Friday, February 16, 2007

The "ergonomics" of Java programming

Ergonomics is the study of human capabilities in relationship to work demands. There are a few aspects of the Java language that tend to make programmers less effective than developers who use concise scripting languages like Ruby or languages like Lisp that enable the development of new domain specific languages on top of the Lisp language. I would like to address two techniques that I use to make Java development more ergonomic, given the limitations of Java.

Fixable problem #1 for me is that Java is not a concise language: I believe that the fewer lines of code in a project, then the easier to read, understand and maintain. I try to crunch down the size of my code by writing getters/setters on one line and initializing multiple variables per line. Also, since most laptop and desktop displays are now a wide screen format, I tend to use more "horizontal real estate" when editing - try to maximize the code that I can see on one screen by putting some small code blocks on one line, etc. - but be careful to keep code readable.

Fixable problem #2: application size and complexity: I always prefer to chop projects up into sub projects. Modules can be tested in isolation and then generate JAR files for use in larger aggregate projects. Including source code in your JAR files makes them more Java IDE friendly for reading library code.

The non-dynamic nature of Java does have one large advantage: IDEs like IntelliJ and Eclipse can offer better auto completion and refactoring capabilities. By carefully structuring Java projects, I believe that while Java will never have the high degree of programmer productivity of Ruby, Lisp, Smalltalk, etc., it is still a great language to develop in - important because of the obvious benefits of server side Java.

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