The difference “” vs null vs 0

Recently as I was conversing with my young friend, he looked at some of my code and wondered why I was using a zero or null or empty string (“” or ‘ ‘ ) instead of using one wherever I wanted.

Programming is an interesting though weird or confusing discipline, especially to the novice things don’t mean a lot because most novices concentrate on the output than the efficiency and effectiveness of the output. For the mature programmers optimization is key, after all at the end of the day a user wants something working but requires less attention than something erroneous and slow.

So let’s get to it. How does null, empty string and zero differ?


First of all the similarity is of the three is that they are all values to variables and mostly used as the initial value of a variable.

Second the empty string and null will usually output nothing if printed on the screen.


Differences might be defined differently per programming language.

For example in Python there is no null but there is None which means the same as null in other programming languages.

To find out the datatype of None and other values in python use the type( ) function e.g type( None ), will return NoneType data type in python. While in JavaScript we use typeof value to find out the Data type of a value stored in a variable. i.e. console.log( typeof null ) will return object as the data type of null.

PHP 4+ we use gettype( ) function to find out the datatype of the value stored in the variable. For example gettype( null ) will return for NULL.

If you are a JavaScript novice it’s good to pay much attention to null values since they are of data type object. For example find out how object data types are treated in JavaScript before you hit a nail in your foot.


Almost all programming languages “” or ” is treated as a string and it occupies the space in memory of the size that is occupied by a string or char datatype. In fact in JavaScript if a value starts with ” even if it’s proceeded by a number or decimal it will be type cast to a string so that the resulting value will of data type string.

So be careful initializing variables with ” especially if they will be used in mathematical expressions.

In Java, Python and PHP 0 is treated as an integer whereas it’s treated as a number in JavaScript because in JavaScript integers and floats are number data types. I know most people might be wondering why not a Boolean?

Though 0 or 1 might represent false/true they are not treated boolean data types.

Why care?

It’s always good to code what a programmer and fellow programmers understand to avoid spending time in refactoring than improving functionality and optimization.

It’s also important to ship a software which will give more predictable results than not to avoid the users plucking hair out of their heads, assuming they’re wrong yet it’s the programmer is the calprit.

DataTypes determine how big your program will be and how it nay handle memory, avoid confusing by planing to code rightfully from the beginning.


This tutorial assumes you have some programming knowledge and some level of practice with the one or more of the programming languages cited in the tutorial.

The tutorial is dedicated to Were Calvin a Ugandan African motion graphics designer and emerging front-end developer practicing at Gagawala Graphics limited.

You will most certainly love this reading about coding

If you want to be a relevant developer 5, 10 or 15 years to come, don’t make no mistake and ditch JavaScript.
Avoid the hype of emerging frameworks if you don’t trust your JavaScript vanilla knowledge and skills. Of course many smart developers in your network will put up a strong challenge which will most certainly make you feel irrelevant but man up and stick to what’s fundamentally right.
Don’t take it for granted, if you have strong vanilla skills you would be able to learn and grasp almost any JavaScript framework or library or plugin in less than 72 hours or so.
Have an understanding that competent developers, don’t work solo, they have an ecosystem consisting of teams. You’d rather code a process in vanilla that you understand than copying and pasting some library code in the app but you can’t answer why, what, when and how. Efficient software is developed by patient and efficient coders.
On top of that learn C++ or Java which languages have been around for forever on top of having top notch OOP maturity level. Which any JS library is embracing but sometimes it’s harder to grasp in JavaScript if you don’t compare it to how it’s done in another language.
Since most processes in JS are asynchronous it’s the not the same in JAVA and C++ perhaps giving you a big opportunity to understand both entirely.
Last but not least, relevancy is subjective though the more efficient solutions you put out in production is relative to the large number of human problems you are helping to solve but you can’t achieve that if you don’t learn and practice breaking down complex tasks into simple modules on paper before getting your hands dirty.

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The Blob issue

This past week has been one heck of a roller coaster. Maintaining a web application is one thing, maintaining a web application that crashes every 10 mins is a totally different thing.

This particular application is built on Java, utilizes spring and hibernate to store and retrieve data from a MySQL database. We use c3p0 to manage connection pooling.

Everything was going on smoothly up until a week ago when we pushed a few updates that restricted the workflow of certain processes as per the client request, then the crashes began. 10 to 20 minutes would not pass before the application run hit max connections and subsequently locked out all users.

First MySql goes away  then the Application promptly goes numb taking Glassfish with it . What to do!😦
The immediate thing I think of is to increase memory utilized by `JVM` to salvage Glassfish and my application, but application still crashes. Glassfish does not freeze this time and I can log in to admin and check logs.

There is a spike in the number of connections just before the application crashes so naturally my next target is optimizing the database. Here is where I went round in circles, query cache, table cache, max connections and buffer pool size. Mysqltuner did a great job with its recommendations, but since I could not run the Application for more than 24 hrs straight it wasn’t helpful much. Sometimes it bought me an extra 20 minutes or so, sometimes it went right under in less than 5 minutes. (Learned a lot about the power of InnoDB storage engine here)🙂

That left me with one more target, where I should have started. The application itself. At this point I have installed and tested several server monitors and performance agents. I finally settled on ****
* Overall System memory
* Java memory utilization
* Mysql memory utilization
* Threads connected to Mysql
* and slow queries  are the main indicators I was following

A lot of staring at graphs and tip toeing through log files followed. I found lists and queries that need to be optimized. Old code that looped through Hibernate Sets where thrown out of the window in place of Projections and direct findByQuery alternatives where possible.

It is best to let the database to handle as much of the calculations and comparisons directly in the database, it is way faster especially if the columns are indexed.
This improvements made significant changes to the Applications performance but it was still crashing after a while, not too frequent now but still crashing. Now I had cured almost if not all the symptoms but the cause still remained elusive.

So I went back to the logs, this time not combing through the entire log files but just the 5 mins before and after the connections spiked. What I realized is that every time the connection spiked (although not too frequent now since other contenders had been neutralized) there was this particular table that was being extensively accessed, and interestingly enough we had added a blob column to this table  to handle file attachments.  I immediately suspected that checked out connections where getting held up here due to the large size of data it scans through every time the applications need some data from the table even if what the application is looking for is not the attachment.

My immediate thought was to rework the application to save attachments to file but that would be an headache for already existing attachments. I did some Googling about indexing blob columns but that did not look like it would solve the issue as table scans would still spend some time on the blobs, then I saw a suggestion to have attachments as a different table and I immediately knew that was the savior. B)

Implementing that brought my graphs and logs to a slow and normal wavy rhythm and that’s when I knew I had nailed it. What separating the attachment column to a different table does is simple, the new table with blob column and foreign key to the previous table is only accessed  when needed. Which is only during insert and file view, allowing all the data in the previous table to be accessed as frequently as possible without need to scan through blobs.

Important things to note

  • Issue is always most likely on your application* optimizing the other systems will help but just postpone the inevitable.
  • Keep your blobs away from frequently accessed tables
  • Make your logs friendly, you never know when you will need them. Log4j does a great job for me

Finally I will lets meet at [sub] for more dev oriented discussions.