What Is Java?

A look at the software we often use but know little about

Unless you're a computer programmer, you might not know what Java is even though you likely encounter it every day. Learn where to download Java and how to tell which version of Java your operating system is running.

Information in this article pertains to the Java programming language, not to be confused with JavaScript.

What Is Java?

Java is a compiled programming language capable of running on the majority of well-known operating systems including Linux, macOS, and Windows. An adaption of C/C++, Java offers simple coding syntax along with improved memory management and garbage collection. Java was originally released by Sun Microsystems in 1995, but it is now owned and maintained by Oracle.

The Java logo

What Is Java Used For?

As a general-purpose programming language, Java's uses vary greatly across the board. A multitude of server-side applications, or programs that process data behind-the-scenes and in the cloud, rely on Java. So do many web applications and other user-facing programs. Many native Android apps are also written in Java, which has added to the language's popularity with the rise of smartphones and tablets

Where Do I Get Java?

If Java is not already present on your system, you'll usually be prompted to install it if you open an application that requires it. Most operating systems already come preloaded with Java. However, if that isn't the case, you can always download Java from Oracle's website.

Several components comprise the Java installation package, known collectively as the Java Runtime Environment, or JRE. Included in the JRE is Java plug-in software, which is required for Java applets to run within most web browsers. Java Virtual Machine, commonly referred to as JVM, is also part of the Java package and creates a runtime environment within your OS that can execute compiled Java code (sometimes called bytecode). 

Is Java Safe?

Generally speaking, Java is safe. However, hackers are always looking for new ways to exploit potential Java vulnerabilities. Keeping this in mind, it's important to keep Java up-to-date with the latest version as security issues are often patched soon after they are discovered. It's also recommended that you only download and install Java directly from Oracle.

How to Tell Which Version of Java You Have on macOS

To check your version of Java on Mac, select the Apple icon at the of the screen and choose System Preferences from the drop-down menu. Select the Java icon near the bottom of the window to access the Java Control Panel, where you can find full version and copyright information about your Java installation.

If you follow these instructions and can't find Java, it's probably not installed on your system.

  1. Select System Preferences under the Apple menu, or click its icon in the Dock.

    The System Preferences command under the Apple menu
  2. Click the Java icon at the bottom of the System Preferences window.

    Java in System Preferences
  3. The Java control panel will open in a new window. Click About on the General tab.

    The About button in the Java Control Panel
  4. Java version and build information will appear on the first line.

    Java version and build information

How to Tell Which Version of Java You Have on Windows

To check your version of Java on Windows 10:

  1. Type Java in the Windows Search box.

  2. Select About Java under Best Match.

    The About Java app in Windows
  3. The About Java dialog will appear, displaying full version and copyright information about your Java installation.

    Java build and version info in Windows 10

On Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista, open the Windows Control Panel and go to Programs > Programs and Features to find your Java version.

How Do I Become a Java Programmer?

If you're interested in developing your own applets, a good starting point is this free web class on learning Java. The instructions are easy to follow and intended for beginners as well as more seasoned coders looking to learn a new language.

Although its syntax is considered simplistic when compared to some other languages, Java is still tough to master if you have no programming experience. With that in mind, you may want to start out learning an easy programing language until you get comfortable with the concept of coding.