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Python vs Java Comparison – Which Language to Choose for Your App

The app development process involves countless decisions, though few are as important as the language you choose to bring your project to life. Two of the most popular and powerful programming languages in use today are Python and Java.

Both are high-level, object-oriented, general purpose programming languages, and between them cover almost any type of application you could wish to build.

Python and Java both lay claim to being among the top five most popular programming languages at any given time, with Java usually just ahead of Python. However, Python’s popularity is growing at a tremendous rate, and it is predicted that it will overtake Java in 2018.

While both languages share several similarities, they also have enough differences to make it difficult to declare outright that one language is better than the other. Each is typically stronger in different circumstances, so when choosing which language will be best for your app, the aim is to match the strengths of the language with the individual needs of your project.

Here, we take a look at the pros and cons of each language, plus their ideal use cases, to help you make the best decision for developing your app.

Pros and cons of Python and Java

Before we look specifically at whether Python or Java is better in different circumstances, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both languages.

Developer productivity

One of the most important differences between Python and Java is that Python is dynamically typed, whereas Java is statically typed. This means that in Python, it is not necessary to declare the type of the variable when writing code. Python is also popular and well known for being concise and readable, allowing the developer to do the same things with fewer lines of code.

Both of these features make developing applications in Python much faster than in Java. Some people claim that a developer can be up to ten times more productive when writing in Python. Despite this, you could argue that Java’s static type system makes it less prone to bugs than Python.

Python and Java both offer an efficiency boost with their wide variety of web development frameworks such as Django and Spring, allowing developers to quickly build everything from small web apps to complex, high traffic applications.

Speed

Python is an interpreted language, whereas Java is compiled. This means that if speed is the primary concern for your project, neither language particularly shines in this area, but between the two, Java has the edge in most environments.

Speed is a relative factor, however. If Python is ‘fast enough’ to meet the needs of your project, the other benefits of using it, such as the rapid development process, may well outweigh this negative point. It is also worth bearing in mind that it is possible to achieve C-like performance with the use of Cython - a popular superset of Python which is important for machine learning algorithms.   

Community and library support

Python and Java are open-source languages with huge, vibrant communities contributing to the languages themselves and offering support.

Both languages come with an extensive array of libraries that are also supported by countless talented developers. If you’re not able to do something within the language itself, you are sure to find a library for almost anything you can imagine.

Which language is best for your app?

While Python and Java share many similarities and have a diverse range of uses, they are not equally suited to every type of project. In addition to weighing up the general pros and cons of each language, it is also important to consider the specific needs of your app, choosing the best language for the job at hand.

Speed and budget

Python really comes into its own when speed of development or budget are important to your project. The myriad of web frameworks available, its concise code, plus the fact that it is dynamically typed, mean that it is possible to build and deploy apps in record time, which also has the benefit of lowering development costs.

This is particularly valuable when you want to release an app under the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model or build and test prototypes.

Mobile development

One of Python’s drawbacks is that it is not native to the mobile environment. Neither of the major mobile platforms - iOS and Android - support Python as an official programming language. It is still possible to develop mobile applications in Python, but it requires more time and effort on the part of the developer to deliver a rich user experience. Java, on the other hand, is one of the preferred languages when it comes to Android app development.  

Security

Where security is a high priority, Java may have an edge. Although a good programmer can write a very secure app in Python, Java is commonly used for banking web applications due to its particular strength in security functionality and environment. Java includes access to certain security features such as cryptography, and advanced authentication and access control that keep your web application secure. It is worth noting, however, that the characteristics of Python make it the top choice among FinTech companies.

Machine learning

A combination of ultra-powerful specialised libraries and general flexibility mean that Python is the way to go when it comes to projects that have a bias towards data science, deep learning, machine learning, and image recognition.

Bringing everything together

Python and Java, two hugely popular programming languages, are similar in many ways, but that does not mean that both are equally suited to every project. Choosing the best language for your app is a case of weighing up the pros and cons of each language, and matching its strengths to the specific needs of your project.

Python shines when it comes to developer productivity, allowing for rapid development of applications. Java has the edge when it comes to speed, although neither language would be ideal if performance was the most important consideration. Both languages benefit from a huge array of libraries and active, supportive developer communities.

In terms of ideal use cases, Python is perfect for projects where speed of development and budget are important, and is particularly suited for apps built and deployed under the MVP model. Python also shines in projects that need sophisticated data analytics and visualisation. Java is perhaps better suited to mobile app development, being one of Android’s preferred programming languages, and also has great strength in banking apps where security is a major consideration.

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