Java refers to several computer software products and specifications from Sun Microsystems, a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation, that together provide a system for developing application software and deploying it in a cross-platform environment. Java is used in a wide variety of computing platforms from embedded devices and mobile phones on the low end, to enterprise servers and supercomputers on the high end. While less common on desktop computers, Java applets are sometimes used to provide improved and secure functions while browsing the World Wide Web.
On November 13, 2006, Sun Microsystems made the bulk of its implementation of Java available under the GNU General Public License (GPL), although there are still a few parts distributed as precompiled binaries due to copyright issues with code that is licensed (but not owned) by Sun.
An edition of the Java platform is the name for a bundle of related programs from Sun that allow for developing and running programs written in the Java programming language. The platform is not specific to any one processor or operating system, but rather an execution engine (called a virtual machine) and a compiler with a set of libraries that are implemented for various hardware and operating systems so that Java programs can run identically on all of them.
Java Card: A technology that allows small Java-based applications (applets) to be run securely on smart cards and similar small-memory devices.
Java ME (Micro Edition): Specifies several different sets of libraries (known as profiles) for devices that are sufficiently limited that supplying the full set of Java libraries would take up unacceptably large amounts of storage.
Java SE (Standard Edition): For general-purpose use on desktop PCs, servers and similar devices.
Java EE (Enterprise Edition): Java SE plus various APIs useful for multi-tier client–server enterprise applications.
As of July 2011[update], the current version of the Java platform is specified as either 1.7.0 or 7 (both refer to the same version). Version 7 is the product version, while 1.7.0 is the developer version.
The Java platform consists of several programs, each of which provides a distinct portion of its overall capabilities. For example, the Java compiler, which converts Java source code into Java bytecode (an intermediate language for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM)), is provided as part of the Java Development Kit (JDK). The Java Runtime Environment (JRE), complementing the JVM with a just-in-time (JIT) compiler, converts intermediate bytecode into native machine code on the fly. Also supplied are extensive libraries, precompiled in which are several other components, some available only in certain editions.
The essential components in the platform are the Java language compiler, the libraries, and the runtime environment in which Java intermediate bytecode "executes" according to the rules laid out in the virtual machine specification.
The heart of the Java platform is the concept of a "virtual machine" that executes Java bytecode programs. This bytecode is the same no matter what hardware or operating system the program is running under. There is a JIT compiler within the Java Virtual Machine, or JVM. The JIT compiler translates the Java bytecode into native processor instructions at run-time and caches the native code in memory during execution.
The use of bytecode as an intermediate language permits Java programs to run on any platform that has a virtual machine available. The use of a JIT compiler means that Java applications, after a short delay during loading and once they have "warmed up" by being all or mostly JIT-compiled, tend to run about as fast as native programs. Since JRE version 1.2, Sun's JVM implementation has included a just-in-time compiler instead of an interpreter.
Although Java programs are cross-platform or platform independent, the code of the Java Virtual Machines (JVM) that execute these programs is not. Every supported operating platform has its own JVM.
In most modern operating systems (OSs), a large body of reusable code is provided to simplify the programmer's job. This code is typically provided as a set of dynamically loadable libraries that applications can call at runtime. Because the Java platform is not dependent on any specific operating system, applications cannot rely on any of the pre-existing OS libraries. Instead, the Java platform provides a comprehensive set of its own standard class libraries containing much of the same reusable functions commonly found in modern operating systems. Most of the system library is also written in Java. For instance, Swing library paints the user interface and handles the events itself, eliminating many subtle differences between how different platforms handle even similar components.
The Java class libraries serve three purposes within the Java platform. First, like other standard code libraries, the Java libraries provide the programmer a well-known set of functions to perform common tasks, such as maintaining lists of items or performing complex string parsing. Second, the class libraries provide an abstract interface to tasks that would normally depend heavily on the hardware and operating system. Tasks such as network access and file access are often heavily intertwined with the distinctive implementations of each platform. The java.net and java.io libraries implement an abstraction layer in native OS code, then provide a standard interface for the Java applications to perform those tasks. Finally, when some underlying platform does not support all of the features a Java application expects, the class libraries work to gracefully handle the absent components, either by emulation to provide a substitute, or at least by providing a consistent way to check for the presence of a specific feature.