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Java vs. Node.js: An epic battle for developer mind share

Peter Wayner | Feb. 18, 2015
Here’s how the enterprise stalwart and onetime script-kiddie toy stack up in a battle for the server room.

Where Node wins: Ubiquity
Thanks to Node.js, JavaScript finds a home on the server and in the browser. Code you write for one will more than likely run the same way on both. Nothing is guaranteed in life, but this is as close as it gets in the computer business. It's much easier to stick with JavaScript for both sides of the client/server divide than it is to write something once in Java and again in JavaScript, which you would likely need to do if you decided to move business logic you wrote in Java for the server to the browser. Or maybe the boss will insist that the logic you built for the browser be moved to the server. In either direction, Node.js and JavaScript make it much easier to migrate code.

Where Java wins: Better IDEs
Java developers have Eclipse, NetBeans, or IntelliJ, three top-notch tools that are well-integrated with debuggers, decompilers, and servers. Each has years of development, dedicated users, and solid ecosystems filled with plug-ins.

Meanwhile, most Node.js developers type words into the command line and code into their favorite text editor. Some use Eclipse or Visual Studio, both of which support Node.js. Of course, the surge of interest in Node.js means new tools are arriving, some of which, like IBM's Node-RED offer intriguing approaches, but they're still a long way from being as complete as Eclipse. WebStorm, for instance, is a solid commercial tool from JetBrains, linking in many command-line build tools.

Of course, if you're looking for an IDE that edits and juggles tools, the new tools that support Node.js are good enough. But if you ask your IDE to let you edit while you operate on the running source code like a heart surgeon slices open a chest, well, Java tools are much more powerful. It's all there, and it's all local.

Where Node wins: Build process simplified by using same language
Complicated build tools like Ant and Maven have revolutionized Java programming. But there's only one issue. You write the specification in XML, a data format that wasn't designed to support programming logic. Sure, it's relatively easy to express branching with nested tags, but there's still something annoying about switching gears from Java to XML merely to build something.

Where Java wins: Remote debugging
Java boasts incredible tools for monitoring clusters of machines. There are deep hooks into the JVM and elaborate profiling tools to help identify bottlenecks and failures. The Java enterprise stack runs some of the most sophisticated servers on the planet, and the companies that use those servers have demanded the very best in telemetry. All of these monitoring and debugging tools are quite mature and ready for you to deploy.

 

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