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Java Programming is Exactly the Same as C++ Development. Or is it?

Updated on May 6, 2013

It's no secret that employers everywhere are looking for ways to improve the bottom line. The software engineers of today are expected to be well educated and willing to change roles at the drop of a hat. If you are a C++ developer, taking the initiative to learn the not-so-subtle differences of Java programming might just give you the edge you need.

Most programmers know that the syntax of Java and C++ are very similar. But what many programmers don't know, is that they are actually quite different under the hood. Seemingly unimportant language selections at the beginning of a project can end up making a world of difference in the final product. Since you are a already a C++ developer, I assume you already know most of the syntax, which is almost identical in Java. The truly important differences between Java and C++ have absolutely nothing to do with syntax. So if you are interested in learning a little bit more than the average C++ or Java programmer, this guide is for you!

So Close and Yet So Far Away

Many of the major internal differences in the C++ and Java programming languages stem from the fact that they were originally developed to serve completely different purposes. One on hand, C++ was developed as an object-oriented extension of the C programming language, mainly for systems applications and efficient back-end processing, while Java actually started out as an interpreter language for networks and printers, among other things.

Both C++ and Java programming later evolved into completely different versions of themselves, and they actually ended up looking very much alike in the process. But it only takes a seasoned software developer a little bit of digging to find out that they really aren't all that alike after all.

I Say Compiler...You Say Interpreter

One of the major boons for Java programming is that after it is written, it can be run on literally any device that can load the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). This sent software executives salivating over all of the money that was to be saved by not needing to port entire applications over to different computer architectures. Unfortunately, this bliss was short lived.

Instead of being compiled into native machine code, as in C++, Java programs are more of an interpreted language in that they are compiled into byte code for the JVM. While this byte code is pretty much independent of the operating system on the target machine, it is totally dependent on the Java platform installed on that machine. The addition of this source code "middle man" has been known to slow things down, a lot.

When C++ code is compiled, it gets transformed into native machine code for the particular computer architecture it is designed for. This gives the code an edge in processing efficiency and allows the programmer to make use of many features that are specific to the platform. The same can't be said for Java.

Most modern C++ implementations actually give the developer the option of writing the source code to be platform-independent and then compiled specifically for an intended operating system. The only catch is that when the code needs to be moved to a different platform, it must be re-compiled for that specific platform.

Front-End vs. Back-End

With all of the previously stated differences, both C++ and Java programming have pretty much gravitated toward their own best implementations. It turns out that Java is much better designed to build Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) than to handle critical time-sensitive processing.

On the other hand, C++ is very well suited for no frills, highly efficient back-end processing. But it can't really compete in the world of pretty interfaces for the end user. Sure, there have been some attempts at creating new libraries to try and make it more GUI friendly, but in the end, C++ GUIs always end up feeling just a little bit clunky. (This is probably the whole reason that Microsoft created C#.)

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There are still some other arguments that Java is better for web development, or C++ is better for developing mathematically driven network protocols. And these are probably both pretty accurate statements. But at then end of the day, Java programming is usually best kept in the front-end where usability is a priority over efficiency, and C++ should be kept in the back-end doing the heavy lifting.

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