Kotlin vs. Scala: Which one is right for your project?

As general-purpose programming languages, both Scala and Kotlin have a lot to offer. But that doesn't mean their uses cases are the same.

Kotlin and Scala might not seem all that different at first glance. They're both open source, statically typed, general-purpose programming languages that cater to the Java community. In fact, some developers see them as improved versions of Java.

We'll break down the similarities and differences between Kotlin and Scala so developers can know which might be a better fit for their programming needs.

Arguably the most important difference between Kotlin and Scala is that, like Java, Scala is an object-oriented programming language.

Technically speaking, Scala can be used for functional programming as you can write functions using the language. Because it treats every value as a discrete object, though, Scala lends itself more naturally to object-oriented programming than to functional programming.

Kotlin, meanwhile, is often described as a hybrid language. It tries to cater equally to both functional and object-oriented approaches.

Whether functional or object-oriented programming is best depends largely on the type, size and complexity of the application you are trying to build. For a more flexible language that lends itself to multiple approaches, Kotlin is a better choice. Scala is the more obvious language for object-oriented programmers, such as those working on data-intensive applications.

Improvements upon Java

Kotlin and Scala provide a programming experience similar to Java's, but without some of Java's major drawbacks. For instance, Scala and Kotlin both provide syntax that is cleaner than what you'd encounter in Java. With features such as boilerplate code reduction, you can implement the same functionality as in Java but with less code.

However, both languages attempt to improve upon Java in different ways. Scala has better support for pattern matching than Java and Kotlin, while Kotlin handles operator overloading in a simpler way than either of the other two languages. Kotlin code is also simpler and shorter.

Use cases aren't the same

It is common to see both Kotlin and Scala used in similar ways. Both, for example, are used in web development. Although these languages support a wide range of use cases and programming language scenarios, they tend to cater to different needs and contexts.

One of the most prominent use cases for Scala is big data programming. In that context, Scala's concurrency, pattern-matching features and massive scalability make it an ideal language for writing applications that need to process large amounts of data.

In contrast, you're more likely to see Kotlin used for Android development. Although Scala supports Android, Kotlin has become a popular way to write mobile apps for Android, especially among developers who previously relied on Java for mobile programming.

Potential drawbacks

Kotlin and Scala have different features that make one language more useful than the other in a given situation. While these languages have their own highly prioritized features, there are also differences in the drawbacks and limitations of each language.

The most crucial drawbacks with Kotlin are related to support and resources. This is largely because Kotlin, whose first production release came in 2016, is a newer language than Scala, which appeared in 2004. As a result, Kotlin is supported by fewer IDEs and has fewer libraries and frameworks than Scala.

Meanwhile, Scala is subject to certain technical drawbacks that don't apply to Kotlin. Scala code compiles significantly slower than Kotlin code. Scala is also more prone to runtime errors due to its complex type system.

Choosing between Kotlin and Scala

Choosing to use Kotlin or Scala for your next programming project depends largely on what you're trying to build.

In general, Kotlin fits smaller projects and ones that require more flexibility. Kotlin is well-suited to applications with tighter performance requirements, as well as apps that push out frequent updates. Kotlin's faster compilation times allow developers to build new application releases faster than Scala.

On the other hand, Scala is a better language for large, complex projects in many cases. It's also ideal for applications that need to perform a lot of pattern matching.

As a newer language, Kotlin is likely to improve more over time than Scala because Kotlin is a newer language. Scala owes much of its popularity to the simple fact that it has been around a lot longer than Kotlin. However, as Kotlin's following gradually grows, some of Kotlin's major shortcomings -- such as limited IDE support -- will probably dissipate.

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