Kotlin

The preferred language for Android app developers.

In the world of Android app development, Java is the number one language of choice. And, for the longest time, Java was considered the official language for Android apps. Since 2019, that is no longer the case, as Kotlin has become the default programming language. 

Why the change? Kotlin was developed by JetBrains as an improvement over Java, so it’s not a completely new language. The purpose of Kotlin was to overcome some of the disadvantages of Java. And since Kotlin is Java compatible, it can easily exchange and use information from Java without too much work. Even Java libraries and frameworks are compatible with Kotlin, so all of that time your developers have spent getting up to speed with those tools isn’t wasted.

But if your company is already deeply entrenched with Java for Android, what incentive do you have to migrate those developers to Kotlin?

Let’s take a look at what Kotlin is and why you should consider it as your default language for Android app development.

kotlin

Kotlin Developers Hiring Guide

  • How to choose the best
  • Interview questions
  • Job Description

What is Kotlin?

Back in 2011, JetBrains unveiled the Kotlin Project which was a new language written specifically for the Java Virtual Machine. The company began work on Kotlin because most languages, besides Scala, didn’t include the features they needed. The problem with Scala was that the compilation was too slow.

Hence, Kotlin was created. 

It wasn’t until 2016 that the first version of Kotlin was released. The following year,  at Google I/O, Google announced they were putting their first-class support behind the language. 

Kotlin was designed to be an industrial-strength object-oriented language that would improve on (while still being fully interoperable with) Java. The goal of Kotlin was to offer:

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    Clean, clear, modern syntax.
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    Improved code readability.
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    Full Java compatibility.
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    A fully-functioning IDE.
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    A simple transition from Java.

One of the biggest improvements of Kotlin over Java is the elimination of null references, which is a value saved for indicating that a pointer or reference doesn’t refer to a valid object. Java makes use of the NullPointerException (NPE), which Kotlin practically eliminates. There are still cases where an NPE can exist, such as:

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    An explicit call to an NPE.
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    Usage of the !! operator.
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    Data inconsistency during initialization.
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    A Java interoperation.

Other than that, null references aren’t at all common with Kotlin. 

To overcome the null reference issue, Kotlin adopted several mitigations from other languages (such as C# and Scala). Kotlin also strips away boilerplate code to help eliminate errors and includes features such as delegations, late initializations, and type safety in lists.

As to the actual writing of code, one major difference between Kotlin and Java is that Kotlin doesn’t require developers to end each line with a semicolon. This makes for a much more efficient and clean code. In fact, once your developers dive into Kotlin, they’ll discover it’s a much more concise version of Java. For example, in Java to instantiate a variable, you’d use something like:

StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();

Whereas, in Kotlin, that becomes:

val sb = StringBuilder()

So, clearly, Kotlin offers a much more streamlined development process. Kotlin also relaxes the Java requirement that functions must be class members. Kotlin allows for developers to declare functions at the top level within a file, inside other functions (locally), as a member function within a class or object, or as an extension of a function.

Kotlin addresses other Java issues including the lack of raw types, arrays are invariant in Kotlin, proper functions (vs. Java’s SAM-conversions), ability to with use-site variance without wildcards, and checked exceptions. Kotlin also adds things like lambda expressions, extension functions, smart casts, string templates, properties, primary constructors, first-class delegation, and operator overloading.

Why You Should Adopt Kotlin

The adoption of Kotlin shouldn’t only happen because it’s a cleaner, simpler Java. The biggest reason your developers should start adopting Kotlin for all Android development is simply that Google has proclaimed it as the default language for Android app development. Because of this, the development of Kotlin has picked up significantly. Case in point, both v1.5 and v1.6 were released in 2021. And, unlike Java, developers only have to worry about working with one version. 

With Java, you might have to deal with v17, v11, v8, and v7. Which do you choose and why? This can get incredibly challenging, especially when you’re developing multiple applications. With Kotlin, you can simply use the latest version and know that it’ll function just fine with previous iterations. With Java, you can’t be certain an app written with v17 will function with code or apps written in v8.

Finally, Kotlin is simply more readable than Java. Because it works with more concise code, it’s far easier to understand. And because you’ll use much less code, your code will compile faster, run faster, and be easier to troubleshoot.

And you don’t have to worry that migrating to Kotlin means you have to leave Java behind. Both languages are fully interoperable. Kotlin can use existing Java classes without error and the compiler will allow your code containing both Java and Kotlin to run without problems. That means all the time your developers have spent perfecting their Java skills won’t go to waste.

Conclusion

If you have Android developers on your payroll, it’s time to nudge them into working with Kotlin. As the default Android application development language, this makes sense on every level. And because it should take your Java developers very little time to get up to speed, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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