Object-Oriented Python vs Object-Oriented Java Codes Comparison

Programmers are creatures of habit, and tend to stick with established language features unless they have some compelling reason to embrace new ones. Object-oriented (OOP) features are a good example of this issue. PHP programmers consider PHP’s OOP features to be a good idea — but use them sparingly, if at all. The story is similar with many Python programmers, who prefer not to use Python’s OOP features.

Java sits at the other end of the language spectrum: It’s an OOP language, so there’s no getting away from classes when you use Java. Despite Java’s OOP pedigree, however, a lot of Java code is still written in a procedural manner.

Why this bias against (or possible misuse of) OOP? I think it boils down to a combination of personal inclination and engineering judgment. If a PHP or Python programmer has extensive experience with one of these languages and hasn’t used the OOP features often, the disinclination may be due to simple inertia. But certain development tasks might be better implemented in an OOP context than in the familiar procedural/functional paradigm.

It’s true that OOP programming can result in issues such as heap fragmentation or other nondeterministic platform states, such as performance deterioration. Indeed, the issue of OOP heap use was one reason why C++ took many years to replace C in embedded development projects. Back in the 1990s, disk, CPU, and memory were at such a premium that, at least in the minds of designers, they precluded the use of OOP languages (which also precluded potential productivity gains from using these emerging languages).

I think it’s still fair to say that many Python programmers avoid OOP features unless no other option exists. In this article, I compare Python and Java to show how they stack up against each other in terms of complexity and speed. I hope this will allow for an objective assessment!

Let’s take a look at some code, starting with Python.

A Python Class

As is the case with Python in general, the Python OOP paradigm is pretty concise, as the simple class in Listing 1 illustrates.

Listing 1 — A Python class.

The Student class has three data members: name, age, and major subject.

The __init__() method is the closest thing Python has to a constructor. Notice the use of self.name to initialize the state of the instance. Also included is the simple method is_old() to determine (in a slightly “ageist” manner) whether the underlying student is young or old (with “old” being over 100 years).

The code in Listing 1 illustrates one of the great merits of OO programming: Code and data reside in close proximity to each other. Data is of course the repository of state, so the use of OOP brings code, data, and state together in a manner useful to programmers. Clearly, you can do all of this without OOP code, but OOP makes it a matter of rather beautiful simplicity.

Remember: Most source code on the planet exists to model some real-world entity or process. OOP can be a very clear, minimum-impedance technique for such modeling. This might even be a compelling reason for using the OOP approach at all costs!

An Equivalent Java Class

Not to be outdone by our Python coding effort, Listing 2 shows an equivalent Java class.

Listing 2 — A Java student class.

The Java code in Listing 2 is very similar to the Python code in Listing 1. Notice that the use of OOP can produce quite readable code in either language. Listing 1 is not likely to baffle a Java programmer, even without a background in Python. Likewise, a Python programmer well versed in the Python OOP features would easily understand the Java code in Listing 2.

So here’s our first takeaway: Well-written OOP code can help to promote inter-language comprehensibility.

Why is this important? In our multi-language era, such comprehensibility is a prize worth pursuing.

The modern era of software can be defined by the rapid adoption of application deployment on the Web and the concomitant use of browsers to access those applications. Users now routinely demand from web-hosted applications what used to be called “desktop features.” Such usability generally can’t be delivered using just one programming language. Programmers must increasingly be comfortable in numerous languages: Java, Scala, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Python, SQL, and so on.

A Matter of Speed: Python Versus Java Code

Speed is always an issue. Let’s modify Listing 1 so that we can get a feel for the speed of the underlying code.

Running the Python Code

Listing 3 illustrates a simple (toy) program that attempts to “stress” the platform a little.

Listing 3 — A timed program run.

Listing 3 is a slightly augmented version of Listing 1. This revised code does the following:

  1. Import the time module.
  2. Create a time snapshot at the beginning of the program.
  3. Instantiate a large number of Student objects.
  4. Access the data inside each object.
  5. Take a time snapshot and subtract the original time.
  6. Display the time required to run the program.

Admittedly, this is a pretty crude test. But let’s see an example run that creates 500,000 objects. This is an excerpt from the full program run:

We can think of this as a baseline test: It takes about 30 seconds for a program run of 500,000 objects. Now let’s raise the number of objects created to 800,000:

From this, we see that a program run of 800,000 objects takes about 48 seconds. Let’s double the number of objects created, to 1,600,000:

That’s 97 seconds for 1,600,000 objects.

Now let’s do a comparative run using Java.

Running the Java Code

Listing 4 illustrates a simple Java program that also attempts to stress the platform a little.

Listing 4 — The Java test program.

Notice in Listing 4 that I’ve included automatically generated getter and setter methods. This type of productivity enhancement is really handy, and because such code is machine-generated, it’s completely error-free.

Let’s run the Java code with 500,000 objects, just as we did for the Python case:

That’s 31 seconds for 500,000 objects. Now we run it with 800,000 objects:

That’s 50 seconds for 800,000 objects. Now we run our final Java test with 1,600,000 objects:

That’s 104 seconds for 1,600,000 objects.

Let’s tabulate the results for comparison.

Comparative Speed Test

The test results show that the Python code outperforms the Java code by a small margin. This is not unexpected. Java might be called a “heavyweight” mainstream language; it comes with a certain amount of baggage, including but not limited to the following:

  • Portability. This simply means that Java bytecode will run on any platform with an appropriate Java virtual machine (JVM).
  • Type safety. As the example illustrates, type safety is closely related to memory safety. This language feature helps to avoid situations in which an attempt is made to copy an invalid bit pattern into a given memory area.
  • Built-in security. The Java security model is based on a sandbox in which code can run safely with minimal negative effects on the underlying platform.

As with any technology, this feature set comes at a cost; however, as the table shows, the cost in the current test context is not exactly exorbitant.

This is our second takeaway: OOP does have a cost, but it’s relatively cheap considering all the extra capabilities you get.

Extending the Test

The tests I ran for this example are pretty simple. A more realistic test might use objects that read and write to a database, or send and receive network traffic. If the data in such programs is derived from files, that would help in stressing the application with disk I/O.

Running the Code

Python can be run from the command line; more conveniently, you can run it from within an integrated development environment (IDE) such as Eclipse. I prefer to use an IDE because of the many productivity enhancements they offer: code generation, unit testing, package and module creation, and so on.

Getting started with Python and Eclipse is easy: Install Eclipse and then use the Eclipse Marketplace to install the PyDev plug-in. Create a Python (or PyDev) module, and you’re all set to start creating your Python code.

Of course, it’s even easier to run the Java code in Eclipse, because the default installation already includes support for Java. And let’s not forget all the ancillary Java productivity enhancements: code completion, code generation (getters, setters, constructors, etc.), refactoring, and so on.

Regardless of your language choice or programming model (OOP versus procedural or functional), there is no denying that the use of a modern IDE such as Eclipse is a major productivity enhancement. This type of tool facilitates agile development in the form of code generation, refactoring, and tool integration via plug-ins.

Final Thoughts

OOP languages were the subject of a certain amount of mistrust back in the 1990s. In those days, many organizations preferred to stick with mainstream languages such as C, rather than adopting the new C++. Then along came Java, and I think it’s fair to say that C++ was no longer the de facto OOP language.

Nowadays, OOP languages are used in embedded platforms pretty much as a matter of course. However, there is still some resistance to using the OOP features in languages such as Python and PHP. The reasons for this resistance might have more to do with programmer preferences than with reality!

One interesting aspect of a comparison between OOP code in different languages is the commonality between such languages. Python OOP code is not vastly different from equivalent code in Java. This could be considered an advantage of using OOP features in the multi-language era, helping programmers to produce good code. Simpler code is generally well received by maintenance programmers and production support staff.

The speed of such broadly equivalent Java and Python code is pretty similar, as I’ve illustrated here with simple tests.

OOP offers many advantages in any language. The potential ease of understanding that OOP provides could be a strong motivation for its use. Given this and the other advantages, OOP seems to offer too many pluses right now, and potentially in the future, for smart programmers to keep avoiding it.

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