Variables are a huge part of programming languages as they provide instructions for their handling and associated operations in an application's code. For a program to function correctly, the declared value types (for example int for numbers, string for text values, bool for binary true/false variables, etc) must correspond with their assignments and the functions and arguments that use them.
Static typing and dynamic typing are the two most prevalent approaches to variable typing. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to type handling. However, the choice between them depends on whether you require operational stability and neat code or agility and development flexibility.
In this article, we will delve deeper into static and dynamic typing. We will explore their respective advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately determine if either approach is better to the other.
What is Static Typing?
Static typing refers to a programming language feature where the data type is known at compile time.
Since we know the data type declared during compilation, the code will not be compiled or interpreted until all errors are corrected. For instance, there may be type mismatch errors when performing operations on two different data types, or other errors.
Examples of statically typed languages include Java, C, and C++.
In this Java example, we declare two integer variables, num1 and num2, and a string variable, message. The data type of each variable is explicitly specified in the declaration using the int and String keywords, respectively. After defining these variables, we are using Java's inbuilt function for printing, "system.out.printLn," to print them out.
Static Typing – Advantages and Disadvantages
Now let's move on further and understand the advantages and disadvantages of static typing. Let's see the advantages first:
Advantages: How Static Typing Can Improve Developer Productivity
- Mistakes can be caught very early: Unless and until the errors that are caught during the compilation are corrected, the compilation or interpretation doesn't move further. This gives us a brilliant advantage with static typing that trivial errors can be caught very early, as early as during or before the compilation. This will help us in developing a safe and better program.
- Static typing can help us produce memory-optimized machine code: We learned earlier that data type in a static typing is known at the compilation time. Since the type of the data that we declare in the program is known beforehand by the computer, the computer will be in a better position to calculate the memory requirement of each data and then come up with a machine code that will be optimal as far as memory allocation is concerned.
- Programs typically perform better at execution time: These two points together give us the third advantage, which is that programs typically perform better at execution time. Since we catch trivial errors early and also produce a memory-optimized machine code, the program eventually will be a better program compared to another program that doesn't have these advantages.
- Improved code maintainability and readability: Static typing can improve code maintainability and readability by making the code easier to understand and modify. This is because type annotations provide additional information about the expected inputs and outputs of a function or method, making it easier for other developers to understand how the code works and what changes can be made safely. Additionally, static typing encourages developers to write self-documenting code, which can reduce the need for additional documentation and make it easier to maintain the code over time.
Now, let's go and have a look at the disadvantages:
Disadvantages: Common Criticisms of Static Typing
- Overhead of defining the data type explicitly: The overhead of defining the data type explicitly is a major disadvantage of static typing. Since one needs to know the data type that is going to be used in the code, they have the responsibility to explicitly define the data type while writing the code.
- Variables cannot be re-assigned to a different data type: Once a variable has been defined with a data type and the value has been assigned to it, the same variable or label cannot be assigned with a different data type and used for another purpose.
What Is Dynamic Typing?
Let's move on and learn about dynamic typing. Dynamic typing is where the data type is determined at runtime, meaning that during program execution, the type of data is decided based on what is written in the code. Based on the data defined in the code, the data type is finalized when the program is run, and any bugs are caught during compilation or interpretation.
Returning to the code, we simply print the two variables using the Python print function.
Dynamic Typing – Advantages and Disadvantages
Dynamic Typing, like it’s static counterpart, has advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Dynamic Typing
- No overhead of defining data type explicitly: Dynamic typing allows the type of data to be determined during program execution. It doesn't require explicit definition of data type while writing the code.
- Variable reassignment to a different data type is possible: A different value can be assigned to a variable to reassign it to a different data type.
- Runtime type information is helpful for features like Dynamic dispatch: Runtime type information helps in selecting the implementation of a particular operation that needs to be executed during runtime.
Disadvantages of Dynamic Typing
- Type errors are not detected earlier: Type errors that occur due to data type mismatch are not detected until the program is executed.
- Less memory optimized machine code: Memory allocation is less optimized since memory is allocated as and when the type of data is determined while running the program.
Is Static or Dynamic Typing Better?
However, when working on larger systems, it is generally recommended to use static typing as it results in fewer bugs. Dynamic typing can make code harder to read and maintain, and may result in more bugs. With static typing, the tooling does not allow for accidental type changes, resulting in more readable and maintainable code. Therefore, the trade-off is between dynamic typing, which allows for less code development but may result in more bugs and harder-to-read code, and static typing, which takes longer to write but results in less buggy and more readable code.
With newer languages like TypeScript, Go, and Rust, type inference allows for static typing with a simple syntax, offering the best of both worlds. Type inference allows the computer to determine the variable type based on its initial value, resulting in less verbose code. While older statically typed languages like Java, C, and C++ did not have type inference, newer languages do, making static typing a more desirable approach.
One might question why dynamical typed programming languages are taught on various learning platforms if static typing is better. Python, for example, is a great language to start with because it is easy to learn and write basic programming concepts. However, Python is not just a toy language for learning. Many companies use it in production, and it remains one of the most popular programming languages available. Python is great for simple tasks and scripting on a local machine.
If you are interested into a backend developer career path, then most likely you’ll have invest in getting familiar with statically typed languages. Statically typed languages like Go are easier to use when building large production back-end systems, making them more robust. However, it is possible to build large production systems with both static and dynamic typing. Ultimately, the choice depends on the programmer's preference and the project's specific needs.
By now, you should have a clearer understanding of the difference between static and dynamic typing in programming languages. Keep in mind that before deciding which approach to use for your project, it's important to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option, so that you can choose the one that best suits your specific requirements.
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