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 is installed on your operating system.

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 that runs on most well-known operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. An adaption of C/C++, Java offers simple coding syntax along with improved memory management and garbage collection.

Sun Microsystems originally released Java in 1995. It's now owned and maintained by Oracle.

The Java logo
Oracle

What Is Java Used For?

As a general-purpose programming language, Java's uses vary. Many 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 Android apps are 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 isn't on your system, you're prompted to install it if you open an application that requires it. Most operating systems come preloaded with Java. However, if that isn't the case, you can download Java from the Oracle 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 in most web browsers. Java Virtual Machine, commonly referred to as JVM, is also part of the Java package. JVM creates a runtime environment in the OS that can execute compiled Java code (sometimes called bytecode). 

Is Java Safe?

Generally speaking, Java is safe. However, hackers always look for new ways to exploit potential Java vulnerabilities. It's important to keep Java up-to-date with the latest version as security issues are often patched soon after being 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 the version of Java on a Mac, select the Apple icon at the top 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'll find the version and copyright information about the 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 opens in a new window. Click About on the General tab.

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

    Java version and build information

How to Tell Which Version of Java You Have on Windows

To check the 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 appears, displaying the version and copyright information about the 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 the Java version.

How Do I Become a Java Programmer?

If you're interested in developing applets, Code Academy offers a free web class on learning Java that's a good starting point. The instructions are easy to follow and intended for beginners as well as seasoned coders looking to learn a new language.

Although its syntax is considered simplistic compared to other languages, Java is tough to learn if you have no programming experience. You may want to consider learning an easy programming language until you get comfortable with the concept of coding.

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