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Are Changing Programming Paradigms Underrated by Developers?

The importance of programming paradigm-related decisions should not be ignored. Check out this post to learn more about selecting programming paradigms.

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In all the chatter around architecture and design patterns when building or upgrading a software system, the fundamental programming paradigms are becoming second fiddle. To preempt any impediments in execution and long-term maintainability, the importance of programming paradigm-related decisions should not be trivialized. This is an aspect to be considered when bootstrapping a new project.

This article aims to provide a new perspective on programming paradigms to help in the decision making process of selecting languages and constructs, which form the building blocks for your solution. It traverses through the basic programming paradigms, the latest trends, and how languages evolve and embrace new paradigms. The article takes latest evolutions in Java as a reference and how it has evolved from an object-oriented language to embracing functional and reactive programming styles, as it steps into its latest long-term release — Java 11.

What Is a Programming Paradigm?

A programming paradigm is a style of creating or using the structure and elements of a program. It can change from one programming language to another. Often times, programming languages change, embracing newer programming paradigms.

Creation of New Programming Paradigms or Adoption of Existing Paradigms

The increased use of technology is the primary driver that leads to how the applications serve its users. It leads to businesses demanding better performance and more secure, responsive applications. With improved hardware designs and decreasing hardware costs, designers can explore the options that were not  previously available.

For instance, though the idea of functional programming floated around 22 years ago, it has gained momentum in recent years. Computer systems with multi-core processors are getting cheaper and, hence, accessible to more business users, which is driving its adoption. Functional programs can efficiently execute code parallel on multiple cores.

A similar trend is where a change in the usage and behavioral patterns of users have pushed the creation of stimuli-based reactive programming paradigms. It supports the creation of responsive applications that deliver high performance and are resilient and scalable.

Challenges in Adopting a Programming Paradigm

Programming paradigms are analogous to habits. You form a habit by practicing the same behavior over a period of time. The longer you practice it, the more difficult it is to unlearn it and complete the same task in another manner.

While it is simple to understand the syntax of a programming language, the difficult part is to apply alternate thinking (a programming paradigm) to devise a solution to a problem.

It takes a lot of conscious effort to pause thinking in a certain way and adopt a newer thinking style.

Why Should You Know Multiple Programming Paradigms?

Business requirements vary over a wide spectrum — knowing multiple programming paradigms can help you select the most appropriate programming language for implementing the solution. The nature of the problem is that it would also affect the adoption of a programming paradigm.

An application ecosystem is composed of multiple elements. As an architect, leader, or developer, you must be aware of the feasibility of interoperability between these entities, especially if they use different programming paradigm.

This article doesn’t cover all the known paradigms, for instance, reactive functional, aspect-oriented, data flow, and more. There are other published resources available for these.

Let’s cover some of the popular programming paradigms.

Imperative Programming Paradigm

With the imperative programming paradigm, you specify the detailed steps of how a solution is implemented. The earliest imperative languages were the machine languages. Therefore, the CPU instructions are imperative.

This programming paradigm is essential to know if you are developing compilers or other programs that interact with low-level code. A lot of high-level languages, like Java, Python, C, and C++, can also include imperative programming in their functions or methods.

Here’s an example code, which iterates through a list of integer arrays and finds the largest number:

// Code Listing – 1 – Imperative programming
1. int[] numbers = new int[]{12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1};
2. int largest = numbers[0];
3. for (int i = 0; i < numbers.length; i++) {
4.     if (largest < numbers[i])
5.         largest = numbers[i];
6. }
7. System.out.println(largest);

The preceding code specifies all the details to find the largest number from the integer array — it starts by defining variables to store the integer array and largest number. It defines a loop with the starting value and exit condition, incrementing the value by 1 after each visit to the array element. Within the loop, it compares the value of the previously stored larger number with the visiting array element. If the previously stored larger number is small, it stores the new value. After the loop exits, it outputs the value of the variable that stores the largest number.

Procedural Programming Paradigm

The procedural programming paradigm encourages the creation of smaller and reusable procedures or methods in your code.

You can define smaller methods in a lot of high-level languages, like Java, C, C++, C#, Python, and many other languages. Smaller methods make your code more readable (which is very important),  clean up your code, and identify spaghetti code within a comparatively longer method.

The following code modifies the code written in listing 1, defining a method  larger(), which is called from the main code: 

// Code listing – 2 - Procedural programming
int[] numbers = new int[]{12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1};
int largest = numbers[0];
for (int i = 0; i < numbers.length; i++) {
    largest = larger(largest, numbers[i]);

// Method larger accepts two integer values and returns the greater of them.
private static int larger(int a, int b) {
    return (a > b ? a : b);

In Java, you can’t define code outside a method or a code block. So, the code defined above the method larger()  is ideally defined in another method.

The preceding code creates a method larger() and calls it from the main code. You could also go a step further and create another method  findLargest(), as follows:

// Code listing – 3 - Procedural Paradigm 
int[] numbers = new int[]{12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1};

// Method 1 – returns larger of two numbers
private static int larger(int a, int b) {
    return (a > b ? a : b);

// Method 2 – calls method larger, many times
private static int findLargest(int[] arr) {
    int largest = arr[0];
    for (int i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) {
        largest = larger(largest, arr[i]);
    return largest;

With smaller methods, the preceding method becomes easy to read and understand.

Object-Oriented Programming Paradigm

The object-oriented programming paradigm models the real world. It proposes the creation of templates (or classes) which can define the state and behavior of the instances they model. The instances interact with each other by sending them messages via methods.

This programming paradigm defines four principles:

  • Abstraction — proposes to eliminate the irrelevant details and supports the inclusion of essential details
  • Encapsulation — encapsulates the state of the instance, hiding it from the outside world
  • Inheritance — groups the similar
  • Polymorphism — support specialized behavior for same behavior name.

Let’s modify the coding example from code listing 3 and add classes to it. Here are the steps of modification:

  • Define a new class NumberGenerator  
  • Create instance variable myNumbers  in NumberGenerator  to store array of numbers
  • Define methods – larger() and findLargest() , compare numbers
  • Instantiate NumberGenerator in another class
  • Call relevant methods

Here’s the modified code:

// Code listing – 4 – Object Oriented Paradigm 
class NumberGenerator {
    int[] myNumbers;                          // to store array of numbers
    NumberGenerator() {
        myNumbers = new int[]{12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1};      
    private int larger(int a, int b) {        // returns the larger number
        return (a > b ? a : b);
     * Iterates iterates myNumbers, calls larger() to find the largest
     * number in array
    public int findLargest() {                
        int largest = myNumbers[0];           // 
        for (int i = 0; i < myNumbers.length; i++) {       
            largest = larger(largest, myNumbers[i]);
        return largest;

class FindLargestOO {
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        NumberGenerator numberGen = new NumberGenerator();

Let’s add a bit of complexity to the preceding code. Imagine you need to extract the behavior of the class NumberGenerator in an interface to decouple its behavior from its implementation. Here’s the code:

// Code listing – 5 – Object Oriented Paradigm 
// Extracting the behavior to an interface
interface NumberGenerator {
    abstract int larger(int a, int b);
    abstract int[] getNumbers();
    public default int findLargest() {                        // HOW CAN 
        int largest = -1;                                     // findLargest
        int[] myNumbers = getNumbers();                       // use abstract
        for (int i = 0; i < myNumbers.length; i++) {          // methods
            largest = larger(largest, myNumbers[i]);
        return largest;

class IntNumbers implements NumberGenerator {       
    int[] intNumbers;
    IntNumbers() {
        intNumbers = new int[]{12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1};
    public int larger(int a, int b) {
        return (a > b ? a : b);
    public int[] getNumbers() {
        return intNumbers;
class FindLargestOO2 {
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        IntNumbers intNumbers = new IntNumbers();

The interface NumberGenerator  in the preceding example will not work for non-integers, say, a custom class  Point, which stores the X and Y coordinates and may define its custom algorithm to determine the larger of two Point instances.

Let’s work with custom structures, like Point:

// Code listing – 6 – Object Oriented Paradigm 
class Point {
    int x; int y;
    Point(int x, int y) {
        this.x = x;
        this.y = y;
    public String toString() {
        return "[" + x + "," + y + "]";

The interface NumberGenerator in code listing 4 works with int values. To make it work with other types, you can use the Generics, passing type parameters to the  NumberGenerator:

// Code listing – 7 – Object Oriented Paradigm 
interface NumberGenerator<T> {
    abstract T larger(T a, T b);
    abstract T[] getNumbers();
    public default T findLargest() {
        T[] myNumbers = getNumbers();
        T largest = myNumbers[0];
        for (int i = 0; i < myNumbers.length; i++) {
            largest = larger(largest, myNumbers[i]);
        return largest;
class Points implements NumberGenerator<Point>{
    Point[] points;
    Points() {
        points = new Point[]{new Point(12, 19), 
                             new Point(12, 28), 
                             new Point(2, 1)};
    public Point larger(Point a, Point b) {
        if (a.x > b.x) return a;
        else if (a.y > b.y) return a;
        else return b;
    public Point[] getNumbers() {
        return points;
class FindLargestOO3 {
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        Points points = new Points();

Functional Programming Paradigm

The functional programming paradigm is a style that recommends pure mathematical functions to process data, working with immutable data. It is a superset of declarative programming paradigm, which specifies what needs to be done, rather than how (with detailed steps).

With immutable data, the processing of data can execute in parallel over multiple cores, resulting in overall faster execution of programs. It also uses higher order functions — functions that can be passed around as values. These functions can be passed to methods and returned from a method. Functional programming uses pure functions that always return the same output for the same set of input values — without any side effects of mutating data.

Let’s modify the code from listing 1 and use functional programming style to find the largest from an array of integers. The code retrieves a stream of integer values and then calls another function ( max()), which uses an internal iterator to find the largest number based on the comparison criteria defined by the  Comparator.naturalOrder():

// Code listing – 8 – Functional Programming Paradigm 
List<Integer> numbers = List.of(12, 19, 27, 28, 2, 1);
Optional<Integer> largest = numbers.stream()

Here’s another example of code that uses functional composition with streams. These include streams that return a (usually processed) stream. The code creates a list of talk instances and outputs the topic, where talk duration is greater than 52 minutes:

class Talk {
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        List<Talk> talks = List.of( new Talk("Java 11", 59),     // LIST
                                    new Talk("Clean Code", 50),  // OF
                                    new Talk("Kotlin", 52),      // TALKS
                                    new Talk("Paradigms", 50),
                                    new Talk("NLP", 51),
                                    new Talk("Blockchain", 52)
        talks.stream()                           // get a stream
            .filter(o -> o.getDuration() >= 52)  // filter : duration >= 52
            .map(e -> e.getTopic())              // get stream with Topic
            .forEach(System.out::println);       // output each element  
// Talk is a POJO class 
class Talk {
    String topic;
    int duration;
    Talk(String topic, int duration) {
        this.topic = topic;
        this.duration = duration;
    int getDuration() {
        return duration;
    String getTopic() {
        return topic;

The order in which you process the streams is important. I’ve modified the preceding code by swapping the order of the map()and filter() functions on the integer stream. Do you think it will still output the same answer? Let's take a look:

class Talk {
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        List<Talk> talks = List.of( new Talk("Java 11", 59),      // LIST
                                    new Talk("Clean Code", 50),   // OF
                                    new Talk("Kotlin", 52),       // TALKS
                                    new Talk("Paradigms", 50),
                                    new Talk("NLP", 51),
                                    new Talk("Blockchain", 52)
        talks.stream()                          // get a stream
            .map(e -> e.getTopic())             // stream with just the Topic
            .filter(o -> o.getDuration() >= 52) // filter : duration >= 52
            .forEach(System.out::println);      // output elements 

The preceding code won’t compile. The first transformation of the stream includes just the topics from the original list, so the call to the filter() function, which tries to call getDuration() method on String values, fails to compile.  

Reactive Programming Paradigm

The reactive programming paradigm is all about handling asynchronous streams of data.

The surge in the Internet users has drastically changed the needs of the applications. Today, users don’t want any downtime and command minimum delays while accessing applications. Applications handle the humongous amount of data measured in Petabyte.

Different programming languages and frameworks have been providing their own solution to combat this problem. In the year 2014, ReactiveManifesto.org condensed the experience of the industry of building reactive applications in a set of features with a common vocabulary so that it could be discussed among the stakeholders (customers, programmers, architects, CTO, developer advocates, etc) without any ambiguity. These aren’t an exhaustive set of features for a reactive application. It defines a starting point on what to strive for in a reactive application.

ReactiveManifesto.org outlines the following pillars of reactive applications:

  • Responsive — Responsive applications strive to provide a consistent response time. Responsiveness also means locating issues quickly and correcting them.
  • Resilient — A resilient system remains responsive, even in the case of a failure. This can be achieved by replication, containment, isolation, and delegation. Applications can recover from the failure by replacing a working component with the failed one. Failures are contained within boundaries so that they can be isolated and recovery delegated to external components.
  • Elastic — Elastic system remains responsive during varying workloads. With increased workloads, a reactive system should allocate more resources to handle it and deallocate when no longer required.
  • Message-driven — Responsive applications work with asynchronous streams of data. To ensure loose coupling between components, it uses messages. It also helps to implement back-pressure, that is, control message flow in the queues.


This article provided a perspective on programming paradigms and how it helps in the decision making in selecting languages and constructs. This will form the building blocks for your solution. In this post, we covered the importance of the programming paradigms and the challenges with the adoption of new paradigms. It traveled through some programming paradigms, the latest trends, and how Java evolved and embraced different programming paradigms using a hands-on example.

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java ,java 11 ,programming ,paradigms ,functional paradigms ,imperative paradigms ,object-oriented ,procedural paradigms

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