Kotlin Gets First-Class Support on Android

The popularity of Kotlin among both Java and Android developers has been growing steadily since JetBrains created and then open sourced the statically typed programming language in 2011. Now that Kotlin will be shipping out of the box in Android Studio 3.0, it's a sure bet that popularity is going to spike.

Google's Android team announced first-class support for Kotlin last week during a keynote at the annual Google I/O conference. Android developers were already able to use Kotlin through a plug-in, but from now it'll ship alongside Java and C++ with the official Android IDE.

"Kotlin is a what our developer community has already asked for," Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson, director of product management for Android, told conference attendees. "It makes developers so much more productive!"

Perhaps more importantly in the long run, Cuthbertson announced that JetBrains and Google are partnering to create a non-profit foundation for the future development of Kotlin.

JetBrains CEO Maxim Shafirov reassured Kotlin's growing user base in a blog post that development of the language will continue to be sponsored by JetBrains, and the company's 40-person Kotlin team will "operate as usual," with Andrey Breslav as the Lead Language Designer.

"... Kotlin will be developed under the same principles as before, Shafirov said. "We'll keep our design processes open, because your feedback is critical for us in moving Kotlin in the right direction."

He also promised that this new level of Android support won't diminish the company's continuing support of other versions of the language, including Kotlin/JVM for server and desktop, Kotlin/JS (JavaScript), and the recently announced Kotlin/Native (which compiles directly to machine code).

"Programming languages are just like human ones," Shafirov said. "The more people speak a language, the better. First-class support on Android will likely bring more users to Kotlin, and we expect the community to grow significantly. This means more libraries and tools developed in/for Kotlin, more experience shared, more Kotlin job offerings, more learning materials published, and so on. We are excited to see the Kotlin ecosystem flourish!"

The appeal of Kotlin among Android developers is straightforward: It's a statically typed language -- similar to Scala, Gosu, Ceylon and Fantom -- which compiles to both JVM byte code and JavaScript. JetBrains has claimed that Kotlin is more stable at run time than Java, because it can statically check weak points and supports things like variable type interface, closures, extension functions,= and mix-ins. It's also less verbose than Java, which means devs can write less code with a more readable syntax. The keynote demo showed an example of how Kotlin could accomplish in one line of code the same thing that required 87 lines of Java code.

JetBrains, the Prague-based maker of the venerable code-centric Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA, unveiled Kotlin at the 2011 JVM Language Summit in Santa Clara, Calif., and later released it for distribution under the Apache 2 Open Source License.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].