Is the Scala Programming Language the Next Java?

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A quiet revolution is taking place and Scala, a programming language used by Twitter and FourSquare, may win.

A new Open Source computer programming language developed in Switzerland could be destined to replace Java, the language that powers much of the Internet and many commercial applications today. Scala, developed at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is already the programming language of choice for social networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and FourSquare. An estimated 100,000 programmers are already using the language and it continues to attract attention from industry for its elegance and muscle. Version 2.8 will be announced during Scala Days, which takes place on the EPFL campus April 15-16, 2010.

“I created Scala to boost development productivity, application scalability and system reliability,” explains EPFL professor Martin Odersky (see biography below). He also wrote the compiler that Java programmers use today and introduced the feature of generic programming to Java and subsequently to Scala. The name Scala comes from the idea of a scalable language able to follow increasing user and hardware demands, making it effectively “future-proof,” according to Odersky.

“Scala is an essential part of our strategy,” explains Stanford University Professor Kunle Olukotun, a recognized pioneer in multi-core chip design. Olukotun, director of the Pervasive Parallel Laboratory, is using Scala to develop new computer architectures to effectively harness the power of hundreds of computers on a chip. He predicts that the personal computer of tomorrow will not just have two or four processors, as we see with today’s Duo and Quad machines, but dozens upon dozens.

The latest version of the language introduces several new features and improvements, most importantly the re-written Scala collections library that substantially improves reliability and ease of use. A new extension called Named and Default Arguments also makes programmers’ lives easier.

Scala is an elegant union of object-based programming and functional programming, “a fusion,” as Odersky likes to say. The language allows programmers to gradually make the transition away from Java by incorporating powerful tools right into Java code. It also allows them to write code in a more intuitive way, which increases productivity and reduces long-term maintenance costs by replacing interminable lines of difficult to maintain code with shorter lines that are easier to read.

Companies like Twitter, EDF, FourSquare, Siemens, Xerox, LinkedIn and Sony are already convinced. Twitter chose Scala because their programmers are much more productive and their users have a faster and more reliable service with the language. When talking about their move to Scala, Alex Payne, lead API developer at Twitter, said, "We want the code we write to be correct and maintainable. We want to keep our costs down—all the things most businesses want. We wanted to be using a language that we’re really passionate about."

Social Network - Users - Main Programming Languages
Facebook     - 400 million users - PHP
Twitter - 70 million users - Scala, Ruby
FourSquarre - 500,000 users - Scala
LinkedIn - 60 million     - Java, Scala, Groovy

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Michael David Mitchell
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