Unit 1: Java platform overview

Take a high-level look at the Java platform's components


Before you begin

This unit is part of the "Intro to Java programming" learning path. Although the concepts discussed in the individual units are standalone in nature, the hands-on component builds as you progress through the units, and I recommend that you review the prerequisites, setup, and unit details before proceeding.

Unit objectives

  • Understand the function of each of the Java platform's constituent components
  • Learn how the Java language is structured
  • Become familiar with navigating the Java API documentation

Java platform components

The Java platform consists of the following components.

The Java language

Like any programming language, the Java language has its own structure, syntax rules, and programming paradigm. The Java language's programming paradigm is based on the concept of object-oriented programming (OOP), which the language's features support.

The Java language is a C-language derivative, so its syntax rules look much like C's. For example, code blocks are modularized into methods and delimited by braces ({ and }), and variables are declared before they are used.

Structurally, the Java language starts with packages. A package is the Java language's namespace mechanism. Within packages are classes, and within classes are methods, variables, constants, and more. You learn about the parts of the Java language in this learning path.

The Java compiler

When you program for the Java platform, you write source code in .java files and then compile them. The compiler checks your code against the language's syntax rules, then writes out bytecode in .class files. Bytecode is a set of instructions targeted to run on a Java virtual machine (JVM). In adding this level of abstraction, the Java compiler differs from other language compilers, which write out assembly-language instructions suitable for the CPU chipset the program will run on.


At runtime, the JVM reads and interprets .class files and executes the program's instructions on the native hardware platform for which the JVM was written. The JVM interprets the bytecode just as a CPU would interpret assembly-language instructions. The difference is that the JVM is a piece of software written specifically for a particular platform. The JVM is the heart of the Java language's "write-once, run-anywhere" principle. Your code can run on any chipset for which a suitable JVM implementation is available. JVMs are available for major platforms like Linux and Windows, and subsets of the Java language have been implemented in JVMs for mobile phones and hobbyist chips.

The garbage collector

Rather than forcing you to keep up with memory allocation (or use a third-party library to do so), the Java platform provides memory management out of the box. When your Java application creates an object instance at runtime, the JVM automatically allocates memory space for that object from the heap— a pool of memory set aside for your program to use. The Java garbage collector runs in the background, keeping track of which objects the application no longer needs and reclaiming memory from them. This approach to memory handling is called implicit memory management because it doesn't require you to write any memory-handling code. Garbage collection is one of the essential features of Java platform performance.

The Java Development Kit

When you download a Java Development Kit (JDK), you get — in addition to the compiler and other tools — a complete class library of prebuilt utilities that help you accomplish most common application-development tasks. The best way to get an idea of the scope of the JDK packages and libraries is to check out the official online Java API documentation— also called the Javadoc. Watch this quick demo to see how to get around in the Javadoc.

The Java Runtime Environment

The Java Runtime Environment (JRE; also known as the Java runtime) includes the JVM, code libraries, and components that are necessary for running programs that are written in the Java language. The JRE is available for multiple platforms. You can freely redistribute the JRE with your applications, according to the terms of the JRE license, to give the application's users a platform on which to run your software. The JRE is included in the JDK.

For further exploration

New to Java programming

Java Technologies

IBM Java development kits

IBM Code: Java journeys

Previous: Learning path summaryNext: Setting up your Java development environment

Downloadable resources


Sign in or register to add and subscribe to comments.

Zone=Java development
ArticleTitle=Unit 1: Java platform overview