Java is a programming language originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems (which is now a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation) and released in 1995 as a core component of Sun Microsystems' Java platform. The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++ but has a simpler object model and fewer low-level facilities. Java applications are typically compiled to bytecode (class file) that can run on any Java Virtual Machine (JVM) regardless of computer architecture. Java is general-purpose, concurrent, class-based, and object-oriented, and is specifically designed to have as few implementation dependencies as possible. It is intended to let application developers "write once, run anywhere". Java is considered by many as one of the most influential programming languages of the 20th century, and is widely used from application software to web applications.
The original and reference implementation Java compilers, virtual machines, and class libraries were developed by Sun from 1995. As of May 2007, in compliance with the specifications of the Java Community Process, Sun relicensed most of its Java technologies under the GNU General Public License. Others have also developed alternative implementations of these Sun technologies, such as the GNU Compiler for Java and GNU Classpath.
There were five primary goals in the creation of the Java language:
- It should be "simple, object oriented, and familiar".
- It should be "robust and secure".
- It should be "architecture neutral and portable".
- It should execute with "high performance".
- It should be "interpreted, threaded, and dynamic".
One characteristic of Java is portability, which means that computer programs written in the Java language must run similarly on any supported hardware/operating-system platform. This is achieved by compiling the Java language code to an intermediate representation called Java bytecode, instead of directly to platform-specific machine code. Java bytecode instructions are analogous to machine code, but are intended to be interpreted by a virtual machine (VM) written specifically for the host hardware. End-users commonly use a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed on their own machine for standalone Java applications, or in a Web browser for Java applets.
Standardized libraries provide a generic way to access host-specific features such as graphics, threading and networking.
A major benefit of using bytecode is porting. However, the overhead of interpretation means that interpreted programs almost always run more slowly than programs compiled to native executables would. Just-in-Time compilers were introduced from an early stage that compile bytecodes to machine code during runtime. Over the years, this JVM built-in feature has been optimized to a point where the JVM's performance competes with natively compiled C code.
Sun Microsystems officially licenses the Java Standard Edition platform for Linux, Mac OS X, and Solaris. Although in the past Sun has licensed Java to Microsoft, the license has expired and has not been renewed. Through a network of third-party vendors and licensees, alternative Java environments are available for these and other platforms.
Sun's trademark license for usage of the Java brand insists that all implementations be "compatible". This resulted in a legal dispute with Microsoft after Sun claimed that the Microsoft implementation did not support RMI or JNI and had added platform-specific features of their own. Sun sued in 1997, and in 2001 won a settlement of $20 million as well as a court order enforcing the terms of the license from Sun. As a result, Microsoft no longer ships Java with Windows, and in recent versions of Windows, Internet Explorer cannot support Java applets without a third-party plugin. Sun, and others, have made available free Java run-time systems for those and other versions of Windows.
Programs written in Java have a reputation for being slower and requiring more memory than those written in some other languages. However, Java programs' execution speed improved significantly with the introduction of Just-in-time compilation in 1997/1998 for Java 1.1, the addition of language features supporting better code analysis (such as inner classes, StringBuffer class, optional assertions, etc.), and optimizations in the Java Virtual Machine itself, such as HotSpot becoming the default for Sun's JVM in 2000.
To boost even further the speed performances that can be achieved using the Java language Systronix made JStik, a microcontroller based on the aJile Systems line of embedded Java processors. In addition, the widely used ARM family of CPUs has hardware support for executing Java bytecode through its Jazelle option.