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Java vs JavaScript: How to Choose the Right Backend Technology?

Java vs JavaScript: How to Choose the Right Backend Technology?

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May 18, 2021
frontpage, Java, JavaScript
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Well, that’s an easy one. There is no right technology, so the best answer would be it depends, but on what exactly does it depend?
For the record, when we say Java vs JavaScript (JS), we mean Spring Boot vs Node JS (or Express.js, to be exact), and this is what we are going to look into in this article.

Before we choose the right technology, there is a more important question that we first need to answer. What exactly is it that we are trying to build? After all, frameworks are just tools, and it is up to us to pick the right one for the task. While it is technically possible to “wind” a screw using a hammer, it might not always be the best weapon of choice.

Now that we’ve spent some time thinking about what we are going to build and we’ve narrowed the choice of tools to Node JS and Spring Boot, it is time to see some areas in which each of them excels. I will split this into a few categories that I personally find critical, but they may not be applicable to your situation, so please do your own research.

Ease of Use:

This depends on your background. If you are unfamiliar with both, then I would say Node. Spring boot definitely has a steeper learning curve. The same is true for the Java language in general. Nevertheless, both have enormous communities, so finding help or problem-related info would not be a problem.

Speed of Development:

If you are equally skilled in both Java and JS, then Node would be the better one here. JS is a very concise language that can do more with fewer lines of code. Maven Central, which is the biggest library repository for Java, has over a quarter of a million libraries (in 2019, NPM Registry surpassed the whopping number of 1 million packages available), so whatever you are trying to achieve, there is probably an off-the-shelf JavaScript solution in the NPM registry.

Handling the Growing Complexity of Our App:

This one here is a bit opinionated, but I do believe Java, in general, is better at handling the growing complexity of applications. The language has been used in Enterprise Applications for decades, so it naturally enforces some good practices and features that JS just lacks. Although good design is supposed to be simple, we often fail to deliver the deemed simplicity, and an enforcing language can be a lifesaver as our application’s complexity grows.

Performance:

Performance is very dependent on what exactly is it that you are trying to achieve. Due to its single thread, Event Loop based architecture, Node JS is excellent for IO applications with a lot of network access. But this presents a big problem in case there is a computationally intensive task at hand. The single thread will block, so all users will have to wait for it to finish. Spring Boot, on the other hand, is multi-threaded. This is why if you plan a large-scale or computationally intensive project, it may better suit your needs.

Recap:

There are many things to consider when choosing the right technology. Both Node and Spring Boot are being used by top-tier companies worldwide. This probably means that they both have their own merits. Choosing the right one is not easy and requires a certain set of expertise. What you want to achieve in the end is a quality product at a minimum cost.
An oversimplified answer to the question of when to use which is as follows:

If you already have an experienced JS development team and you care a lot about time to market, then Node JS may save you a lot of money and time. The same is true if you are building an IO app without much computation or something that you doubt will scale to a fully-fledged enterprise application.

On the other hand, if you care about robustness, then you can’t ignore the fact that Java has been the de-facto standard in Enterprise Application Development. The language’s built-in support for concurrency, along with its compile-time checks and warnings, offers significant benefits when it comes to more complex applications.

This is not to say that you can’t build a scalable application with Node or that it is impossible to deliver something quick and dirty using Spring Boot. They just both have their strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to us, the developers, to pick the right tool for the job. And in some cases, the best tool is the one we are most comfortable working with, even if that means winding a screw using a hammer.

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