Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What's so special about jvm portability compared to python/perl

You have a very strong technical mind and I find it hard to convince you. Let's try this story…

At a party, one guy mentions (quietly) "I flew over here in my helicopter …" 5 boys overheard and start talking "I too have a helicopter". Well the truth is, either they are renting a helicopter, or their uncle used to have a helicopter, or their girlfriend is rich enough to own a helicopter, or they have an old 2nd hand helicopter, they have a working helicopter for a university research project, or a toy helicopter.

It's extremely hard to build a cross-platform bytecode interpreter that rivals native executable performance. Early JVM was about the same speed as perl. Current JVM easily exceeds perl and can sometimes surpass C.

In contrast, it's much easier to build a cross-platform source code interpreter. Javascript, python, perl, php, BASIC, even C can claim that. But why do these languages pale against java in terms of portability? One of the key reasons is efficiency.

To convince yourself the value of JVM portability, ultimately you need to see the limitations of dynamic scripting languages. I used them for years. Scripting languages are convenient and quick-turnaround, but why are they still a minor tool for most large systems? Why are they not taking over the software world by storm?

Why is C still relevant? Because it's low-level. Low-level means (the possibility of) maximum efficiency.  Why is MSOffice written in C/C++ and not VBA? Efficiency is a key reason. Why are most web servers written in C and not perl, not even java? Efficiency is a key reason.

Back to jvm portability. When I compile 2000 classes into a jar, and download 200 other jars from vendors and free packages. I zip them up and I get a complete zip of executables. If I fully tested it in windows then in many cases I don't need to test them in unix. Compile once, run anywhere. We rely on this fact every day. Look at spring jars, hibernate jars, JDBC driver jars, xml parser jars, jms jars. Each jar in question has a single download for all platforms. I have not seen many perl downloads that's one-size-fit-all.

I doubt Python, php or other scripting languages offer that either.

(See comments below)

Sent: Sunday, June 26, 2011 8:14 PM
Subject: RE: What's so special about jvm's portability compared to python's or perl's?

If you treat JVM == the interpreter of php/python/perl/etc., then Java's so called "binary code portability" is almost the same as those scripting languages' "source code portability".
[Bin ] I have to disagree. AMD engineered their instruction set to be identical to Intel's. Any machine code produced for Intel runs on AMD too -- hardware level portability.

That's one extreme level of portability. Here's another level -- Almost any language, once proven on one platform, can be ported to other platforms, but only at the SCP (source-code-portable) level. Portability at different levels has very different values. High-level portability is cheap but less useful.

Java Bytecode is supposed to be much faster as a lot of type checking, method binding, access checking, address resolution.. were already completed at compile-time. Java bytecode looks like MOV, JMP, LOAD … and gives you some of the efficiency of machine code.

Another proof is: Java binary code (compiled using regular method) can be de-compiled into source code, which indicates that its "binary code" has almost 1-to-1 mapping to "source code", which means its binary code is equal to source code.
[Bin ] I would probably disagree. The fastest java bytecode is JIT and probably not decompilable I guess. For a sequence of instructions, the more "machine-like", the faster it runs.

Well, you may want to argue JVM is better than the interpreter of those scripting languages, and I tend to agree. Java must have something that earned the heart of the enterprise application developers. Only that I haven't found what it is yet :)

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