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Python vs. Java: Which one is right for you?

If you're new to programming, it may be hard to choose which programming language to learn or use for a project. Both Python and Java are great choices for many reasons:

  • You can start learning either language right now as long as you have an internet connection to download their free installation files.
  • You can use both Python and Java on Windows, Mac, or Linux, so it doesn't matter what type of computer you have.
  • Both Python and Java are popular and in demand, so whichever you choose to learn, you will definitely add a marketable skill to your resume.

But there are significant differences between Python and Java, and developers usually prefer one language over the other. Let's look at the major differences between the two to help you decide which programming language is right for you.

Python vs. Java: Learning curve and readability

Python has a unique syntax compared to most other programming languages. Most developers find it easier to read because it's almost like reading English. Here's how you would add two numbers and print the result with Python:

number1 = 4
number2 = 7
sum = number1 + number2
print(sum)

The code above is written in a procedural style. In procedural programming, each line of code is executed in order from top to bottom. Procedural programming is just one of the many programming styles you can use in Python, and it's great for scripting because it's concise and easy to write.

In Java, you have to write in an object-oriented style, and its syntax relies more heavily on symbols. In object-oriented programming, you build a program by breaking down the solution into objects. To create a code with Java that does the same thing as the Python code above, you'd first create a class, then add a method that adds the two integers. Here's how it should look:

public class Main{
  public static void main(String[] args) {
    int number1 = 4;
    int number2 = 7;
    int sum = number1 + number2;
    System.out.println(sum);
  }
}

You'll notice that the Java code required more lines. And, if you are new to programming, you may not understand half of what's going on in the Java example, while you can at least follow the idea in the Python example.

Python is definitely easier to understand. That's why many beginners prefer it. But, Java's syntax is similar to that of many other programming languages — like C++, PHP, and JavaScript — so learning it will give you a headstart when you venture into other languages. Python's syntax is unique, and while many of its programming concepts will translate to other languages, its syntax will not.

Python vs. Java: Use cases

There are many types of programming projects where you can use both Python and Java effectively. For these projects, you'll find various third-party libraries that make development quicker and easier, and both languages will be equally powerful. This includes:

But for certain types of applications, the choice of a programming language becomes more obvious.

You might have heard that "Java is everywhere." And it is. You'll find Java in operating systems, hardware, smart devices, and more. Many enterprise developers also prefer its strictly object-oriented style. Other common applications of Java include:

  • Embedded systems
  • Desktop applications
  • Android app development

Python's easy-to-read syntax makes it a preferred language for mathematicians and scientists. It's simpler to write a script in Python than create a complete object-oriented application in Java. For this reason, Python has a wide variety of data analysis, machine learning, data processing, and visualization libraries. Python is a preferred choice by many developers for:

Python vs. Java: Performance

For performance, Java is usually the winner.

Python is an interpreted programming language, meaning that its code is read and executed by an interpreter. This extra layer in code execution requires more processor time and memory. Java is a compiled language, so its code is closer to the machine-level language that computers understand— thus saving time in code execution.

Outside of code execution, Python and Java are generally equal in terms of performance as they both support concurrent programming, unlike other languages that may only support sequential programming.

With sequential programming, a program must be executed line by line on a single processor. Concurrent programming allows programs to be executed with multiple threads on multiple processors. If you're running a million lines of code, sequential languages would have to execute each line, one at a time, from beginning to end. But with Java or Python, you could break the code into multiple portions and run them all simultaneously.

Some programming projects require optimal performance. For these applications, Java is the right choice. But in many applications, the difference in speed and memory usage between a Java program and the equivalent Python program is negligible. So for applications where performance is not critical, the choice of language again comes down to personal preference.

Getting Started

You can't really make a wrong choice here. Python and Java are both powerful languages that you can use to build a wide variety of applications.

If you think Python is more your style and want to start with it, check out our Learn Python course. We'll teach you the fundamentals of the language.

To dive even deep into the language's capabilities, take a look through our Python course catalog. We'll show you how to use Python to build web apps and chatbots, analyze data, and more.

If you feel Java is the language for you, try our Learn Java course. After that, you can take the language further by using it to build an Android app.

But no one is saying that you have to stick with one language. You'll run into both throughout your programming career — sometimes even at the same company. One may become your preferred language, but knowing both will definitely pay off.

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.

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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Python vs. Java: Which one is right for you?
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