Perl & Java

How do we use Perl and Java together? Unlike many other languages, that for example run in the JVM, it is not particularly easy to combine them. But that is not the idea.

A good starting point is thinking about houses and furniture. While it is perfectly possible to build houses of wood or furniture of concrete, the common practice is to build the house of concrete, stone (plus some other „hard“ materials) and to build furniture mostly of wood or materials that are somewhat like wood. There is a point behind this. The house should be durable and it remains the same for a long time. Changing the house is an expensive operation.

Furniture is individual and different people who use different parts of the house usually bring their own furniture. It is easy to change and it dues not need to be as hard, because being inside the house it is protected from wind, snow, rain and to some extent even temperature changes.

And now think about the tools that we use to build the house. They are not made of concrete or stone at all.

Materials have their strength and weaknesses. We can use the common materials for the task. We can substitute them to some extent. Good wooden houses exist, but wooden skyscrapers are rare.

We also have different programming languages with certain strengths and weaknesses. We can substitute them to some extent as well. Good programs exist that are written in many different languages, even combinations of languages. Who likes PHP? And who likes Wikipedia?

There are many good JVM languages, like Java, Scala, Kotlin, Clojure, JRuby, Ceylon, Groovy… They are widely accepted by the people who manage the budgets. And the operations teams know how to work with software in JVM languages. It is easy to find developers, maybe a lot easier for Java than for Ceylon. Ceylon and Kotlin came out at the same time and with very similar goals. Simply said: Kotlin won and Ceylon lost.  And the performance of JVM-lanauges is close enough to that of native C/C++, which is an amazing success of the developers who wrote and improved the JVM. We kindly ignore that this is at the expense of startup times and memory consumption, but even these issues are being worked on and we will see further progress with GraalVM. It runs on Linux servers, which is what we usually want to use, but it would also run on other common servers. This is excellent building material for houses.

The cons of JVM software: high memory footprint and startup times. The memory footprint can be solved by throwing some money and usually that is a reasonable option, when looking at the big picture. Startup times do not really matter, because we just let our server run for a long time.

So for scripts that do small to moderate size jobs on the command line, Perl seems to be superior to Java. When it comes to parsing text and using regular expressions, Perl profits from having the best regular expression engine, second maybe to that of Raku, which is former Perl6.

Perl can be used to edit Java programs. So you write a perl script that performs simple or more complex transformations on a possibly large set of Java classes or even creates Java classes. This allows to do things that are not available in the „refactoring tab“ of the IDE.

You can call Perl programs from Java to perform tasks that are impossible or too difficult to do in Java. Because Java chose to be „OS-independent“, certain lowlevel OS-functionality cannot be accessed from Java, but this is possible from Perl.

And Perl can be used to start Java programs. Today we see really horrible shell scripts to start something like Tomcat. For the windows variant they add a bat-file that is even much worse. A Perl script can much more easily setup the environment for this Java program and start it and there is no need to write it twice. Or use Perl scripts to perform installation tasks for the software.

Another interesting application is testing. Perl can be used to create automated test, to prepare test data or to parse result data. Or to anonymize data.

Most of these things can as well be done with Python and Ruby and probably some other languages. For certain tasks Ruby or Python are probably even better than Perl. And you can very well think of other JVM-languages instead of „Java“. Many of these things can be done with specific tools that serve the task well. Which can be a good idea, but it can also constrain you to what the tool supports, as in the refactoring case with the IDE as a tool.

It is sometimes a good idea, to combine a language like Clojure, Java, C, C++, Scala with a scripting language like Ruby, Python or Perl.

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