What is Java?

Side Column Laptops

Frequently Asked Questions


Java is an object-oriented programming language designed specifically to allow developers a platform of continuity. Java differs from other programming paradigms—such as functional and logical programming—because developers can continue or update something they have already finished, as opposed to starting from scratch. The objects keep the code neatly organized and easy to modify when necessary.

For instance, a car dealership has several automobiles on its lot. Each of the cars is an object, but each has different characteristics called classes, which are the different models, engines, paint color and so on. A customer selects a red pickup truck, but wants to add a better stereo system. The new pickup inherits all the characteristics from the object “pickup truck,” and the programmer is simply tasked to modify the “stereo” class as opposed to building an entirely new vehicle. This is what makes Java an ideal platform for cell phones, website forums, gaming consoles and anything else that requires constant updates and modifications.

Programs created with Java are portable because they are assembled in bytecode. It can be executed on any server that has Java Virtual Machine (JVM) installed. Unlike C++, objects created with Java do not have to reference external data. This means a Java application will continue running even if your operating system or some other external program crash.

Do not confuse Java with Javascript. The latter is an interpreted language like Microsoft’s Visual Basic. It is mostly used for shorter programs, like those that cause pop-up windows to appear in a web browser. JavaScript lacks the portability Java has, and is often used as part of HTML coding.

Java is the second-most utilized programming language in the world, just behind C and ahead of C++ and Objective C. It is free to download and update. It requires Windows XP or later, Mac OS X 10.7.3 or later, and works with most Linux-based systems.

Sun Microsystems created Java in 1995 as a universal platform that could run the same application on any machine regardless of its operating system. Java is currently installed on 3 billion devices worldwide. To run Java, you would download and install the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) on your computer . JRE contains the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and all the classes or blueprints to create objects. Java is especially useful for programmers, but is also essential for end-users who run applications with Java applets.

The Department of Homeland Security recommended everyone disable Java in January 2013 because Oracle, the company that purchased Sun Microsystems in 2009, failed to adequately address a major security issue. Russian anti-virus company Kaspersky Lab, said that half of all cyber attacks in 2012 were directly caused by Java. Most major websites, including Facebook and Twitter, use JavaScript and HTML 5 instead of Java to avoid the security risks.

Java was once considered the future of the Internet and was absolutely necessary to run just about everything after it was released. Now, most cybersecurity experts recommend uninstalling Java if you have it on your computer. If it is essential that you use Java, dedicate one browser for surfing with Java and use another one for all other Web activities.

Sun Microsystems made most of Java’s core code available to the public as free and open source software (FOSS) in 2007, pursuant to the terms of the GNU General Public License. Today, Oracle states that the Java Development Kit (JDK) is free to download, but not to re-distribute without a license.

The issue was, however, recently complicated in the courts. Federal litigation between Google and Oracle in 2012 led to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison being asked the question in open court: “Is Java free?” When the judge pushed him to answer with a yes or no, Ellison reportedly grew visibly uncomfortable before answering, “I don’t know.” Oracle accused Google of copyright infringement by using Java code in its Android operating system without paying for the proper licenses (to the tune of $6.1 billion). Google contended that the code it used is public domain, so the company is not required to pay licensing fees. Google was ultimately cleared of most of the claims, but the case is currently being appealed.

The simple answer to this question for everyday computer users is yes, Java is free. Programmers and other who profit from Java may be required to pay licensing fees.

Java Runtime Environment (JRE, for everyday users) should be downloaded directly from the Oracle website. The download page provides installation instructions, licensing information and notes pertaining to the latest software release. Information is also available that will help you determine which Java package you need. Several other resources are available for download at the Oracle website as well, including the Java Time Zone Updater and Java Access Bridge. Java.com is also powered by Oracle and is an equally reliable place to download JRE. This is the only option that guarantees you get Java without any potential malware attached to it.

Java Development Kit (JDK, for programmers) source code can be downloaded from the Oracle website for Windows users. Ubuntu users can obtain the code simply by searching “openjdk” and installing it. Mac OS X users can download the Java for OS X Developer Package from Apple developer website.

Several third-parties do offer Java downloads, but exercise caution when using them. Download.com is one of the most reliable sites and generally gets positive reviews from users. Do not trust any other websites claiming to offer a free Java download, as you could inadvertently open your system to malware and trojans.

Java 7 and all subsequent versions of the application will always notify users when updates are necessary and when any potential security risks are imminent. It is recommended you install the updates and patches needed when prompted to do so, but only through legitimate sources. Malware developers have created several false updates that look authentic. One in particular is called “Java Update 11” for Windows. The file will appear as “javaupdate11.jar.” Once installed, it creates a backdoor way for hackers to compromise your system. Keeping Java up to date is important for security and performance reasons, but it is equally important to make certain you are downloading legitimate files. Only download updates that come directly from the Java homepage or from the control panel installed on your computer. If you get an update notification that prompts you to download it, close the notification. Then go to either the Oracle or Java homepage and check for potential updates there. Java Auto Update automatically checks for necessary updates and patches.

You can set it to scan for updates as often as you like or you can manually check at any time. Oracle recommends you keep Java Auto Update enabled. The default setting will notify users once per month of any needed updates.