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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: Database queries
Queries for some of the newer databases, like CouchDB, are written in JavaScript. Mixing Node.js and CouchDB requires no gear-shifting, let alone any need to remember syntax differences.

Meanwhile, many Java developers use SQL. Even when they use the Java DB (formerly Derby), a database written in Java for Java developers, they write their queries in SQL. You would think they would simply call Java methods, but you'd be wrong. You have to write your database code in SQL, then let Derby parse the SQL. It's a nice language, but it's completely different and many development teams need different people to write SQL and Java.

Where Java wins: Libraries
There is a huge collection of libraries available in Java, and they offer some of the most serious work around. Text indexing tools like Lucene and computer vision toolkits like OpenCV are two examples of great open source projects that are ready to be the foundation of a serious project. There are plenty of libraries written in JavaScript and some of them are amazing, but the depth and quality of the Java code base is superior.

Where Node wins: JSON
When databases spit out answers, Java goes to elaborate lengths to turn the results into Java objects. Developers will argue for hours about POJO mappings, Hibernate, and other tools. Configuring them can take hours or even days. Eventually, the Java code gets Java objects after all of the conversion.

Many Web services and databases return data in JSON, a natural part of JavaScript. The format is now so common and useful that many Java developers use the JSON formats, so a number of good JSON parsers are available as Java libraries as well. But JSON is part of the foundation of JavaScript. You don't need libraries. It's all there and ready to go.

Where Java wins: Solid engineering
It's a bit hard to quantify, but many of the complex packages for serious scientific work are written in Java because Java has strong mathematical foundations. Sun spent a long time sweating the details of the utility classes and it shows. There are BigIntegers, elaborate IO routines, and complex Date code with implementations of both Gregorian and Julian calendars.

JavaScript is fine for simple tasks, but there's plenty of confusion in the guts. One easy way to see this is in JavaScript's three different results for functions that don't have answers: undefined, NaN, and null. Which is right? Well, each has its role -- one of which is to drive programmers nuts trying to keep them straight. Issues about the weirder corners of the language rarely cause problems for simple form work, but they don't feel like a good foundation for complex mathematical and type work.

 

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