Experienced developers know that the programming languages Java and JavaScript have significant differences. For newer developers, questions about Java and JavaScript’s use are common. 

So, what are the differences between Java and JavaScript? Why do two languages with so many differences have similar names? If you’re an aspiring developer, which one should you learn first? Here, we’ll help you answer all those questions.

Java vs. JavaScript: The similarities and differences

While their names are an obvious similarity, there are many differences between Java and JavaScript. For example, while Java applets can run in a browser, applets are mostly a thing of the past. On the other hand, JavaScript is used to render dynamic content on webpages across the globe. This makes the idea that JavaScript is “the language of the web” while Java is a “backend” language, a true (although incomplete) place to start the comparison. 

To help us make a better comparison, let’s take a closer look at each language.


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A note on Node.js

The idea that “JavaScript is client-side and Java is server-side” kept things simple in the past. Node.js is changing that. Node.js is a runtime environment that enables JavaScript to run outside of the traditional web browser environment. Thanks to Node.js it is becoming more common for JavaScript code to be used in a wide range of server-side use cases.

Java vs. JavaScript: Why are the names similar?

Why do two very different languages have such similar names? It isn’t to confuse new learners. Let’s go back to the early days of the Java language and JavaScript development to understand why their names are so alike.

What would become the Java programming language and platform was created by The Green Team at Sun Microsystems in 1995. Led by the famous computer scientist James Gosling, the team created a platform-independent, object-oriented, portable, and robust programming language. Initially, the language was going to have the name “OAK”. However, OAK was trademarked by another company, so the team needed to think of an alternative. After considering the names DNA and Silk, the team settled on the coffee-inspired Java. 

Around this same time, Netscape, the company behind the once-popular Netscape Communicator web browser, was working on a way to make web pages more dynamic. Part of this would be achieved using Java and Java Applets, but a simpler solution was needed for more basic tasks. While Java was going to enable enterprise-grade applications, this project had a different target audience: web designers and non-developers. To achieve this goal, Netscape created a scripting language with syntax similar to Java. Initially, the scripting language was named Mocha, then LiveScript. In December 1995, a few months after its release, the name was again changed to JavaScript. Why? According to JavaScript creator Brendan Eich, it was the result of a license agreement between Sun Microsystems and Netscape.

Java vs. JavaScript: Which one should you learn?

Like most questions of this nature in technical roles, it depends. There’s no single right answer to the question of which programming language to learn that will apply to everyone. 

That said, if you’re choosing between Java or JavaScript, here are a few considerations to help you decide:

Learn Java if…

Learn JavaScript if…

Ready to start learning one of these programming languages?  If you’re interested in Java, check out the free Java Tutorial for Complete Beginners. If you’d prefer to learn JavaScript, The Modern JavaScript Bootcamp Course is for you.

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