When comparing Java vs Scheme, the Slant community recommends Scheme for most people. In the question“What is the best programming language to learn first?” Scheme is ranked 4th while Java is ranked 22nd. The most important reason people chose Scheme is:
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A *formal* specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern. Ultimately, everything looks something like this: (func a b c) This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow: (if cond then-clause else-clause) or even primitive operations like `define` and `set`: (define foo 10) (set! foo 11) This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Fantastic IDEs
Because Java is statically typed, integrated development environments (IDEs) for Java can provide a lot more feedback on errors you will encounter. Java IDEs can give you specific errors in the location where they occur without having to run the code every time. This makes is faster to debug and learn from your mistakes.
IDEs also have extensive auto complete capabilities that can help you learn the programming libraries you are using faster and tell you what functions are available.
Pro Most commonly used language in industry
Pro Consistent programming standards
Most Java code follows very standardized coding styles. This means that when you're starting out, there are fewer questions about how you should implement something as the programming styles and patterns are well established and consistent. This consistent style means that it's often easier to follow others' example code, and that it's more likely to meet at least a certain minimum standard of quality. This discipline with consistent stylistic standards also becomes useful later, when collaborating on projects with larger teams.
Pro Best introduction to "C style" languages
The Java syntax is very similar to other C style languages. Learning the fundamentals of Java will port over well to other languages so you can apply what you've leaned to other languages afterwards.
Pro Introduces you to object oriented languages
Object Oriented Programming (OOP) is a paradigm that teaches you to split your problem into simpler modules with few connections between them; it's the most common paradigm used in industry. Java is the best choice as an introduction to object oriented languages because, as a statically-typed OOP-only language, it very clearly highlights core OOP principles such as encapsulation, access control, data abstraction, and inheritance.
While a scripting language provides more flexibility and terseness, learning a scripting language first would not instill these fundamental concepts as well, as they tend to obscure details such as how types work, and are less encouraging of an object oriented style.
Pro Platform Independent
Because of the Java Virtual Machine, the Java programming language is supported wherever a JVM is installed.
Pro Massive amount of libraries and APIs
Java has been around for such a long time that there have been tens of thousands of APIs and libraries written for almost anything you want to do.
Pro Simple syntax
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A formal specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern.
Ultimately, everything looks something like this:
(func a b c)
This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow:
(if cond then-clause else-clause)
or even primitive operations like
(define foo 10) (set! foo 11)
This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Pro Great, well known textbooks
There is a set of very strong textbooks introducing CS and programming using Scheme. These books are available for free online.
The most famous example--and one of the most famous CS books full stop--is Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs usually known as SICP. This book introduces fundamental ideas in computer science and covers an incredible amount of material quickly and clearly without requiring any prior knowledge.
However, some people find SICP a bit challenging as a first text. Happily, there are other more introductory texts as well. Simply Scheme is a book designed to be read before SICP, easing beginners into the language as well as CS and programming in general. How to Design Programs is another text used in introductory college courses.
Pro Great at teaching fundamental programming ideas
Scheme teaches the important, fundamental ideas immediately without the distraction of unnecessary syntax or language features.
Pro No Magic - it's clear how everything works
Scheme has far less built into the language itself, helping students see that things like OOP are not magical: they are just patterns for organizing code. Everything in Scheme is built up from a very small set of primitives which compose in a natural and intuitive fashion.
Having a language that does not accord many things special status helps keep students open minded. This will help students later go between different languages and paradigms from procedural to object-oriented to functional.
Pro Robust metaprogramming
The quotation functionality of Lisp allow for extremely powerful, yet syntactically straightforward metaprogramming via macros. This is more powerful than the C preprocessor while being less involved than something like Template Haskell or F# quotations.
Using macros to properly decompose a problem domain teaches new developers good habits, improving composibility and reliability when tackling large programs. Scheme metaprogramming also serves as a gentle introduction to domain specific languages.
Unlike most languages, Scheme actually accords both functional programming and imperative programming roughly equal status. Many other languages like Python and Java are staunchly imperative while SML and Haskell are primarily functional; Scheme is a nice middle ground.
Additionally, since Scheme syntax is extremely flexible, it can easily be re-purposed for teaching non-deterministic and logic programming. There is no need to learn a new language like Prolog when the same ideas can easily be expressed with Scheme syntax.
This gives students a good perspective on different ways to think about and organize programs, which makes it much easier to move forward to other languages and technologies.
Con Worst-of-both-worlds static type system
It's just barely good enough to make decent IDEs, but it's not at the level of Idris or even Haskell. For large enterprise projects, the IDE support is important, but the static typing in Java just gets in the way for the smaller projects beginners would start with.
Python is duck typed and this makes small programs easy to develop quickly, but the price is that you have to write unit tests to avoid breaking larger programs. In contrast, you can be reasonably certain that a program that actually compiles in Idris does what you want, because assertions are built into the powerful type system. Java can't make that claim and still requires unit tests. Java has the worst of both worlds because of its poor static type system.
Con Lacks modern features
Java evolves very slowly - lambda expressions weren't available until Java 8 (which is not available on Android), and despite getters/setters being a long-time convention, the language still doesn't have native accessor syntax (a la C#'s properties). It's unlikely newer, popular features like list comprehensions or disjoint union types will be available anytime soon. While not strictly required for novice programmers, these make problems more complicated and tedious than they need to be - for example, when a simple local function would do, (portable) Java demands anonymous inner classes, an interface and a class, or worse, no abstraction at all.
Con Confusing mis-features
Some features in Java can be quite confusing for beginners.
Encapsulation is needlessly obfuscated with a confusing access control model. As an example, the "protected" keyword not only grants access to child classes, but to the entire package. Since small programs are written as one package, it becomes functionally equivalent to "public".
In OOP, everything is supposed to be an object, but, in Java, primitive types such as integers, booleans and characters are not, and must be handled as special cases.
Java continues to lack many high-level features, and, particularly prior to Java 7, compensated by adding confusing Java-only features, such as anonymous subclasses. Some example code is unreadable without knowing a special-case feature, libraries differ in style based on when they were released or what platform they target(e.g., Android vs. Desktop), and some solutions just aren't available on some platforms.
Con Too verbose
- A Hello world needs package, class, static method and the actual
- Reading a line from input requires instatiating 5 objects in the right order.
- Exceptions are everywhere, particularly since all values are nullable.
- Java has a getter/setter culture, but without native syntax support.
- portable Java code lacks anonymous functions, and continues to lack good support for partial application, compensating instead with verbose design patterns, kludges like anonymous inner classes, or just inline code.
- It is statically typed without type inference, with a culture that promotes long class names.
- Poor support for sum-types and pattern matching leads to overuse of inheritance for dynamic dispatch and chains of nested conditionals
Especially for beginners, this can make reading Java code feel overwhelming; most Java courses tell students to simply copy, paste, and ignore a significant percentage of the code until they've learned enough to understand what it means.
For experienced programmers, this makes Java feel tedious, especially without an IDE, and actively discourages some solutions and some forms of abstraction.
Con Locks you into the static OOP mindset
Con Half-baked generics
Type erasure means it doesn't even exist at runtime. The whole generics system is confusing for beginners.
Con Garbage collection may teach bad habits
Java is a garbage collected language and it does not force programmers to think about memory allocation and management for their programs. This is fine most of the time. However, it may cause some difficulties in adjusting to a non-GC language (such as C for example), where memory management needs to be done manually. But if good coding practices and habits are followed, this shouldn't be much of a problem.
Con Enforces some misguided principles
Java utilizes principles that organize code into "classes" as the central concept, instead of more familiar organizational methods.
Con Long learning curve
Con Static typing but no type inference
The type system gets in your way more than it helps. Heavy IDE support is absolutely required for reasonable productivity. This means beginners have to learn not just the language, but eventually a complex, heavyweight IDE too.
Con Checked exceptions
Catch blocks can be a frequent source of mistakes.
Con Little Market Search
There are little to none jobs searching for a Scheme programmer. The ones that exist are more related to Research in Maths or Artificial Intelligence.
Con Fragmented ecosystem
Scheme is an IEEE standard, not an implementation. Unfortunately, the standard is too minimal and practical implementations have diverged--they had to expand on the standard to get anything done, but did so in incompatible ways.
The later de facto standard R6RS tried to correct this, but lost Scheme's minimalist elegance in the process. The newer R7RS standard takes the best of both worlds with an elegant minimalist core and a practical standard library.