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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 a 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.

James Gosling initiated the Java language project in June 1991 for use in one of his many set-top box projects. the language, initially called Oak after an oak tree that stood outside Gosling's office, also went by the name Green and ended up later renamed as Java, from a list of random words. Gosling aimed to implement a virtual machine and a language that had a familiar C/C++ style of notation.

Sun Microsystems released the first public implementation as Java 1.0 in 1995. It promised "Write Once, Run Anywhere" (WORA), providing no-cost run-times on popular platforms. Fairly secure and featuring configurable security, it allowed network- and file-access restrictions. Major web browsers soon incorporated the ability to run Java applets within web pages, and Java quickly became popular. With the advent of Java 2 (released initially as J2SE 1.2 in December 1998), new versions had multiple configurations built for different types of platforms. For example, J2EE targeted enterprise applications and the greatly stripped-down version J2ME for mobile applications (Mobile Java). J2SE designated the Standard Edition. In 2006, for marketing purposes, Sun renamed new J2 versions as Java EE, Java ME, and Java SE, respectively.

In 1997, Sun Microsystems approached the ISO/IEC JTC1 standards body and later the Ecma International to formalize Java, but it soon withdrew from the process.Java remains a de facto standard, controlled through the Java Community Process. At one time, Sun made most of its Java implementations available without charge, despite their proprietary software status. Sun generated revenue from Java through the selling of licenses for specialized products such as the Java Enterprise System. Sun distinguishes between its Software Development Kit (SDK) and Runtime Environment (JRE) (a subset of the SDK); the primary distinction involves the JRE's lack of the compiler, utility programs, and header files.

On November 13, 2006, Sun released much of Java as open source software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). On May 8, 2007, Sun finished the process, making all of Java's core code available under free software/open-source distribution terms, aside from a small portion of code to which Sun did not hold the copyright.

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".

Sun has defined and supports four editions of Java targeting different application environments and segmented many of its APIs so that they belong to one of the platforms. The platforms are:

Java Card for smartcards.
Java Platform, Micro Edition (Java ME) — targeting environments with limited resources.
Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE) — targeting workstation environments.
Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) — targeting large distributed enterprise or Internet environments.