Kotlin Overview, Installation, and Setup

Kotlin is a programming language developed by JetBrains, the same company that has built world-class IDEs like IntelliJ IDEA, PhpStorm, PyCharm, ReSharper etc.

It runs on the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), and can also be compiled to JavaScript and Machine Code.

In this tutorial, I’ll give you a brief overview of Kotlin and its features. I’ll also help you set up Kotlin in your system and prepare you for future tutorials.

Why Kotlin?

In today’s world where we have a dozen programming language for every possible task, following are few reasons to choose Kotlin as the primary language for your next exciting project –

1. Statically Typed

Kotlin is a Statically typed programming language. This means that the type of every variable and expression is known at compile time.

The advantage with static typing is that the compiler can validate the methods calls and property access on the objects at compile time itself and prevent lots of trivial bugs that would otherwise crop up at runtime.

Although Kotlin is a statically typed language, it doesn’t require you to explicitly specify the type of every variable you declare. Most of the time, Kotlin can infer the type of a variable from the initializer expression or the surrounding context. This is called Type Inference. You’ll learn more about Type inference in the Variables and Data Types tutorial.

2. Concise

Kotlin is concise. It drastically reduces the amount of boilerplate code that you have been writing all the time in other OOP languages like Java.

It provides rich idioms for performing common tasks. For example, You can create a POJO class with getters, setters, equals()hashCode() and toString() methods in a single line –

data class User(val name: String, val email: String, val country: String)

3. Safe

Kotlin is safe. It avoids the most dreaded and annoying NullPointerExceptions by supporting nullability as part of its type system.

It works like this – Every variable in Kotlin is non-null by default:

String str = "Hello, World"    // Non-null type (can't hold null value)
str = null // Compiler Error

To allow a variable to hold null value, you need to explicitly declare it as nullable:

String nullableStr? = null   // Nullable type (can be null)

Since Kotlin knows which variables are nullable and which are not, It can detect and disallow unsafe calls at compile time itself that would otherwise result in a NullPointerException at runtime –

println(nullableStr.length()) // Compiler Error

Kotlin doesn’t allow the method call length() on the nullableStr variable because the call is not safe and may lead to NullPointerException.

However, if you add a null check then the method call is allowed –

if(nullablStr != null) {

Notice how Kotlin is enforcing developers to write safe code by distinguishing between nullable and non-null types.

4. Explicit

Kotlin is Explicit. It will do/allow things only if you tell it to do so. Explicitness is considered a good thing. Being explicit means being specific about your design choices and not hiding anything from the readers or consumers of your code.

Following are few examples of Explicitness in Kotlin –

  • Kotlin doesn’t allow implicit type conversions, for example, int to long, or float to double. It provides methods like toLong() and toDouble() to do so explicitly.
  • All the classes in Kotlin are final (non-inheritable) by default. You need to explicitly mark a class as open to allow other classes to inherit from it. Similarly, All the properties and member functions of a class are final by default. You need to explicitly mark a function or property as open to allow child classes to override it.
  • If you’re overriding a parent class function or property, then you need to explicitly annotate it with the override modifier.

5. Easy to learn.

Kotlin has a very low learning curve. The basic syntax looks a lot like Java. If you have a little experience in Java or any other OOP language then you’ll be able to pick up Kotlin in a matter of hours.

6. Functional and Object Oriented Capabilities

Kotlin has both functional and object-oriented capabilities. It has a rich set of features to support functional programming which includes functional types, lambda expressions, data classes and much more.

7. Completely interoperable with Java

Kotlin is 100% interoperable with Java. You can easily access Java code from Kotlin and vice versa. You can use Kotlin and Java in the same project without any problem. This enables easy adoption of Kotlin into your existing Java projects.

Kotlin Java Interoperability

8. Excellent Tooling

Kotlin has excellent tooling support. You can choose any Java IDE – IntelliJ IDEA, Eclipse, Android Studio. All of them support Kotlin.

Moreover, you can also download Kotlin’s standalone compiler and run Kotlin code from the command line.

Kotlin Tool Friendly

9. Build Applications for Server Side, Android, Browser, and Desktop

You can use Koltin to build applications for a wide range of platforms including Server side, Android, Browser, and Desktop.

  • Android has official support for Kotlin.
  • On the server side, you can use Kotlin with the Spring framework which has added full support for Kotlin in Spring version 5.
  • Kotlin can be compiled to JavaScript and Machine code as well.

10. Free and Open Source

Kotlin programming language, including the compiler, libraries and all the tooling is completely free and open source. It is available under Apache 2 license and the complete project is hosted on Github – https://github.com/JetBrains/kotlin

Setup Kotlin

You can set up and run Kotlin programs in several ways. You can either install kotlin’s compiler and run Kotlin programs from the command line or install and setup Kotlin in an IDE like IntelliJ or Eclipse –

  • Install Kotlin’s Standalone Compiler
  • Setup Kotlin in IntelliJ IDEA
  • Setup Kotlin in Eclipse

Installing the Standalone Compiler

Follow the steps below to install Kotlin’s compiler –

  1. Go to Kotlin releases page on Github
  2. Download Kotlin’s compiler in the form of a zip file from the Assets section on the Github releases page. The latest version of Kotlin compiler at the time of writing this page is 1.2.10
  3. Unzip the downloaded kotlin-compiler-x.x.x.zip file and store the unzipped folder in a location where you have write access.
  4. Add path-to-unzipped-folder/bin to your PATH variable.
  5. Verify the installation by typing kotlinc in the command line –
$ kotlinc
Welcome to Kotlin version 1.2.10 (JRE 1.8.0_112-b16)
Type :help for help, :quit for quit

Run your first Kotlin program from the command line

Open your favorite editor and create a new file called hello.kt with the following contents –

fun main(args: Array<String>) {
    println("Hello, World!")

Save the file and type the following commands to compile and run the program

$ kotlinc hello.kt
$ kotlin HelloKt
Hello, World

Setting up Kotlin in IntelliJ IDEA

Install the latest version of IntelliJ IDEA. Kotlin comes bundled with the recent versions of IntelliJ. You won’t need to install any plug-in separately to run Kotlin programs.

Follow these steps to create and run a new Kotlin project in IntelliJ

  1. Create a new project by selecting “Create New Project” on the welcome screen or go to File → New → Project.Select Kotlin on the left side menu and Kotlin/JVM from the options on the right side –IntelliJ Kotlin Project Setup
  2. Specify the project’s name and location, and select a Java version (1.6+) in the Project SDK. Once all the details are entered, click Finish to create the project –IntelliJ Kotlin Hello World Project ExampleThe generated project will look like this –IntelliJ Kotlin Hello World Project Directory Structure
  3. Let’s now create a new Kotlin file. Right click on src folder → New → Kotlin File/Class.IntelliJ Create new Kotlin ClassA prompt will appear where you’ll need to provide a name for the file. Let’s name it HelloWorld.
  4. Now let’s write a simple hello world program in the new file that we have created. Add the following main() function to the HelloWorld.kt file –Kotlin Hello World Example
  5. Finally, You can run the program by clicking the Kotlin icon that appears beside the main() method –Run Kotlin Program in IntelliJ IDEA

You can also run the program by Right Clicking the HelloWorld.kt file and selecting Run 'HelloWorldKt'.

Setting up Kotlin in Eclipse

I assume that you have Eclipse installed on your system. If not, download the eclipse installer from Eclipse Downloads page, and install “Eclipse IDE for Java Developers”.

Once Eclipse is installed, follow the steps below to setup and run Kotlin in Eclipse –

  1. Install Kotlin Plugin from Eclipse Marketplace: Go to Help → Eclipse Marketplace, and search for Kotlin.Eclipse Kotlin PluginClick install to install the plugin.
  2. You will need to restart eclipse once the installation is finished.
  3. Let’s verify the plugin’s installation switching to Kotlin perspective in eclipse. Go to Window → Perspective → Open Perspective → Other. A window will open which will show Kotlin as a new perspective. Select Kotlin and click Open to open Kotlin perspective –Eclipse Kotlin Perspective
  4. Let’s now create a new project. Select File → New → Kotlin Project. Enter the project’s name and click finish –Create Kotlin Project in Eclipse
  5. A new project will be created which will look like this –Eclipse Kotlin Project Directory Structure
  6. Let’s now create a new Kotlin file under the src folder. Right click src folder → New → Kotlin File –Create Kotlin File/Class in Eclipse
  7. First, add the following code in the HelloWorld.kt file, and then right-click anywhere on the source file and click Run As → Kotlin Application to run the application –Run Kotlin Application in Eclipse


That’s all folks! In this article, you learned about Kotlin and some of its features. You also learned how to setup and run Kotlin programs in your system using Kotlin’s standalone compiler and IDEs like IntelliJ and Eclipse.


Yaniv Levy

Yaniv Levy, Entrepreneur, visioner & technology passionate with over 20 years on vast experience as a Senior Software Engineer and a Software Architect.

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