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Kotlin vs. Swift: What should you learn for mobile development?

Both Kotlin and Swift are modern programming languages that are used for mobile app development. There are some differences in the languages themselves, but the big differences are in what they are used for. We'll take a look at both to help you decide which language is right for you.

What is Kotlin?

Kotlin is a programming language created jointly by Google and JetBrains specifically for mobile development on the Android operating system. Android development was traditionally done with Java at the time. Java is a popular language, and many developers have learned it, but Android developers thought it was time for a change.

Java was developed in 1995, and a lot of its lower-level features allow developers to tweak every part of their applications. But this type of control and power came at the cost of ease of use. This is overkill for many types of applications, and many Android developers thought it would be better to trade a little performance for a quicker and easier development process.

Google and JetBrains listened to mobile application developers and created a programming language called Kotlin in 2011. Kotlin is a programming language that runs in the Java Virtual Machine like Java, but it is much simpler to use. Some of the benefits of Kotlin over Java include:

  • You don't have to use semicolons to end each line of code in Kotlin.
  • You can create variables in Kotlin without defining the type of the variable beforehand.
  • It's easy to check for null values in Kotlin. In Java, a null value can crash your software.
  • Kotlin, in general, allows developers to write less code than they would have to in Java.

As a bonus, Kotlin is also interoperable with Java, meaning you can use Kotlin and Java code in the same project. Developers loved the language for mobile development, and it became an official Android programming language. It's also a general-purpose language that can run wherever Java can, including Linux, Windows, Mac OSX, and other operating systems.

Getting started with Kotlin

Want to learn more about Kotlin? If you want a firm grounding in the programming language that Kotlin comes from, you can start by learning Java and learn the fundamentals of a programming language that is used just about everywhere and for every use you can think of. Then you can transition into learning Kotlin. To start developing Android apps in the language, you can learn the basics of Android or take the Build Basic Android Apps with Java Skill Path.

What is Swift?

Swift has a story similar to Kotlin's. It was released in 2014 by Apple as a replacement for Apple's original programming language, Objective-C. Objective-C is a programming language used for developing everything Apple, from desktop applications that run in Mac OSX to mobile apps for the iPhone platform. While you could write code in other languages for Apple products, Objective-C worked best.

But Objective-C was an even older language than Java. It was actually used to develop operating systems in the 1980s, before Mac OSX. And it was 30 years old when Swift came out. Many other modern programming languages developed features that programmers were used to, and Objective-C seemed ancient comparatively.

So Apple released Swift in 2014 to give Apple developers a more modern language to work with. Swift is interoperable with Objective-C so that you can use both languages in the same software project. This means developers could slowly convert applications to Swift instead of building a new application in Swift from scratch. Some of the benefits of Swift compared to Objective-C include:

  • According to Apple, Swift can be up to 2.6 times faster than Objective-C.
  • You can easily create variables in Swift without defining the type beforehand.
  • You don't have to use semicolons to end lines in Swift code.
  • Swift code can be written quicker than Objective-C code because it was made more developer-friendly.
  • Swift is also open source, and since September of 2020, you can build Swift applications that run on Mac OSX, Linux, and Windows.

Swift is also a general-purpose programming language, just like Kotlin, which means that although it is mainly used for mobile development, it can also be used for other programming projects, like building web applications and web services. So how do you get started learning Swift?

Getting started with Swift

The advantages of Swift far outweigh the benefits of Objective-C. Swift is not only easier to write, but it is also magnitudes faster than the older Apple programming language.

Ready to discover more about Swift? You can start with Learn Swift, which will teach you the fundamentals of this powerful open-source, cross-platform language, and start developing mobile applications. To take your knowledge of the language further in the mobile development sphere, check out Build iOS Apps with SwiftUI.

Swift vs. Kotlin: Which should you choose?

Which language is right for you? Both are modern programming languages that you can use for mobile development. Both make writing code easier than the traditional languages used for Android and iOS development. And both will run on Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux.

The decision should depend on which type of mobile platforms you'd like to develop for. By learning Kotlin, you'll be able to develop Android apps. By learning Swift, you'll have your foot in the door of iPhone and Mac OSX development. Or maybe the question is: Which do you learn first? You can always do both and become an all-around mobile application developer of both Android and iOS apps.

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Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller

Stephan Miller has been a full-stack, mobile, and machine learning developer for two decades and has written code for companies both big and small, both startups and established businesses.

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Kotlin vs. Swift: What should you learn for mobile development?
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