The Abstract Truth

A System Programming Language Variant of Java

Posted by rbpasker on April 14, 2008

A colleague recently detailed the trials and tribulations of a piece of infrastructure he is building in Java, and it seems that after beating his head against the wall, he won, but not without a few scars.

The thing that I have always loved about Java is its productiveness and expressiveness. I could write scads of code that worked well and correctly very quickly.

But Hal has indirectly pointed out a failure of Java that I think has been true since since its earliest days when I started using it in mid-1995:

Java is a lousy language for building infrastructure.

All of the techniques that Java exposes to operate on software itself are complex, slow, or bloaty, including reflection, proxies, class loading, weak references, bytecode manipulation, and compiler APIs. Since many of the pieces of WebLogic software I wrote had to deal with other user’s users’ code (Servlets, plug-ins, etc.), I spent a fair bit of time arm wrestling with Java, either trying to find the right technique, implementing a workaround, doing code generation, or chasing performance problems. When I transitioned to the chief architect role, the WebLogic team members experienced many of the same problems while writing EJB and RMI in Java (Sun’s RMI was in C). I also think much of the excitement over AOP was a result of people being fed up with using Java for system programming; AOP cut across these problems by bypassing or augmenting the language itself. Hal’s post tells me that the problem is still not solved.

This is not to say that I don’t think Java is a good language for server-side programming – after all, WebLogic pioneered Java on the server – but rather that the focus on “enterprise edition” has been on server-side application code, rather than infrastructure code.

IBM had a variant of PL/I called PL/S that they used internally for writing writing system software. We have editions of Java for the client, for enterprise apps, for mobile, and for real-time. Perhaps we need an edition of Java for infrastructure software.

Java Platform, Infrastructure Edition anyone?

Update: Here’s Hal’s response.

One Response to “A System Programming Language Variant of Java”

  1. […] A System Programming Language Variant of Java […]

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