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JavaScript vs. Java: What’s the Difference?

This is a point of confusion we hear from clients all the time — if you don’t know the answer, you’re far from alone. JavaScript and Java are two programming languages that have some similarities but are also quite different.

Though it’s easy to mix them up, it’s important to know what each does that the other doesn’t, and which tasks each is more suited to. Both are incredibly popular languages that are found powering countless applications around the world.

Why do two such different languages have such similar names? It’s easier to understand the differences if you know a bit of their histories.

Origins of Java

Java was created by Sun Microsystems in 1995. Originally meant to be a way to roll out interactive television, its ability to run on many different platforms made Java an instant hit. 

Origins of JavaScript

JavaScript was invented that same year specifically for the Netscape Navigator browser but quickly became the go-to programming language for the many. Though it was an entirely new and different language, the creator’s bosses had told him they wanted something that looked like the newly released Java. To reinforce the association with the popular Java language, Netscape’s was originally called Mocha. But even that wasn’t obvious enough, so they renamed it JavaScript. The result? Two unrelated languages that will always be linked in people’s minds.

Differences between Java and JavaScript

Here are some key differences between the two languages to keep in mind as you talk about your tech project with developers:

Syntax: Both JavaScript and Java have a similar syntax, as they are both influenced by the C programming language. However, there are some significant differences in the way that the languages are written. For example, Java is a purely object-oriented language, while JavaScript is a scripting language in which programmers write declarations in a completely different way. There are so many differences in the way each language is coded, in fact, that devs often joke that the only thing Java and JavaScript have in common is the word “Java.”

Purpose: JavaScript was designed to be a scripting language for the web (remember its Netscape Navigator origins), while Java was designed to be a general-purpose programming language (“Write Once, Run Anywhere”). This means that JavaScript is mainly used to create interactive elements on websites, while Java is used to build a wide range of applications, including mobile apps, games, and backend systems.

Execution: It used to be that JavaScript was a purely client-side language, which means that the code is executed on the user’s browser when they visit a web page. Java, on the other hand, is a compiled language, which means that the code is compiled into a standalone application that can be run on any device. But now you have the Node.js server platform, which now allows developers to use JavaScript for back-end environments. 

Object-Oriented Programming: Both JavaScript and Java support object-oriented programming, or OOP, but they have some differences in their implementation of OOP concepts. For example, JavaScript has a prototype-based OOP model, while Java has a class-based OOP model, which affects how the application treats the concept of objects.  (In developer speak, objects are collections of related data and functions that are used to represent real-world concepts.) 

Do you need Java or JavaScript?

Overall, while JavaScript and Java have some similarities, they are primarily used for different purposes and have different characteristics, and that makes a big difference in how and where our developers use each: We use JavaScript is mainly for web development, while Java is a more general-purpose programming language that we use for a wider range of applications. 

But our clients usually want to know what that means for them. Here’s what might say in a nutshell: If your project is a front-end project, which means that it’s the part that users interact with, there’s a good chance that what you need is a developer who’s fluent in JavaScript. If you’re looking to build the back end of your project, which performs most of the actual “work” of the application, then you probably need a developer who can code in Java (or Python or another programming language geared more toward the back end).

We, of course, have some of the world’s top specialists in both. No matter whether you need a Java or a JavaScript developer, Plan A Technologies has you covered — reach out today and we can talk about getting you started with the right specialist right away.


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