Continuing The 8 Nights of Java series, tonight we focus on one of the single most important releases of Java. Java 1.4 was released a time when many businesses were starting to look to Java as a foundation for their software systems. After years of licensing proprietary or difficult to use software, Java was seen as a breadth of fresh air for many software engineers. It was helped, in part, by the decline of Windows-based computers and explosive growth of Mac and open-source Linux systems in the workplace and in homes. After all, if all of your developers are using different operating systems, then you need a software development platform that works on all of them and in that, Java was a success. So many business adopted Java 1.4 during this time and stayed on Java 1.4 for over a decade. In fact, many large enterprise systems still rely on Java 1.4 to this day. Hopefully, someone will be hired to update them soon!
Java 1.4 Notable Features
Sun released Java 1.4 (codename Merlin) on February 6th, 2002. Key new functionality included:
- Regular expressions
- NIO Version 1
- XML/XSLT support
I love regular expressions. They are one of my favorite language features because they are concise and expressive when written well. I was excited when they came out. While I started programming as a full time job after Java 1.4 was released, we were still using 1.3 as we waited for the application servers to support Java 1.4. This meant I was already employed and got to teach my teammates about regular expressions. I’ve actually given that presentation a number of times since.
I don’t use assertions because I write a lot of unit tests and the unit tests tell me about the type of problem that an assertion would. Tests help me design my code in a way that I don’t need assertions to tell me about the state of affairs. And then there is poor New I/O. I really like Java 7 NIO.2. New I/O “1”, not so much. It served it’s purpose in getting us to NIO.2 though.
I started programming professionally around the time that XML/XSLT were seen as the “new hot technology” to use on build enterprise systems. Having built-in support for XML transformations made Java look cutting edge at the time. While a lot of what is now done with XML is instead done by JSON, XML is still the core of many data-based systems. In fact, numerous web and mobile frond-end languages still use XML for their layouts, even if the developers using them rely solely on a GUI-based editor. Either way, Java 1.4 demonstrated that new technologies could be integrated into the JVM quite rapidly. That said, I’m still waiting for a JSON parser to become part of the standard Java runtime environment!
Java 1.4 also introduced NIO version 1, or NIO.1 for short. While NIO.2 is a quite powerful, if not commonly used framework, NIO.1 is basically dead weight at this point. The NIO.1 API never really caught on and today, very few people rely on file channels and the like. Since a key part of Java is keeping backwards compatibility, it remains part of the JRE, albeit rarely used.