Acording to the Tiobe index, both C# (pronounced as ‘see sharp’) and Java have been among the five most popular languages in the programming world for many years in a row. No wonder a lot of coding beginners want to master at least one of them – but where should you start? The choice might leave you in a bit of a pickle, as the languages are a lot similar, and yet have very clear distinctions.
We have prepared a comprehensive tutorial for you to get familiar with each important likeness and difference between C# and Java. As you go through it, you will be able to make an informed decision without breaking a sweat.
Where it all began
As we begin to compare C# vs. Java, we have to start with their stories of origin. Why? Well, mainly because of their intersections, which explain a lot of similarities you encounter between these languages today.
The Java team began their work in 1991 at Sun Microsystems. The goal was to create a portable and high-performing language that would guarantee security and robustness. To simplify the move to the new language for the developers, they based its syntax on the already familiar C/C++. The main principle of Java is WORA (Write Once, Run Anywhere). This means that once you write a program, it should run smoothly on any platform.
Now, in 2000, Microsoft had an idea to change Java to better suit their needs. Naturally, Sun Microsystems didn’t allow that. To avoid the legal hassle, Microsoft decided to write their own language, which would be similar to Java but have those much-needed advantages. They called it C#.
The creators of Java and the founders of Sun Microsystems have publicly called the new language an imitation of Java. However, the C# vs. Java battle resulted in languages going in separate directions in time. Today, we can see more than one clear difference between C# and Java.
When to choose C# vs. Java: the practical uses
The first thing you need to know when choosing between two programming languages is your final goal. While it’s impossible to say which language is better, either C# or Java will fit a particular need better in most cases. Both of them are general-purpose languages, which means they can be used in a variety of ways.
Using Java, you can write applications for desktop, web, and mobile use, as well as create embedded systems. Most of us have at least one device that wouldn’t run without Java: think Android devices (according to statistics, more than 85 percent of smartphones in the world run on Android!), Blu-ray players, and even SIM cards in our mobile phones. If you’re a little more ambitious and highly-skilled, you can use Java to develop financial and scientific applications as well.
The thing with Java is that it’s extremely good in dealing with huge amounts of information. This makes it a perfect choice for search engines, e-commerce, and social networks – it’s no wonder Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn all use Java extensively.
When comparing C# vs. Java, we must note C# is pretty universal as well. However, there are two fields it shines in. First, you have all things Microsoft (of course). You can create all kinds of desktop applications for Windows – and you might already be familiar with Visual Studio or Paint.net. StatCounter estimates four out of every five computers globally are used with Windows. If you are more into mobile development, you must know there are also Windows phones.
The second and probably the most important reason people take up C# is game development. Being familiar with C#, you can work with the Unity game creating software without breaking a sweat. As a game development system, Unity is extremely popular: it’s rather lightweight in comparison to the Unreal Engine and supported across more than thirty platforms. C# is also widely used to create virtual reality experiences, and if that doesn’t sound exciting, we don’t know what does!
First steps: the running environments
Both C# and Java are usually compiled, which means the code is converted into machine code first and then executed, as opposed to interpreting it step-by-step during runtime. Developers tend to think of such practice as a bit faster in terms of performance. To run the compiled implementations of programming languages, you need some additional software.
To be able to use Java, you will need to download the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). It is an engine that works as a runtime environment for Java code. The way it works is simple: the Java code is turned into bytecode, which machines can then interpret. Bytecode is not human-readable – it is just an intermediary between the Java source code and the host system.
With C#, things are quite different. To be able to code in it, you need to use the .NET framework. If you are a Windows user, chances are it is installed in your computer by default (since Windows 8, it is actually non-removable). If it’s not, you can download it free of charge as well. The .NET framework consists of two main parts: the common language runtime and a class library. The first one handles running applications: it compiles and executes the code, verifies its safety, manages memory and so on. The class library is a set of reusable types that simplify performing basic tasks, such as file access and data collection.
C# vs. Java: syntax comparison
As the creators of both C# and Java have been influenced by the same C-style languages, it’s no wonder their syntax is pretty similar as well. Just like C and C++, they are curly-brace languages: this means you define the statement blocks by using curly braces. Actually, at the level of statements and expressions, C# and Java work rather similarly. However, some minor distinctions appear when we move to type definition. With Java, you have to be explicit whenever you wish to implement a new interface or extend a class. C#, however, doesn’t need similar directions: it will draw them from the data type of the parent class or interface.
As mentioned in the beginning, the primary goal of C# creators was pretty much to make a better Java. Therefore, it’s no wonder it has more features than Java, which also means more keywords. Most of them are context-sensitive to keep the language backwards compatible. The team of Java, on the other hand, achieved the same result by choosing new syntactic constructs over keywords. However, some Java programmers admit it would be handy to be able to use as, var, yield, and a few more in their code.
C# also has more data types than Java. Java has seven primitive and three non-primitive data types. C# has two groups of types as well: nine value types and six reference types. Probably the biggest difference between C# and Java in terms of syntax is that C# supports structs. They can be used as lightweight (under 16 bytes) classes but are classified as value types.
While we’re still on the syntax, we must note one more important feature C# has and Java wishes it did. It’s called the language integrated query (LINQ – pronounced as ‘link’). Using LINQ, you can write queries to any database you wish to use without using its specific syntax. For example, if you don’t know SQL, you can just have your LINQ query translated into the format an SQL database will understand and execute. While it is not a C# syntax feature per se, it saves the developer from the need to learn the syntax requirements of each unique database. This is where C# has a slight edge in the C# vs. Java duel.
Before you go
The tricky thing with choosing the winner in the C# vs. Java battle is that they are very similar: some programmers say that knowing one of them means knowing two thirds of the other. Therefore, we can never decide which one is better or easier to learn – this means you are free to make your choice based on your goals and your previous experience. C# might be a great start if you’re already familiar with .NET, and Java can be the best option if you’re into developing for Android. Wherever you start, don’t stop at one – the sky’s the limit, after all!