The initial groundbreaking feature that had a significant impact wasn’t a modification to the Java language itself, but rather the substantial enhancement in library support during the early releases. This improvement spanned from version 1.0 to 1.3, introducing significant libraries like the Swing window toolkit, the Collections framework, an RPC-like API for remote invocations, JDBC for database interaction, and more. As the standard libraries evolved, they became more sophisticated, enhancing Java’s position as a prominent enterprise language.
In 2004, Java introduced generics, which allowed specifying types, methods, and interfaces along with their associated data types at instantiation without compromising type safety. “At that time, generics posed a challenge and elicited strong opinions,” remarked Saab. However, today, generics stand as one of the enduring and integral features of the language.
Although Java was originally conceived as a fully object-oriented language, the release of Java SE 8 in 2014 marked a significant shift with the introduction of Lambda expressions (also known as closures). This inclusion brought functional programming aspects into Java’s paradigm. Recognizing that not all challenges align perfectly with OOP, the integration of Lambdas bolstered Java’s adaptability.
With the arrival of Java 9, the potential dependency complexities stemming from a multitude of JAR files were addressed through the introduction of modules. This innovation enabled the encapsulation of library code, allowing precise package imports, and eliminating the need to import the entire JAR file. Dependencies within each module were explicitly declared, enhancing transparency for imported code. Saab noted, “Enabling developers to consciously avoid inadvertent dependencies is steering the Java ecosystem towards enhanced resilience to changes and continual evolution.”
A lesser-noticed yet substantial enhancement lies in the consistent advancement of the JVM’s performance. As Saab elaborated, “Although it might not be apparent in the moment, the observable outcome is clear. Code written for J2SE 1.3 still functions on Java 14, but with a remarkable speed boost. This acceleration not only translates to faster execution, but it’s achieved in a manner that harnesses hardware advancements that were unforeseeable back in 2004.
What Java is brewing for the future
Despite its prominence in a variety of industries, Java isn’t standing still. Saab mentioned four major Java projects that he was excited about, all of which had codenames: Loom, Valhalla, Leyden, and ZGC.
The Loom project aims to decouple Java threads from native threads, a notable evolution in concurrency. While Java’s thread-based concurrency has been integral since its inception, it has always been intertwined with OS threads. Loom introduces fibers, which are threads managed by the JVM, providing a more streamlined approach to concurrency. Given that Java powers server-side applications with the demand of handling numerous simultaneous users, enhanced concurrency is a direct route to boosting web performance.
Valhalla endeavors to redefine Java’s memory model to accommodate immutable types, which lie between the complexity of primitives and the versatility of objects. In scenarios where you have intricate data that remains unaltered throughout an object’s lifespan, imposing the overhead of a class can be excessive. The initial proposal succinctly captures it as “Codes like a class, works like an int.” Saab remarked, “For applications like big data analysis, machine learning, or natural language processing, Valhalla’s potential lies in representing data in a manner that optimally leverages modern hardware architectures, a landscape that has evolved significantly since Java’s inception.