Scripting on the Java Virtual Machine

Now that OpenVMS has Java, and that HP-UX has Java, I started wondering about the possibility of running a scripting language on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) as a way of supporting all these diverse environments with the same code and tools.

Choosing a language can be difficult, especially when there are so many good ones to choose from. I’ll assume for purposes of discussion that one is already familiar with at least one or more computer languages already (you should be!).

So what are the criteria a system administrator should use to choose a language on the JVM?

  • Does the language have a strong and vibrant community around it? The language might be nice, but if no new development is being done on it, it will eventually fail and stop working on the newer JVM. Bugs will not be fixed if development has halted. It also helps to have a large variety of people to call on when trouble arises, or when your code has to be maintained in the future.
  • Does the language support your favored method of programming? If you have no desire to learn functional programming, then don’t choose a language that is a functional language. Find a language that thinks the way you do (unless you are specifically trying to stretch your mind…).
  • Is your preferred langauge already available for the JVM? There are implementations of Ruby (JRuby), Python (Jython), LISP (Armed Bear Common Lisp), Tcl (Jacl) and many others. A language that you already know will reduce your learning time to near zero on the Java Virtual Machine.
  • What are the requirements? For example, JRuby requires a dozen libraries; Clojure and Armed Bear Common Lisp have no outside requirements. Which is simpler to install onto a new machine?

So what languages am I looking at? I am looking at these:

  • Clojure – a LISP-like functional programming language which seems to be taking off handsomely.
  • JRuby – Ruby is my all-time favorite scripting language, and having it available whereever the Java VM is is a very tintillating prospect. It’s also directly supported by Sun, the makers of Java.
  • Groovy – this is a new language that takes after Ruby and Smalltalk, and it is growing in popularity at a dramatic pace.
  • Scala – this is a language with a strong developer base and an object-oriented and functional design. Don’t know much more about it yet.
  • Armed Bear Common Lisp – ABCL is a full Common LISP implementation for the Java VM, and is used as part of the J editor. Unlike ABCL, development on J seems to have stopped; development on ABCL has gone through a resurgence after not quite dying for several years. ABCL is the closest thing to LISP on the JVM, and is usually the first mentioned – even though its development community is not nearly as strong as Scala or JRuby.

These are only the ones I’ve chosen to focus on; there are many, many more.

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