradigms. While Python draws its inspiration from BASIC-like languages such as ABC and Haskell, Java takes from languages such as C and C++:

@Ignore("Remove to run test")
@Test
public void testSecondBaseIsNegative() {
    BaseConverter baseConverter = new BaseConverter(2, new int[]{1});

    assertThatExceptionOfType(IllegalArgumentException.class)
        .isThrownBy(() -> baseConverter.convertToBase(-7))
        .withMessage("Bases must be at least 2.");
}

Code example: ErikSchierboom.

One of the big plus points for Java is its adherence to a “Write Once, Run Anywhere” (WORA) philosophy. This means you can deploy to almost any platform without the need for a complex porting process.

Much like Python, Java is a language you might always use regardless if you’re tackling beginner projects or professional apps. However, while the performance of Java is slower than a C++ equivalent program, it’s still suitable for all sorts of projects (more of which later.)

The difference between Java and JavaScript

Before we move on, let’s take a quick look at a confusing point in the history of Java and JavaScript. Many might confuse the both, or figure that one is a subset of the other. However, neither have any relation. In fact, JavaScript took its name from Java as a marketing ploy, and not because of any syntax relationship.

For instance, take this simple function in Java:

public void keepEverything() {
    List<Integer> input = Arrays.asList(1, 2, 3);
    List<Integer> expectedOutput = Arrays.asList(1, 2, 3);
    Assert.assertEquals(expectedOutput, Strain.keep(input, x -> x < 10));
}

Code example: ErikSchierboom.

You’ll declare it using a style similar to C++. In contrast, JavaScript lets you declare a function in a much more straightforward way:

function isActiveClient(client) {
  const clientRecord = database.lookup(client);
  return clientRecord.isActive();
}

Code example: ryanmcdermott.

While both Java and JavaScript can do almost everything you need it to, JavaScript is more straightforward to use and read in our opinion. However, they are two separate languages so you shouldn’t confuse them.

The pros and cons of Python and Java

Python vs Java isn’t a totally fair comparison, because each language can help you achieve specific goals. In addition, both Python and Java have positives and negatives that you’ll want to understand. First off, here’s Python:

  • Python is an interpreted language that uses dynamic typing. This means it launches fast but runs slow compared to Java.
  • Python is a fantastic prototyping language, as you can develop fast with it. This also cuts down on resources.
  • You can create as you learn with Python, which might not be the case with Java. Python will abstract some of the complexities away under the hood.
  • Python can’t do everything, and has its clear use cases.
  • You won’t be able to develop mobile apps with ease using Python.

As for Java, it also shines and lacks in different areas:

  • It launches slower than Python, yet runs faster. This is down to its strict typing and need for compilation.
  • If you write Java code well, it often performs better than Python.
  • You’ll need to traverse a greater learning curve with Java, as it can be more difficult to understand the various associated concepts.
  • What’s more, you’ll have to invest more time and money into developing with Java.

In short, you can use both Python and Java for the same sorts of tasks. In practice, you’ll find a clear division between where each language can best serve your needs. Let’s look at this further in the next section.

Where you’ll use Python and Java within development

Unlike other languages such as HTML and JavaScript, you’ll rarely (if at all) want to compare Python vs Java for front-end web development. Both languages won’t be able to offer you anything here, as they are server-side only.

While you could swap out PHP for Python (using Flask) or Java, not many sites utilize them [1]. Though, Python frameworks such as Django and Flask do see use for web development, and Java can be a foundation for apps that end up streaming across the web [2].

Instead, we see both languages in use in different industries:

  • Python: Anywhere you need data science skills will see you need Python. For example, banking and business services will often need you to “scrape” data and work with huge datasets. Python is ideal for this. It’s also fantastic for machine learning and predictive applications in industries such as healthcare.
  • Java: Lots of big companies use Java for general-purpose software engineering and development, especially Android app development. This means if you have big aspirations, you’ll want to learn Java sooner rather than later. Along with Python, Java is also a language you’ll use on computer science courses, for which you’ll need good reference material.

Python has more of a use in specific industries for niche use cases, such as data science. Even so, it sees more use in a professional setting than Java [3].

In general, though, Java has greater adaptability and scope. For multi-platform apps, it’s near perfect. You could also take a Java base and begin to learn Kotlin, or gravitate to C++. For this reason, Java is also a good first language for a game development career.

Python vs Java: career prospects

Before we get into details, let’s highlight some points from the previous section:

  • If you want to work in data science or financial fields, Python should be a language you learn.
  • For app development, or aspirations to work for the largest tech companies, you’ll want to learn Java.

For some of your career choices, Java will be a first language – while you may have uses for it, you may also outgrow it once you begin to work with other languages such as C++. However, Python can be a first language that you keep using in an advanced way throughout your career. In many cases, heavy Python users don’t need to learn other languages for typical applications within a job.

When it comes to salary, Java developers sit near the bottom of the pay scale [4]. A pure Java developer will earn around $64,500 per year, which is much more than a PHP developer (at $50,000) but slightly less than a JavaScript one.

You could eventually bump this up to around $68,000–70,000 per year, but this would mean learning languages such as C++, Kotlin, and C#. The Rust language takes inspiration from C++, and these developers earn a lot – up to $87,000 per year.

However, while Python developers could earn around $71,000, there looks to be less scope for progression. In our opinion, Python developers could switch to Ruby and earn around $93,000 per year. Between those posts, you can make more money with a switch to Apple-specific development. Swift is Python- and JavaScript-like, in-demand, and commands around $78,500 per year.

Alternatives to Python and Java

It’s hard to give you true alternatives to Python and Java. This is because both are essential in certain fields, and they both can help you achieve what the other can’t. For example, there’s no match for Python for data mining and working with massive datasets. Likewise, Java is near-ideal for fast, cross-platform deployment.

Even so, we think there are a few languages you may want to consider alongside both Python and Java for specific use cases:

  • Python: You could develop your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills to have a way to develop web apps. Python knowledge adapts well to Ruby for server-side work, and Swift if you want to develop games or device apps.
  • Java: Kotlin uses the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) runtime and is, in many ways, a modern redesign of the language. Some Java developers move to languages such as Clojure and one of the many Lisp dialects too.

Also, don’t forget that while we compare Python vs Java here, you could (and arguably should) learn both! The languages can dovetail well, and you’ll use both within a project on many occasions.

Frameworks

Both Python and Java utilize frameworks to help achieve other tasks. However, each language’s frameworks have specific use cases.

For example, Java has a multitude of frameworks to help build software. This makes sense, as Java is great for app development. Spring is one of the most popular frameworks available, while solutions such as Struts and Hibernate allow for easier work with an Application Programming Interface (API.)

The Hibernate framework logo.

For Python, the majority of the frameworks let the language adapt to a particular task. For instance, Django and Flask let you build full web apps using Python as the server-side technology. The web2py framework lets you create dynamic content using the language. Others, such as Hug, let you simply do API development.

The web2py framework website.

You’ll likely switch between lots of different frameworks when you use Python, but there will only be one or two Java frameworks you’ll come back to – Spring will always be in the mix.

Python vs Java: a breakdown of the key differences

If you want only a quick overview of Python vs Java, we can help! Here’s a table that shows some of the primary differences between Python and Java:

  Python Java
Definition and usage It’s a markup language that serves as the basis for website structure. It is a scripting language that lets you implement dynamic and interactive content on a website.
Typing Dynamic typing. Static typing.
Client- or server-side language Server-side (i.e., back end.) Server-side.
Syntax Highly readable, using less code. Less readable, yet specific with regards to context.
Paradigm Multi-paradigm, including OOP, functional, and procedural styles. OOP only.
Similar or associated languages Swift, Ruby, GDScript, Lua. Kotlin, Clojure, Common Lisp, C++.
Portability Python is a struggle to port to non-desktop devices. The WORA approach means you can deploy to multiple platforms without worry.

At this point, it’s decision time. If you want an answer to whether you should learn Python or Java for development, keep reading – we’ll give you our take next.

Python vs Java: which one you should learn for development

The choice between Python vs Java can be a tough one, especially as a beginner developer. Here’s our take on which one you should choose:

  • If you want to work in fields that use data science, Python will be best.
  • However, if you want to develop apps and integrate more with other services, Java will be for you.

Python’s ecosystem means you won’t often need to reach for another language, while Java can be a stepping stone for others who want to progress. There always seems to be a “Java killer” language over the horizon, which means you may have to learn other languages from time to time.

Wrapping up 🍬

Choosing a first language is a tough decision, unless you have to use one for a course. Even professionals can have some indecision, as it might be hard to decide which language suits a particular project. As such, Python vs Java is a common comparison for many.

Python is a fantastic first language due to its stellar standard library and immense readability. Learning resources are also plentiful. Java has lots of power and a lot of learning resources. While it does have greater complexity when it comes to syntax, you can still pick up the basics fast. Your choice will come down to the industry you work in, and your career goals.

Do you have any questions about Python vs Java? Ask us in the comments section below!


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