History of Java: From Island Origins to Programming Powerhouse

History of Java: From Island Origins to Programming Powerhouse

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Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Feb 19, 2024 18:20 IST

Java, a programming language created by Sun Microsystems in the mid-1990s, revolutionized software development with its platform independence. Designed for “write once, run anywhere,” Java gained popularity through its use in web browsers, leading to its widespread adoption and extensive application in various domains. Explore the history of Java today. 

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The TIOBE index of 2023 lists Java as the 4th-most popular programming language. While PYPL (PopularitY of Programming Language) Index ranks it on the second. 

Developers use this open-source language to create applications for laptops, mobiles, and many other devices. It is also preferable across industries. Its extensive ecosystem of libraries and frameworks is used for big data processing and predictive analytics, among others. 

This language, since its beginnings, has continuously shaped how we interact with evolving technology and the World Wide Web. Think about it! As an aspiring software developer, it will benefit you to know the legacy systems, the context of the historical changes of what it could solve then and how it has evolved. 

Today we explore the history of Java explicitly. 

Java – Quick Definition

Java is an object-oriented programming language that can run on any device or operating system with a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). 

You can read more about the language in our detailed article on What is Java

Why Java was Developed

Java was the only programming language that led developers to write and execute code for multiple operating systems. Languages like C or C++ require code specific to each OS. 

This language was built on the principle ‘Write Once, Run Anywhere’ (WORA) so that the code could be reused anywhere. This led to maintaining code efficiency, where developers could specially focus on writing code for functionality, instead of worrying about implementation for each platform. 

In short, a single bug fix could be applied universally on all platforms. 

The Historical Context of Challenges Before Java

While exploring the history of Java, let's focus on the historical challenges. 

In the 90s, the use of software would be limited to floppy disks and CDs. If the user would switch machines with different operating systems, the code would break. 

One of the primary reasons for this is memory allocation across different machines. If an application without Java runs on a supercomputer with plenty of memory, it would crash on a system with low memory. 

During those days, there were no standardised memory configurations. So any change in the hardware would create a discrepancy. 

There was another challenge for compilers. As they translate human-written code to machine code, they would allocate different amounts of memory for the same type of data. On different machines, the compilers would create glitches. 

What Java Could Finally Solve

When learning on the history of Java, it is important to see that how it could provide a solution for cross-platform compatibility, memory management, and security issues that were prevalent at the time. It allowed developers to write code once and run it on different systems, saving time and effort while providing a secure and reliable environment for running programs.

The language gained significant traction when it started being extensively used in web browsers. There Java applets were employed to execute advanced operations. Following this, APIs were developed for desktop, mobile, and enterprise applications. 

Eventually, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) was predominantly released as free and open source software to the public. This move further fueled Java’s popularity and expanded its usage within the software community.

Let’s look at the main factors that Java could contribute in the world of software development.  

Platform Dependency 

Of the most significant taglines of the programming world, the Java history tells us that the developers introduced the concept of “Write Once, Run Anywhere” (WORA). This means that Java code is compiled into a standard format known as bytecode, which can be run on any device that has a Java Virtual Machine (JVM), regardless of the underlying hardware and operating system. This was a revolutionary idea that greatly simplified software development.

For example, if a developer was creating a word processing application, they would have to create different versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux if they were using a platform-dependent language. But with Java, they could write the application once, and it would run on all these platforms without any modifications.

Network-Centric Programming 

In the early 1990s, the internet was starting to become more popular, and there was a need for a language that could easily handle network-centric programming. Java was designed with built-in support for working with networks, making it easier to create applications that could communicate over the internet.

For instance, a developer could use Java to create a chat application where users on different computers could send messages to each other over the internet. This would have been much more difficult to achieve with many other languages at the time.

Security 

As software started to become more interconnected, security became a bigger concern. Java was designed with a strong emphasis on security, including features like a sandbox for code execution, which helped prevent unauthorised access to system resources.

For example, if a user ran a Java applet (a small application) in their web browser, the Java sandbox would prevent that applet from accessing certain resources on the user’s computer, like their files or network, unless explicitly allowed. This helped protect the user from potentially malicious code.

Ease of Use 

Java was designed to be easier to use and less prone to errors than many other languages at the time. It removed certain features that were common in other languages, like pointers, which could often lead to confusing bugs. 

It also included features like automatic memory management (garbage collection), which freed developers from having to manually manage memory.

For example, in languages like C++, developers had to manually allocate and deallocate memory. If they forgot to deallocate memory that was no longer in use, it could lead to a memory leak. That’s how the program uses up more and more memory over time. In Java, the garbage collector automatically deallocates memory that’s no longer in use.

Who Created Java?

Credited as the creator of Java, James Gosling was a Canadian computer scientist leading a team of developers, the Green team, at Sun Microsystems in the 90s. 

Initially, Java was called Oak. It was designed for ‘digital interactive television’, which was too advanced for that time. Again for some copyright issues, the name Oak was renamed to Java. 

Gosling’s Basic Goals of Java

There were five basic goals that Gosling and his team focused on to simplify software development. 

  • Simple, object-oriented, and familiar
  • Robust and secure 
  • Architecture-neutral or portable
  • Execute with high performance
  • Interpreted, threaded, and dynamic.
 

When was Java Released? A Brief Timeline

Here is a brief timeline of the language's development since the beginning. This timeline will give you a better idea on the history of Java. 

1995: The first version of Java, Java 1.0, is released.

1998-1999: Java 2 is released with significant changes to the architecture.

2004: Java 5.0 is released with new features like Generics, Enhanced for Loop, Autoboxing and Unboxing, Typesafe Enums, Varargs, Static Import and Annotation.

2006: Sun Microsystems releases much of Java as free and open-source software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

2007: Java 6 is released, improving the GUI and changing the look and feel.

2010: Oracle Corporation acquires Sun Microsystems and takes over the Java product.

2011: Java 7 is released, featuring language changes to help increase developer productivity and performance enhancements for the JVM.

2014: Java 8 is released. This was a revolutionary release of the Java for software development platform. It included features like Lambda Expressions, a new Date and Time API, and the Java Stream API.

2017: Java 9 is released. Important features include the Java Shell, the Java Platform Module System, and improvements to Java 8’s Stream API.

2018: Java 10 is released as part of Oracle’s new six-month release cycle. The most notable feature was Local-Variable Type Inference.

2018: Java 11, the second long-term support release, was made available. It allowed running JavaScript code from within Java code using the GraalVM JavaScript engine.

2019: Java 12 is released. It introduced switch expressions and the Shenandoah garbage collector.

2019: Java 13 is released. Text blocks and a reimplementation of the legacy Socket API were introduced.

2020: Java 14 is released. It came up with helpful NullPointerExceptions and a preview of pattern matching for instanceof.

2020: Java 15 is released. The release introduced sealed classes and a foreign-memory access API.

2021: Java 16 is released. Records and pattern matching for switch expressions were introduced.

2021: Java 17 is released. New features macOS rendering pipelines and activation of the removal RMI, were added. 

2022: Java 18 is released, with improvements in foreign function memory. 

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Why is Java so Popular Even Today?

Java is the go-to programming language for many reasons. Listing some of the top reasons below. 

Use with Integrated Development Environments

Java can be used with integrated development environments (IDE). Some are Eclipse, IntelliJ IDEA, and NetBeans IDE. These provide features for collaborative development where multiple developers can work on the same project simultaneously. 

They also offer integration with version control systems like Git, making it easier to manage code changes, track revisions, and resolve conflicts in a team environment.

Java Provides Backward Compatibility

If you have written code in a previous version of Java, it will remain compatible with the newer versions. You won’t have to start writing code again. 

Java Has Many Libraries for Emerging Technologies

The language has many libraries and provides a wide range of classes and functions for most programming tasks. This extensive library simplifies development and reduces the need for developers to write code from scratch. 

Libraries like Weka and Deeplearning4j offer machine learning and deep learning capabilities. Java is also used in blockchain development through frameworks and libraries like Hyperledger Fabric and Web3j.

Parting Thoughts

Hopefully, this blog on the history of Java could give a brief insight into how groundbreaking the language was. 

About the Author
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Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio