Sincerest form of flattery

“Java 8 got lambdas? Great, goodbye Scala forever!”

Lucy Carey

Not quite. Oracle’s new platform drop may have muscled in on Scala’s lambda territory, but it’s no pretender to the functional programming throne.

It’s difficult to take your pet Liger for a walk without being labelled an eccentric. Equally tricky: unleashing a new language on the JVM and not being accused of trying to “kill” Java. Remember all the fuss over Ceylon? When Scala went live, the reception from some Java-fatigued devs was equally excitable – at last, here was a hip young heir to the creaky, conservative platform!

Well, not exactly, as things turned out. Step forward Java 8, packed with productivity and efficiency boosting lambda expressions, methods, references, and functional interfaces. All those things that had people abandoning the proverbial Oracle ship for exotic Scala waters. People are genuinely excited about the new Java release – just look at this Twitter sentiment overview below. And it’s this buzz that’s got many programmers asking the same question: is Scala at risk of a mass JVM jilting?

Not in the opinion of blogger Ahmed Soliman it seems, who ruminates this very point in a blog post titled: “Will Java 8 kill Scala?”. For a start, many Java-ites are just starting to wrap their heads around lambdas (crash course here if you’re one of them) but on planet Scala, devs have been eating these programming functions for breakfast since way back when. To Ahmed, lambdas in Java simply cannot touch those already in Scala – at best, they are “scratching the surface”.

Moreover, whilst lambdas are doubtless a big selling point for Scala, they’re by no means the cardinal feature. Ahmed notes that the language is also an important tool for users like himself who want to write reactive, scalable software as methodically as possible.

Adding lambda expressions to the platform is not going to magically alchemize Java into a functional programming language, nor should it. As Ahmed writes, “I see it clearly that Java is not turning into a functional language…people love Java for what it is already, the Enterpris-y stuff and solid backward compatibility.”

For Ahmed, closing the gap between Java and Scala is ultimately a positive for the users on both sides. As he puts it, what we have now is “two languages that can play even nicer together now and Typesafe (the company pushing Scala) is actually excited about Java 8 as some of us are.”

Going forward, it’ll be far easier for Java fans to pick up Scala, and conversely, Scala adherents will be able to learn how Java implements functional programming constructs “to match the JVM and how the JVM will be adapted (like the recently added invokedynamic in Java 7) to support the move.”

Moreover, the rapprochement between the two languages means “support” for the two languages on both sides. Ahmed cites the Play Framework, where the Java API of the framework allows for cleaner code,  as a key example of this.

This “peace and love between all the languages” outlook is shared by Georges Saab, VP of Software Development in the Java Platform Group at Oracle, although he notes that whilst he too believes”new language and runtime features in Java 8 may end up bringing the various languages on the JVM closer together”, he sounds a note of caution that “different communities have rather different philosophies.”

If a recent TypeSafe survey is anything to go by, the Scala community is by and large at ease with the introduction of familiar programming concepts from the language going into Java.  Overall, 48% of users believe that the new Scala-flavoured addition to Java 8 “validates Scala’s language design on the JVM and will positively reinforce the adoption of Scala,” as opposed to leeching away potential users.

Everyone has their idiosyncratic reasons for developing in the languages that they do, and adding similar features to ones that they currently enjoy into another platform isn’t going to suddenly server these attachments. Where Java 8 could ultimately harm Scala down the line is if potential Scala users are steered towards Java instead.

A smaller community driving the language forward would hamper the momentum of development. Given how conservatively Oracle moves forward with Java  though (and that’s not necessarily to its detriment), there will always be devs looking elsewhere in the JVM for useful language features. It’s this agility to rapidly respond to this demand that will keep Scala and other similar languages on people’s radars, and keep the community growing – regardless of how many lambdas you want to stir into your Java.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments