Home > Delphi, firemonkey, Linux, Object Pascal > Five reasons to learn Delphi

Five reasons to learn Delphi

February 8, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

A couple of days ago I had a spectacular debate on Facebook. Like most individuals that are active in the IT community, my social media feed is loaded with advertisement for every trending IT concept you can imagine. Lately these adverts have been about machine learning and A.I. Or should I say, companies using those buzzwords to draw unwarranted attention to their products. I haven’t seen A.I used to sell shoes yet, but it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

Cloud Computing concept background with a lot of icons

Like any technology, Cloud is only as powerful as your insight

There is also this thing that: yes, a 14-year-old can put together an A.I chat robot in 15 minutes with product XYZ. But that doesn’t mean he or she understands what is happening beneath the user-interface. Surely the goal must be to teach those kids skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Those that know me also know that yes, I have this tendency to say what I mean, even when I really should keep my mouth shut. On the other hand that is also why companies and developers call me, because I will call bullshit and help them avoid it. That’s part of my job, to help individuals and companies that use Delphi to pick the right version for their need, get the components that’s right for their goals – and map out a strategy if they need some input on that.  I’ll even dive in and do some code conversion if they need it; goes with the territory.

Normally I just ignore advertizing that put “cloud” or “a.i” in their title, because it’s mostly click-bait designed for non-developers. But for some reason this one particular advert caught my eye. Perhaps it triggered the trauma of being subjected to early Java advertising during the late 90s’s, or maybe it released latent aggression from being psychologically waterboarded by Microsoft Silverlight. Who knows 🙂

The ad was about a Norwegian company that specialize in teaching young students how to become professional developers. You know the “become a guru in 3 weeks” type publisher? What baked my noodle was the fact that they didn’t offer a single course involving archetypical languages, and that they were spinning their material with promises that were simply not true. The only artificial intelligence involved was the advertizing engine at Facebook.

The thing is – the world has more than enough developers on desktop level. The desktop and web market is drowning in developers who has the capacity to download libraries, drop components on a form and hook up to a database. What the world really needs are more developers on archetypical languages. And if you don’t know what that is, then let me just do a quick summary before we carry on.

Archetypal languages

An archetypical programming language is one that is designed around how the computer actually works. As a consequence these languages and toolchains embody several of the following properties:

  • Pointers and raw memory access
  • Traditional memory management, no garbage collection
  • Procedural and object-orientation execution
  • Inline assembler
  • Little if no external dependencies
  • Static linking (embed pre-compiled code)
  • Compiled code can operate without an OS infrastructure
  • Suitable for kernel, driver, service, desktop, networking and cloud level development
  • Compiler that produce machine code for various chipsets

As of writing there are only two archetypical languages (actually 3, but assembly language is chipset specific so we will skip that here), namely C/C++ and Object Pascal. These are the languages you use to write all the other languages with. If you plan on writing your own operating-system from scratch, only C and Pascal is suitable. Which is why these are the only languages that have ever been used for making operating systems.

tiobi

Delphi is one of the 20 most used programming languages in the world. It ranked as #11 in 2017. Like all rankings it fluctuates depending on season and market changes.

Obviously i’m not suggesting that people learn Delphi or C++ builder to write their own OS – or that you must know assembly to make an invoice system; I’m simply stating that the insight and skill you get from learning Delphi and C/C++, even if all you do is write desktop applications – will make you a better developer on all levels.

Optimistic languages

Optimistic or humanized programming languages, have been around just as long as the archetypical ones. Basic is an optimistic language, C# and Java are optimistic languages, Go and Dart are equally optimistic languages. Script engines like node.js, python and Erlang (if you missed Scott Hanselman’s epic rant on the subject, you are in for a treat) are all optimistic. They are called optimistic because they trade security with functionality; sandboxing the developer from the harsh reality of hardware.

An optimistic language is typically designed to function according to “how human beings would like things to be” (hence the term optimistic). These languages rely heavily on existing infrastructure to even work, and each language tends to focus on specific tasks – only to branch out and become more general purpose over time.

There is nothing wrong with optimistic languages. Except when they are marketed to young students as being somehow superior or en-par with archetypical languages. That is a very dangerous thing to do – because teachers have a responsibility to prepare the students for real life. I can’t even count the number of times I have seen young developers fresh out of college get “that job”, only to realize that the heart of the business, the mission critical stuff, is written in Delphi or C/C++, which they never learned.

People have no idea just how much of the modern world rests on these languages.  It is almost alarming how it’s possible to be a developer in 2019 and have a blind spot with regards to these distinctions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the student’s fault, quite the opposite. And i’m happy that things are starting to change for the better (more about that further down).

The original full stack

So back to my little encounter; What happened was that I just commented something along the lines of “why not give the kids something that will benefit them for a lifetime”. It was just a drive-by comment on my part, and I should have just ignored it; And no sooner had I pressed enter, when a small army of internet warriors appeared to defend their interpretation of “full stack” in 2019. Oblivious to the fact that the exact same term was used around 1988-ish. I think it was Aztec or SAS-C that coined it. Doesn’t matter.

aztec-c

The original “full stack” holds a very different meaning in traditional development. While I don’t remember if it was Aztec-C or SAS-C, but the full stack was driver to desktop 🙂

Long story short, I ended up having a conversation with these teenagers about how technology has evolved over the past 35 years. Not in theory, but as one that has been a programmer since the C= 64 was released. I also introduced them to archetypal languages and pinpointed the distinction I made above. You cannot compare if you don’t know the difference.

I have no problems with other languages, I use several myself, and my point was simply that: if we are going to teach the next generation of programmers something, then let’s teach them the timeless principles and tools that our eco system rests on. We need to get Delphi and C/C++ back into the curriculum, because that in turn will help the students to become better developers. It doesn’t matter what they end up working with afterwards, because with the fundamental understanding in place they will be better suited. Period.

You will be a better Java developer if you first learn Delphi. You will be a better C# developer if you learn Delphi. Just like nature has layers of complexity, so does computing. And understanding how each layer works and what laws exist there – will have a huge impact on how you write high-level code.

All of this was good and well and the internet warriors seemed a bit confused. They weren’t prepared for an actual conversation. So what started a bit rough ended up as a meaningful, nice dialog.

And speaking of education: I’m happy to say that two universities in Norway now have students using Delphi again. Which is a step in the right direction! People are re-discovering how productive Object-Pascal is, and why the language remains the bread and butter of so many companies around the world.

Piracy, the hydra of problems

What affected me the most during my conversation with these young developers – was that they had almost no relationship to neither Delphi or C/C++. From an educational standpoint that is not just alarming, that is an intellectual emergency. The only knowledge they had of Delphi was hearsay and nonsense.

piracy

The source of the misrepresentation is piracy, openly so, of outdated versions that was never designed to run on modern operating systems. With the community edition people can enjoy a modern, high performance Delphi without resorting to illegal activities

But after a while I finally discovered where their information came from! Delphi 7 is being pirated en-mass even to this day. It’s for some strange reason very popular in Asia (most of the torrent IP’s ended up there when I followed up on this). So teenagers download Delphi 7 which is ancient by any standard, and the first thing they experience is incompatibility issues. Which is only to be expected because Delphi 7 was released a long, long time ago. But that’s the impression they are left with after downloading one of these cracked, illegal bundles.

I downloaded one of these “ready to use” bundles to have a closer look, and it contained at least 500 commercial components. You had the full TMS component collection, Developer Express, Remobjects SDK, ImageEN, FastReports, SecureBlackBox, Intraweb — tens of thousands of dollars worth of code. With one very obvious factor: both Delphi 7 and the components involved are severely outdated. Microsoft doesn’t even support Windows XP any more, it was written in the early bronze age.

So the reality of the situation was that these young developers had never seen a modern Delphi in their life. In their minds, Delphi meant Delphi 7 which they could download almost everywhere (which is illegal and riddled with viruses, stay well clear). No wonder there is confusion about the subject (!)

They were very happy to learn about the community edition, so in the end I at least got to wake them up to the awesome features that modern Delphi represents. The community edition has been a fantastic thing; the number of members joining Delphi-Developer on Facebook has nearly doubled since the community edition was released.

A few of the students went over to Embarcadero and downloaded the community edition, and their jaw dropped. They had never seen a development environment like this before!

Give me five good reasons to learn Delphi

delphi_boxIn light of this episode, thought I could share five reasons why Delphi and object-pascal remains my primary programming language.

I don’t have any problems dipping into JavaScript, Python or whatever the situation might call for – but when it comes to mission critical data processing and services that needs 24/7 up-time; or embedded solutions where CPU spikes simply cannot be tolerated. It’s Delphi I turn to.

These five reasons are also the same that I gave the teenagers. So here goes.


Great depth and wingspan

Object Pascal, from which Delphi is the trending dialect, is a fantastic language. At heart there is little difference between C/C++ and object pascal in terms of features, but the syntax of object pascal is more productive than C/C++ (IMHO).

Delphi and C++ builder actually share run-time libraries (there are two of them, the VCL which is Windows only, and Firemonkey which is platform independent). Developers often mix and match code between these languages, so components written in Delphi can be used in C++ builder, and libraries written in C can be consumed and linked into your Delphi executable.

One interesting factoid: people imagine Delphi to be old. But the C language is actually 3 years older than pascal. During their time these languages have evolved side by side, and Embarcadero (who makes Delphi and C++ builder) have brought all the interesting features you expect from a modern language into Delphi (things like generics, inline variables, anonymous procedures – it’s all in there). So this myth that Delphi is somehow outdated or unsuitable is just that – a myth.

foodchain

The eco-system of programming languages

And there is an added bonus! Just like C/C++, Delphi represents a curriculum and lineage that spans decades. Stop and think about that for a second. This is a language that has been evolved to solve technical challenges of every conceivable type for decades. This means that you can put some faith in what the language can deliver.

There are millions of Delphi developers in the world; an estimated 10 millions in fact. The language was ranked #11 on the TIOBI language index; it is under constant development with a clear roadmap and time-line – and is used by large and small companies as the foundation for their business. Even the Norwegian government rely on Delphi. The system that handles healthcare messages for the Norwegian population is pure Delphi.  That is data processing for 5.2 million individuals.

Object Pascal has not just stood the test of time, it has innovated it. Just like C/C++ object pascal has a wingspan and depth that reaches from assembler to system services, from database engines to visual desktop application – and from the desktop all the way to Cloud and essential web technology.

So the first good reason to learn Delphi is depth. Delphi covers the native stack, from kernel level drivers to high-speed database engines – to visual desktop applications. It’s also exceptionally well suited for cloud services (both Windows and Linux targets).


Easy to learn

I mention that Delphi is powerful and has the same depth as C/C++, but why then learn Delphi and not C++? Well, the language (object pascal) was especially tailored for readability. It was concluded that the human brain recognized words faster than symbols or glyphs – and thus it’s easier to read complex pascal code rather than complex C code. Individual taste notwithstanding.

Despite it's depth, Delphi is easy to learn and fun to master!

Despite its depth, Delphi is easy to learn and fun to master!

Object Pascal is also very declarative, with as little unknown factors as possible. This teaches people to write clean and orderly code.

And perhaps my favorite, a pascal code-file contains both interface and implementation. So you don’t have to write a second .h file which is common under C/C++.

If you already know OOP, be it Java, C#, Rust or whatever – learning Delphi will be a piece of cake. You already know about classes, interfaces, generics, operator overloading – and can pretty much skip forward to memory management, pointers and structures (records in pascal, struct in C).

Swing by Embarcadero Academy and take a course, or head over to Amazon and buy some good books on Delphi. Download the Community Edition of Delphi and you will be up and running in no-time.

Also remember to join Delphi Developer on Facebook, where thousands of active developers talk, help each other and share solutions 24/7.


Target multiple platforms

With Delphi and C++ builder it’s pretty easy to target multiple platforms these days. You can target Android, iOS, OS X, Windows and Linux from a single codebase.

One codebase, multiple targets

One codebase, multiple targets

I mean, are you going to write one version of your app in Java, a second one in C#, a third one in Objective C and a fourth in Dart? Because that’s the reality you face if plan on using the development tools provided by each operating-system manufacturer. That’s a lot of time, money and effort just to push your product out the door.

With Delphi you can hit all platforms at once, native code, reducing your time to market and ROI. People use Delphi for a reason.

You will also enjoy great performance from the LLVM optimized code Delphi emits on mobile platforms.


Rich codebase

The benefit of age is often said to be wisdom; I guess the computing equivalent is a large and rich collection of components, libraries and ad-hoc code that you can drop into your own projects or just study.

You can google just about any subject, and there will be code for Delphi. Github, BitBucket and Torry’s Delphi pages are packed with open-source frameworks covering everything from compiler cores, midi interfaces, game development to multi-threaded, machine clustered server solutions. Once you start looking, you will find it.

GitLab-vs-GitHub-vs-bitbucket-1

There is a rich constellation of code, components and libraries for Delphi and C++ builder around the internet.  Also remember dedicated sites like Torry’s

There is also a long list of technology partners that produce components and libraries for Delphi – and like mentioned earlier, you can link in C compiled code once you learn the ropes.

Oh, and when I mentioned databases earlier I wasnt just talking about the traditional databases. Delphi got you covered with those, no worries — im also talking about writing a database engine from scratch. There are several database engines that are implemented purely in Delphi. ElevateDB is one example.

Delphi also ships with Interbase and Interbase-light (embedded and mobile) so you have easy access to data storage solutions. There is also FireFAC that allows you to connect directly with established databases — and again, a wealth of free and commercial solutions.


Speed and technique

What I love about Delphi and C++ is that your code, or the way you write code, directly impacts your results. The art of optimization is rarely a factor in some of the new, optimistic languages. But in a native language you get to use traditional techniques that are time-less, or perhaps more interesting: explore ways of achieving the same with less.

As a native language Delphi and C/C++ produce fast executables. But I love how there is always room for your own techniques, your own components and your own libraries.

tomes

Techniques, like math, is timeless

Need to write a system driver? Well, suddenly speed becomes a very important factor. A garbage collector can be a disaster on that level, because it will kick-in on interval and cause CPU spikes. Perhaps you want to write a compiler, or need a solid scripting engine? How about linking the V8 JavaScript engine directly into your programs? All of this is quite simple with Delphi.

So with Delphi I get the best of both worlds, I get to use the scalpel when the needs are delicate, and I get the chain-saw to cut through tedious work. Things like property bindings are a god sent. This is a techniques where you can visually bind properties of any component together, almost like events, and create cause and effect chains. So if a value changes on a bound property, that triggers whatever is bound, and so on and so on — pretty awesome!

So you can create a complete database application, with grid and navigation, without writing a single line of code. That was just one simple example, you can do so much more out of the box – and it saves you so much time.

Yet when you really need to write high performance code, or build that killer framework that will set your company apart from the rest — you have that freedom!


So if you havent checked out RAD Studio, head over to Embarcadero and download a free trial. You will be amazed and realize just why Delphi and C++ builder are loved by so many.

  1. yogiyang007
    February 9, 2019 at 6:04 am

    Wow this post has a lot of impact.

    I urge you to look up these languages as they also fall in the Archetypal category but are using the BASIC dialect.
    1. Pure Basic
    2. Power Basic (I think you remember a morphed version of this as Turbo Basic)
    3. Free Basic

    They have all the features that a typical Archetypal (language as per your understanding) should have.

    As for Delphi, it is one of the most powerful programming tool in the world ! Period.

    You referred to Delhi 7. Well on searching SourceForge and GitHub I found that most of the powerful and large scale open source software solutions are still being developed and maintained in Delphi like for example BitFram DMS, SynERPy AVERP, etc.

    This shows that D7 is still more stable and viable even today. Another proof of this is that almost all third party components that are available in today’s market still support D7.

    Thanks,

    Yogi Yang

    • February 18, 2019 at 1:05 am

      I actually have power basic somewhere. But I think that was put out of production? Or was that another one. Its been ages since I have looked at basic. But I do remember that I did some low-level work at some point. Basic should absolutely be re-introduced on high-school level.

      As for D7, I think the number of reasons not to use that is longer than any argument for. I would urge everyone to download the latest Delphi and learn using the community edition.

  2. dummzeuch
    February 9, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    While I agree that Delphi is a very versatile tool, you are making a very broad claim:

    > So the first good reason to learn Delphi is depth. Delphi covers the native stack, from kernel level drivers to high-speed database engines – to visual desktop applications. <

    So, how do I write Windows device drivers with Delphi? To my knowledge this is simply not possible.

    • February 18, 2019 at 11:15 pm

      It is possible, you have to add the entrypoints and make them visible. Not very practical — FPC is probably easier on that. My case is for object pascal in general, although I feel delphi is by far the compiler and toolkit best suited for system development.

      For OS level development you have to use freepascal, delphi doesnt support that. For Webassembly / javascript, there is DWScriptand Smart Pascal. So there is a lot to pick from, and very powerful tools once you get into them.

      Doesnt mean you should avoid C/C++ or other languages, im simply stating that learning these languages first will have a very positive impact on students and developers in general.

  3. February 10, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    Interesting that you mentioned “Need to write a system driver?”…
    I remember back in Delphi 7 days that there was an “Delphi Driver Toolkit” (or something like that) available which would allow one to write real device drivers for Windows (.sys). Unfortunately these kind of things are not supported anymore.
    I always thought that Delphi should pursue C/C++ devs, not C# devs. Delphi is an (much better) alternative to C and C++. There is a world of software written in C/C++, including device drivers, which could be easily written in Delphi.

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