Sunday, August 14, 2005

Why Java?

I had started the DBMS project DM1 back in 2002 using C++. I said then that I had chosen to code DM1 in C++ because of lack of certain features in Java, such as pointers and efficient array handling. It seemed to me that a DBMS needed a language that allowed full control of memory.

SimpleDBM is a pure Java project. So what has triggered the change from C++ to Java?
  1. Firstly, I no longer think that in the scale of things, absolute control of memory is that important, unless the DBMS is being targetted at an embedded environment and must use as little memory as possible. The trade-off is much simpler memory management. In SimpleDBM, I rely completely on Java's garbage collection facilities.
  2. My productivity in Java is far higher. This is not only due to a better designed language, but also because of the availability of free IDEs such as Eclipse, which make development so much faster and pleasurable.
  3. I tried using the C++ try/catch construct and destructors for proper cleanup of resources. My experience is that it is unworkable in large projects. Java's concept of finally block combined with garbage collection of memory, is a better and neater option. The finally block provides control of the resource cleanup, whereas C++ destructors don't.
  4. The biggest problem I had with Java was the lack of adequate primitives for concurrency control. The default synchronisation mechanisms were simply not adequate for the type of fine-grained concurrency I wanted to have in the DBMS. Fortunately, due to wonderful efforts of Doug Lea and others, Java 5.0 has new concurrency packages that solve my problem. There are still a few issues, I think, but on the whole, if I had to pick the single most important factor in enabling my shift to Java, I would say this is it.
  5. Java is simply a better language than C++. Why I think this is so will have to the subject of another post, but in a few words, Java's strengths are smaller and simpler language, support for interfaces (a feature that was proposed for C++ and rejected), built-in support for Threads and concurrency, garbage collection, finally blocks, dynamic loading and binding, checked Exceptions.
  6. A testamount to the superiority of Java is that the ported version is superior to the original C++ version, with better separation of modules, greater concurrency.

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