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Java Programming Language

The Creation of Java

Java is a programming language. Java was conceived by James Gosling, Patrick Naughton, Chris Warth, Ed Frank, and Mike Sheridan at Sun Microsystems, Inc. in 1991. It took 18 months to develop the first working version. This language was initially called “Oak” but was renamed “Java” in 1995. Between the initial implementation of Oak in the fall of 1992 and the public announcement of Java in the spring of 1995, many more people contributed to the design and evolution of the language. Bill Joy, Arthur van Hoff, Jonathan Payne, Frank Yellin, and Tim Lindholm were key contributors to the maturing of the original prototype.

Java’s Lineage

Java is related to C++, which is a direct descendent of C. Much of the character of Java is inherited from these two languages. From C, Java derives its syntax. Many of Java’s object-oriented features were influenced by C++. In fact, several of Java’s defining characteristics come from—or are responses to—its predecessors. Moreover, the creation of Java was deeply rooted in the process of refinement and adaptation that has been occurring in computer programming languages for the past three decades. For these reasons, this section reviews the sequence of events and forces that led up to Java. As you will see, each innovation in language design was driven by the need to solve a fundamental problem that the preceding languages could not solve. Java is no exception.

The Stage Is Set for Java

By the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, object-oriented programming using C++ took hold. Indeed, for a brief moment it seemed as if programmers had finally found the perfect language. Because C++ blended the high efficiency and stylistic elements of C with the object-oriented paradigm, it was a language that could be used to create a wide range of programs. However, just as in the past, forces were brewing that would, once again, drive computer language evolution forward. Within a few years, the World Wide Web and the Internet would reach critical mass. This event would precipitate another revolution in programming.

Java Applets and Applications

Java can be used to create two types of programs: applications and applets. An application is a program that runs on your computer, under the operating system of that computer. That is, an application created by Java is more or less like one created using C or C++. When used to create applications, Java is not much different from any other computer language. Rather, it is Java’s ability to create applets that makes it important. An applet is an application designed to be transmitted over the Internet and executed by a Java-compatible Web browser. An applet is actually a tiny Java program, dynamically downloaded across the network, just like an image, sound file, or video clip. The important difference is that an applet is an intelligent program, not just an animation or media file. In other words, an applet is a program that can react to user input and dynamically change—not just run the same animation or sound over and over. As exciting as applets are, they would be nothing more than wishful thinking if Java were not able to address the two fundamental problems associated with them: security and portability. Before continuing, let’s define what these two terms mean relative to the Internet.

Java’s Magic: The Bytecode

The key that allows Java to solve both the security and the portability problems just described is that the output of a Java compiler is not executable code. Rather, it is bytecode. Bytecode is a highly optimized set of instructions designed to be executed by the Java run-time system, which is called the Java Virtual Machine (JVM). That is, in its standard form, the JVM is an interpreter for bytecode. This may come as a bit of a surprise. As you know, C++ is compiled to executable code. In fact, most modern languages are designed to be compiled, not interpreted—mostly because of performance concerns. However, the fact that a Java program is executed by the JVM helps solve the major problems associated with downloading programs over the Internet. Here is why.

Translating a Java program into bytecode helps makes it much easier to run a program in a wide variety of environments. The reason is straightforward: only the JVM needs to be implemented for each platform. Once the run-time package exists for a given system, any Java program can run on it. Remember, although the details of the JVM will differ from platform to platform, all interpret the same Java bytecode. If a Java program were compiled to native code, then different versions of the same program would have to exist for each type of CPU connected to the Internet. This is, of course, not a feasible solution. Thus, the interpretation of bytecode is the easiest way to create truly portable programs.

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