JavaScript vs. Golang for IoT: Is Gopher Winning?

Can Go climb up the required technologies list?

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JavaScript vs. Golang

What programming language is better for your IoT project? The answer to this question is dubious and subjective. There are so many things to consider: your project’s tasks, goals, and needs. Your personal preferences and the availability of skilled developers also play a significant role.

So, let’s start small. Instead of going down the rabbit hole of multiple IoT-suitable programming languages, we’ll focus on just two of them: JavaScript and Go.

There’s an opinion that the relevantly new language Golang, developed by Google, could eventually edge out JavaScript (or it’s better to say Node.js) from IoT applications. Is that true? Will the Gopher win in this battle? Let’s take a closer look at both Golang and JS, their perks, and drawbacks for IoT solutions.

JavaScript

Programming languages come and go, but it looks like JavaScript is here to stay. Initially hated by developers, today this top programming language is widely used in the Internet of Things because of its high resource efficiency. But using JavaScript for IoT applications is a broad topic, so we’ll narrow it down to Node.js. As you may know, JavaScript is a language while Node.js is a runtime. Different features require different runtimes, and Node.js exposes these features to the developers through JavaScript.

Node.js is perfect for managing networks of sensors, radars, beacons, microsystems and other connected devices. Plus, it does a great job of processing multiple tasks to handle the interaction across all these IoT devices. Developers agree that the advantages of Node.js for IoT software are its ease of use and reasonable memory requirements.

Technological giants such as IBM, Microsoft, PayPal and Samsung continue to adopt Node.js in their IoT projects, so the demand for JavaScript developers doesn’t seem to be falling anytime soon.

There’s an opinion that the relevantly new language Golang, developed by Google, could eventually edge out JavaScript (or it’s better to say Node.js) from IoT applications. Click To Tweet

Golang

Go is an open-source programming language. It is not as widespread as JavaScript yet but it does have its piece of the IoT pie. Like the majority of programming platforms and languages, it emerged as a result of the developers’ dissatisfaction with the existing solutions. It was made to be easy-to-learn, use and read by other developers. Go language has a comparatively narrow feature set, although it wins in concurrency and performance.

Programmers usually choose Golang for building the communication layer within the IoT system since the concurrency and the ability to run data input and output simultaneously are among the key advantages of Go.

Other not-so-obvious perks of Go include:

  • its code analyzing tool GoDoc
  • a built-in testing tool (if you’ve ever tried picking a testing framework for a JavaScript project, you understand the benefit)
  • a serious approach to concurrent programming with Data Race Detector
  • a single style guide for everyone to follow as opposed to the variety of tools and paradigms within JavaScript (they are notorious for paralyzing the team when it’s time to decide on the structure, conventions, testing libraries, etc.)

Feature Comparison

Both JavaScript and Go seem to fit IoT projects well. But let’s compare Node.js and Go feature by feature to define the winner.

  • Maturity. Being relevantly young, Go is quite mature. As for Node.js, it has an LTS (Long Time Support) version as well as the newest version, which has a changing API but a broad community which supports the platform.
  • Performance. In real-life conditions of network communication and database interaction, Go and Node.js show similar results.
  • Concurrency. Here, Go definitely wins: it uses lightweight threads – goroutines, and Node.js has inherited JavaScript’s event loop mechanism which has its downsides.
  • Scalability. Golang was created to be scalable, but so was Node.js. After all, it was named Node for a reason.
  • Learning curve. Thanks to JavaScript, Node.js has become one of the fastest-growing development languages, according to a recent survey. That’s because it is easy to learn, has good documentation and a big, open community. Go, is pretty easy to learn too. A survey by PW Engine found that the majority of developers find it very intuitive, and one senior developer claims that it took him only two weeks to master the language. So, it’s a tie.
  • Error handling. Opinions differ here. Go uses an error checking mechanism and therefore it’s difficult to detect the cause of an error. Node.js uses a throw and catch principle, common for many languages but it can be quite inconsistent in the end.
  • Front end and back end. Go is aimed at developing concurrent services, so it’s great for the back end. And although there are frameworks to create web apps in Go like Beego and gopherjs, it’s much more convenient to build a modern UI with JavaScript. At the same time, there are numerous frameworks and NPM packages for both front end and back end in Node.js.
  • Developers’ choice. No doubts here: JavaScript stays at the top, so there would be no problem finding Node.js developers. Go has entered the top 20 most popular technologies, but unfortunately, it is still far from JavaScript in terms of popularity.
  • Sync/Async IO. Node.js is famous for its non-blocking IO model that makes it lightweight and efficient in terms of resources. But it also has a lot of drawbacks, including endless callbacks in code and weird stack traces. On the other hand, Go, using its scheduler, encourages developers to use synchronous operations while relying on different tools provided by an OS to improve efficiency and reduce resource blocking.
  • Running on devices. With the NPM package manager, Node.js can be effectively used as a programming environment on cable boards like Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black. NPM contains around 80 open-source packages for Arduino controllers, Intel IoT Edison, Raspberry Pi and over 30 packages for various Bluetooth devices and sensors. As for Go, it’s a good choice for boards like Raspberry Pi since it runs a full Linux build. However, low-power IoT devices like Arduino can’t work with Go binary. That’s why the Gobot framework was created. It supports many platforms, Bluetooth LE devices and even the Neurosky neurointerface.

TL;DR

Golang is a low-level language that allows building entire systems of connected controllers. JavaScript is perfect for asynchronous operations that require low response time. Right now, these two languages are far from being interchangeable. JavaScript remains the most popular language in the world, including its use in the Internet of Things. It firmly holds its ground and will hardly give in to Golang in the near future. However, with its innovative and reliable approach, Go has very bright prospects to climb up the required technologies list.