What Is Java?

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

What is Java
Java is a popular programming language found on every popular operating system.

Oracle

Unless you're a programmer or someone else in the tech industry, chances are you don't know much about Java; though you've probably encountered a message on your computer stating Java needs to be updated to display certain content or run a particular application. 

What is Java?

Java is one of the world's most popular programming languages, due, in part, to the fact it's a compiled application capable of running on a majority of well-known operating systems including Linux, macOS, and Windows. An adaption of C/C++, Java's overall simplicity in its coding syntax along with relatively improved memory management and garbage collection have led to widespread adoption across multiple platforms.

If Java is not already present on your system but is required by an application, you're usually prompted to install it on-the-fly. 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). 

Originally released by Sun Microsystems in 1995, Java is now owned and maintained by Oracle.

What is Java Used For?

A general-purpose programming language, Java's uses vary greatly across the board. Since billions of devices run Java, this use case diversity it not the least bit surprising. A multitude of server-side applications — the processing that typically takes place behind-the-scenes and in the cloud — rely on Java, but so do many web applications and other user-facing programs. 

Many native Android apps are also written in Java, adding to the language's popularity with the boom in smartphones and tablets running that operating system. 

Where Do I Get Java?

As we mentioned above, there's a decent chance your operating system is already running Java and you're receiving upgrades to newer versions when applicable. However, if that isn't the case, you can always download and install the JRE manually via Oracle's website.

Is Java Safe?

Generally speaking, yes, Java is safe. However, as is the case with other languages and technology stacks, there are always hackers looking to locate and exploit potential Java vulnerabilities. 

Keeping this in mind, it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest version as security issues are often patched soon after they are discovered in the wild. It's also recommended that you only install Java directly from Oracle.

What Version of Java Do I Have?

The easiest way to determine which version of Java you're running is through the Java Control Panel. If you follow the instructions below and cannot find Java, it's probably not installed on your system.

what version of Java am I running
Screenshot from Windows

macOS 

  1. Click the Apple icon, located in the upper left-hand corner of the screen.
  2. When the drop-down menu appears, select System Preferences.
  3. The Preferences dialog should now be visible, overlaying your desktop. Click Java, typically found towards the bottom of the window.
  4. The Java Control Panel will now be displayed. Click the About button.
  5. The About Java dialog will now appear, displaying full version and copyright information about your Java installation.

Windows 10

  1. Enter the following text in the Windows Search box, located in the lower left-hand corner of the screen: Java.
  2. Under Best Match, select Configure Java.
  3. The Java Control Panel interface should now be visible, overlaying your desktop.
  4. Select the About button.
  5. The About Java dialog will now appear, displaying full version and copyright information about your Java installation.

Windows 8 

  1. Use the following keyboard shortcut combination to open the Windows Search box: Windows key+W.
  2. When the Search box appears, enter the following text and press Enter: Java Control Panel.
  3. Select the Java icon.
  4. The Java Control Panel interface should now be visible, overlaying your desktop.
  5. Select the About button.
  6. The About Java dialog will now appear, displaying full version and copyright information about your Java installation.

Windows 7/Windows Vista

  1. Click the Windows start button, located in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.
  2. When the pop-out menu appears, click the Control Panel option.
  3. The Control Panel interface should now be displayed. Enter the following in the accompanying search box: Java Control Panel.
  4. Click the Java icon.
  5. The Java Control Panel should now appear, containing version information about your individual Java installation.

How Do I Become a Java Programmer?

Now that you have a better understanding of what Java is, perhaps you'd like to try your hand at developing your own applets. A good starting point is our step-by-step tutorial, intended for beginner developers 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 with an easier language until you get comfortable with the concept of coding.