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Simplify Java-based development with the Kotlin language

What makes Kotlin popular among Java professionals? Explore the attributes of this functional programming language that's equipped for both traditional Java and Android developers.

The Kotlin language is gaining a reputation as a powerful alternative to Java for coding.

As a general-purpose, statically typed language, Kotlin can be used to write explicit code that mitigates errors common in Java. These errors can include syntax and runtime mistakes as well as problems in logic, such as incorrect singleton patterns.

Google officially positioned Kotlin as the go-to language for Android development as well, due to the language's ability to expand Android functionality and help developers spin up Android projects quickly.

Here, examine Kotlin's strong compatibility with Java. Then, explore ways in which the language can increase developer productivity. It possesses key aspects that make it a reliable functional language and provide particular advantages for Android app development.

The origin of Kotlin

Kotlin was developed by JetBrains, the development tool vendor responsible for IntelliJ IDEA, a Java integrated development environment (IDE). The Kotlin language combines functional programming with Java's object-oriented approach. In fact, Java and Kotlin share many common attributes. Kotlin compiles to the same byte code as Java, interoperates with Java classes and integrates the same tooling. Over time, JetBrains added the ability to compile Kotlin to native binaries on multiple platforms, such as web, Android, iOS and desktop, as well as the ability to transpile to JavaScript.

Fewer boilerplate tests

Kotlin is more concise than Java, and, syntactically speaking, it's actually more like Swift. The Kotlin language reduces the need for recurring code that programmers must write manually, also known as boilerplate code. When there's less boilerplate code to write, it reduces the risk of errors and makes application debugging and maintenance easier. With its null safety feature, Kotlin also eradicates the dreaded null pointer exception error that causes many debugging headaches. In Kotlin, the system simply refuses to compile code that tries to assign or return a null value.

In general, developers can considerably reduce overall code size by moving an existing Java code base to Kotlin. JetBrains' IntelliJ IDEA also offers a feature that converts Java to Kotlin. Kotlin features all the benefits of a statically typed language that determines variable type at compile time instead of at runtime. If you're writing complex code, static types can automatically track information and show where the class or function is used in the code. Developers can jump to those lines of code without leaving the IDE.

IntelliJ's smart code completion feature also filters the suggestion list for functions in Kotlin to only show the type of call that's applicable, given the surrounding context. This feature, along with Kotlin's effective standard library, makes the language intuitive. Kotlin code tends to be considerably more concise than a dynamic language that can't define programmer intent through types and context.

Kotlin as a functional language

The Kotlin language enables developers to add custom functions via extensions. These capabilities resemble those found in C#, where new functions are not required to inherit from the class or design pattern.

In addition, the Arrow library provides programmers with a unified and understandable approach to typed functional programming. This library includes tutorials and functional patterns along with type classes, data types and integration specifics. Kotlin programmers should use it to avoid split libraries and binary incompatibilities between data types and various type classes.

Similar to the Groovy language, Kotlin employs builders that are readable, easy to understand and help developers write complex domain-specific languages (DSLs). Developers can also combine multiple builders to create a DSL that meets specific project requirements.

Android application development

In addition to increased developer productivity, Kotlin enables programmers to write reliable Android code with less work than other languages. Capitalizing on the compatibility between Kotlin and Java, developers can incrementally add Kotlin to current Java-based apps to further expand Android functionality.

The modular Anko library helps developers build layouts for new Android applications, manage multiple threads, launch activities and perform other Android tasks with concise, efficient code. Seamless integration with Android Studio means developers can quickly set up Kotlin projects.

According to GitHub, Kotlin represents one of the fastest-growing languages in terms of contributors. Look for new tools and additions, such as Kotlin Android Extensions, to emerge and further enrich Kotlin's value as a functional programming and Android-friendly language.

This was last published in June 2019

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