Focus On JetBrains Kotlin 1.4
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 09 September 2020

The latest version of Kotlin, which is now the officially preferred programming language for Android, was recently released. JetBrains has announced a 4-day online event about Kotlin 1.4 taking place on October 12-15, 2020.

The Kotlin 1.4 Online Event has been organized by JetBrains, the creators of Kotlin, to share their insider insights with the global developer community. Lasting 4 days, each day will focus on a different core topic: 1.4 general overview, libraries, multiplatform, server-side updates, and Kotlin’s future plans. 

We'll bring you more about the event nearer the time but, just in case you've not encountered Kotlin in the wild, here's some background to the language, some reasons for wanting to know more about it - apart from it being the top language for Android development - and highlights of Kotlin 1.4 which reached GA status in August 2020.

JetBrains, the company best known for its Java IDE, IntelliJ IDEA. started work on Kotlin in 2010 and open sourced it in 2012. We first heard of it in July 2011, and in Kotlin - another Java alternative? reported:

JetBrains has announced a new alternative to Java. Kotlin takes its name from an island in the Gulf of Finland near to Saint Petersburg, Russia, where one of the main JetBrains' development offices is located. It is object-based, statically typed, and compatible with the Java virtual machine and other languages that run on it, including of course, Java itself.

Describing Kotlin as "a better Java" JetBrains itemized its design goals as

  • to make a safer Java compatible language, i.e. by checking for common errors such as null pointer use
  • to make it more concise than Java,  for example by using type inference.
  • to make it simpler than existing Java alternatives such as Scala.

We rather poured cold water on the idea with:

the world hardly needs yet another programming language, let alone another JVM-based language.


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Once Kotlin made its debut, however, we were quickly won over to its benefits and, to quote from a later article, Can a Language Make You a Better Programmer? Kotlin & Android:

Kotlin is a Java-like language that compiles to the JVM, among other targets. It [is] a better Java in the sense that wherever Java has a lot of code to get a job done, Kotlin tries to simplify. It does this not by simple syntax tricks, but by trying to find new abstractions that let the programmer do what they are trying to do without as many hoop to jump through. Of course, this in turn does lead to a simpler syntax. As a Kotlin user I can vouch for the fact that the language does seem to work with you, rather than get in the way.

Given that JetBrains is known for its IDEs it should be no surprises that new IDE functionality is a highlight of Kotlin 1.4.  Introducing the new release on the JetBrains blog, Svetlana Isakova says:

Our mission at JetBrains is to make software development a more productive and enjoyable experience, so we naturally want to make sure that the tooling surrounding Kotlin is excellent and makes coding Kotlin as easy as possible.

One specific inclusion in this release is a new Coroutine Debugger. The documentation states:

Working with coroutines before Kotlin 1.4, could be a real pain. Since coroutines jumped between threads, it was difficult to understand what a specific coroutine was doing and check its context. In some cases, tracking steps over breakpoints simply didn’t work. As a result, you had to rely on logging or mental effort to debug code that used coroutines.

I have to agree and yes this tool is sure to help.

The other welcome inclusion is the Kotlin Project Wizard which provides a single place to create and configure Kotlin projects of different types, making it easy to get started even with more complex structures such as multiplatform projects.

There will be more IDE functionality features in forthcoming releases and together with compiler enhancements, the first of which are included in this release. As Svetlana Isakova tells us: 

For quite some time now, we’ve been working on a new Kotlin compiler that will advance the evolution of Kotlin in terms of performance and extensibility. The main goals for the new compiler are that it should be really fast, unify all the platforms that Kotlin supports, and provide an API for compiler extensions. We’re introducing new parts step by step, so that they reach the user as soon as possible. 

The main feature already introduced is a more powerful type inference algorithm that is enabled by default. It infers types automatically in more use-cases, supports smart casts, even in complicated scenarios and improves inference for delegated properties. In addition new JVM and JS backends are available in Alpha, which once stabilized will become the new default.

We reported on some of the other new features of Kotlin 1.4 when it reached Release Candidate stage, see Kotlin 1.4 Improves Node.JS Support and I'm sure that the Kotlin 1.4 Online Event  in October will reveal many more. 

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More Information

Kotlin 1.4 Online Event

Kotlin 1.4 Released with a Focus on Quality and Performance

What's New in Kotlin 1.4.0

Related Articles

Kotlin - another Java alternative? 

Kotlin Goes Open Source

The Programmers Guide To Kotlin - Destructuring

The Programmers Guide To Kotlin - Type 

Can a Language Make You a Better Programmer? Kotlin & Android

Kotlin Begins Its Takeover Of Android

Kotlin - New Language For Android 

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Last Updated ( Monday, 12 October 2020 )